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Having elite status with a rental car company can be extremely beneficial (if you know how to leverage it). You can take advantage of things like expedited check-in and check-out which can save you time and also get things like upgrades and discounts which will save you money.
In this article, I’m going to discuss Emerald Club which is a loyalty program for National Car Rental. I’ll cover all of the different tiers like Emerald Club, Executive, and Executive Elite, and show you can earn free car rentals and talk about things like upgrades.
What is Emerald Club?
Emerald Club is the loyalty program for National Car Rental and is made up of three different tiers:
- Emerald Club
- Executive Elite
You can sign-up for Emerald Club here. Be prepared to enter in your personal details and have your ID and credit card handy. You must be at least 21 years old to enroll as a Member (although you can rent cars even if you are younger).
By the way, if you’re looking to cut down on your rental car expenses, consider getting a card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. It offers an early spend bonus worth $500 in travel after meeting the minimum spend and is great to cancel out all sorts of travel expenses.
How many rentals does it take to earn status?
You can earn status by the amount of rentals or the amount of days that you rent vehicles.
Here are the requirements for the different tiers:
- Emerald Club: Rent 1 to 11 times or 1 to 39 days in a calendar year
- Executive: Rent 12 to 24 times or 40 to 84 days in a calendar year.
- Executive Elite: Rent 25 plus times or 85 plus days in a calendar year.
Do international rentals count?
International rentals do allow you to earn qualifying rentals for status.
The terms state that “[a] ‘qualifying vehicle rental’ is defined as the number of vehicle rentals with, or the number of days a Member rents a vehicle from (a) National rental locations in each calendar year in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, the Asia Pacific region, and/or the Latin American Caribbean.
You can also earn qualifying rentals for status and credits whenever you make a rental with Enterprise. You just need to make sure that you set your Enterprise account to earn points with Emerald Club. This is great because Enterprise will often offer their special weekend rates, which allow you to rent vehicles for as cheap as $13 which can allow you to earn credits much quicker for elite status.
Below are the NON-participating Enterprise location in the U.S. and Canada:
UNITED STATES: California: Arcata/Eureka Airport; Idaho: Fanning Falls Airport, Magic Valley Regional Airport; Kansas: Wichita Airport; Montana: Billings Airport; Bozeman Airport; Helena Regional Airport; Glacier Int’l Airport; Missoula Int’l Airport; South Dakota: Rapid City Regional Airport; Wisconsin: Outgamie County Airport; Austin Straubel Airport; Dane County Airport; General Mitchell Field; Wyoming: Jackson Hole Airport;
CANADA: British Columbia: Comox Valley Airport; Kamloops Airport, Kelowna Int’l Airport; North Peace Regional Airport; Ontario: Thunder Bay Int’l Airport; Saskatchewan: Regina International Airport.
You can also look into doing a status match to earn Emerald Club elite tiers. You’ll need to show proof of matching status by sending them a copy of your monthly statement or a copy of your membership card showing your name, current elite status and your status expiration date.
The match is valid through February 28 of the second calendar year following the member’s status match approval.
How to earn rental credits for Emerald Club
Rental credits are your keys for earning free rentals. You will earn one rental credit for your first seven days and then one credit after that for every car rental period that spans four days.
So, for example, if you have a car rental that is from one to seven days, you will only earn one rental credit. If you have a car rental that lasts between eight and 11 days you will earn two rental credits. The trend continues on with you earning one rental credit for every four day period as shown in the chart below.
Note: Consecutive, multiple or overlapping rentals in the same rental location do not qualify as additional consecutive days for purposes of receiving additional rental credits.
Also, for international rentals the terms state that “participating locations in Europe, Australia, the Asia Pacific region and the Latin American Caribbean, Members will receive one rental credit for each Qualifying Vehicle Rental of up to seven (7) consecutive days,” so be aware that some international destinations might not allow you to earn rental credits.
Emerald Club Free Days
Once you have earned rental credits, then you can start using them for free rentals (known as “Free Days”). As described below, each tier will require a different number of rental credits for a Free Day. Also note that the higher the tier, the more options you have for the different types of vehicles that you can rent.
Some other things you want to know about Free Days include the following:
- Free Days can only be used on reservation requests at participating rental locations in the:
- the Asia Pacific region
- the Latin American Caribbean
- (and, in Europe, for National Car rental brand reservations serviced by Enterprise)
- Free Days do not qualify for rental credits but will qualify toward membership levels.
Use to cover up to seven days
- Free Days are combinable up to seven consecutive days maximum on one rental
- Members entitled to a Free Day for a given class of vehicle may use the Free Day as partial payment for a more expensive vehicle class.
- Rental credits are non-transferable but Free Days are transferable to immediate family members
- Members may transfer up to three Free Days per calendar year
- Rental credits remain valid so long as the Member retains membership in the Program.
- Free Days will expire on December 31 of the year following the year in which they were earned or immediately upon cancellation or termination of membership in the Program.
Emerald Club is the bottom tier status so it has the slowest pace for earning free rentals. With this tier, you’ll earn 1 rental credit for every qualified car rental. One Free Rental Day = 7 credits.
As an Emerald Club member, you’ll be able to choose any car on the Emerald Aisle and only pay the Midsize rate (in US and Canada). The Emerald Aisle is similar to the Executive Area discussed below but it will usually have smaller vehicles that aren’t quite as nice.
As a basic member, you will also be eligible to receive some additional key benefits. For example, you can avoid second driver fees when family members and business associates do the driving. You can also get expedited services when renting in Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean.
With Executive you’ll earn 1 rental credit for every qualified car rental. One Free Rental Day = 6 credits.
In the US and Canada you’re always guaranteed a free upgrade when you reserve using the Midsize rate.
According to Flyteralk, some upgrades can work a little funny. For example, instead of bumping you to a higher car you are simply charged for the class beneath the class you booked. This suggests that if you were hoping to get bumped from a mid-size to a full-size, you’d want to reserve a full-size and you should be charged for the mid-size.
My advice: I’d call into the specific rental car center I was planning on renting from first to verify how their upgrade policy works in practice for Executive members.
As an Executive member, you can choose any car in the Executive Area and only pay the Midsize rate. Not all National Rental Car locations will have an Executive Area and/or Emerald Aisle (these less-equipped establishments are called “Counter” locations) but for those that do have the aisles you should be able to choose any vehicle within those areas.
If you’re wondering what you can expect to find in these aisles for upgrades, I highly suggest that you check data points if you’re visiting an airport. For example, here’s a recent datapoint for Houston (IAH).
Saturday at 615 pm
A good variety but mostly uninteresting cars on the executive aisle.
Several full ill size trucks.
Several dodge journeys
a couple challengers
1 fashion hybrid
a few Santa fes
1 Mitsubishi outlander
a couple muranos
a few rogues
a few of the large Kia suvs
3x 2 door wranglers
It will take a little bit of time to locate your airport and scroll through some of the data points but those threads can give you some insight into what type of vehicles you can expect to find.
You can also enjoy exclusive pricing when you upgrade to Premier Selection at the rental lot (in the US and Canada).
Earn 1 rental credit for every qualified car rental. Free Rental Day = 5 credits (any car class with no blackout dates).
You’ll get the same upgrade perks as Executive. You also get some additional perks which include:
- A guaranteed car (up to Fullsize) with 24-hour notice when you reserve using the Midsize rate (in US and Canada).
- A car waiting at most private airports within 50 miles of us (in US and Canada).
Overall, I like the National Executive Club because it you can jump start your status with the Amex Platinum Card and start off with access to the Executive Area. It’s also not very difficult to earn free days with the higher tier statuses and they provide you with some pretty decent options for redeeming those free rentals as well as the ability to transfer those to others.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.