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jun 24 2011

Rental car companies charge frequent flier mile redemption fees

(Courtesy PhillipC/Flickr)

Times are undoubtedly tough for rental car companies, who struggle to cope with high oil prices and the related fallout. But it's hard to feel sorry for them as they charge travelers absurd fees. An especially annoying surcharge you may not be aware of is for frequent flier mile redemption.

Say you're booking a car in the U.S. You see a space on the online reservation form inviting you to enter your membership number in your favorite frequent flier program. It seems like you're being offered a free way to pocket frequent flier miles, which can eventually be cashed in for a plane ticket.

But there's a catch. The companies charge various amounts for this "service," up to a dollar a day.

For instance, Hertz assess a frequent flyer surcharge on rentals in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico that earn miles on specific U.S. airline programs, says a company spokesperson. While the surcharge varies, on many airlines it is $.75 per day with a maximum of $5.25 per rental. For some airlines, such as American, the surcharge is approximately $.06 per day.

The solution: Keep your frequent flier details to yourself unless you are participating in a promotion where your airline lavishes you with generous mileage bonus for renting a car.

Now one dollar a day may seem like small change to some people, but the fee is offensive in principle. If you travel fewer than 50 miles a day on the road, you're essentially paying two cents a mile to buy miles. Yet the average value of frequent flier miles is less than two cents.

The surcharge was not clearly disclosed on most of the agency sites we checked. So travelers using these sites don't realize that what they're effectively doing is buying frequent flier miles instead of earning them for free.

To see all the fees rental car companies charge for various airline frequent flier programs, check out AirfareWatchdog's impressive chart.

The surcharge is, of course, just one of many you need to keep an eye on as you book a rental car. Alamo charges a fee if you return a car early. Thrifty charges a $25 daily fee for drivers ages 21 to 24. And so on.

Share your thoughts about rental car fees by posting a comment.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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