It was big news on several blogs last week that United and Hertz are enhancing their partnership by offering more miles for Hertz rentals and giving some United frequent flyers matching elite status with Hertz. What I didn’t see anyone mention (and my apologies if I overlooked this) is that United will henceforth exclude all other rental companies from earning United miles.
This is a discouraging development. The last couple years saw new partnerships between airline and hotel loyalty programs: Delta and Starwood were first, followed by United and Marriott. Some people speculate that American will eventually partner with Hilton (I believe there is reason to hope for Hyatt instead). But those improvements didn’t damage relationships with other partners. You could still earn United miles for a Hyatt stay or transfer Starwood points to American Airlines.
What Went Wrong?
United was actually pretty up front in the email it sent out (emphasis mine):
Starting November 1, 2014, Hertz and its family of brands will become the exclusive car rental partner for MileagePlus. … You will also continue to earn 50 miles each day (1-4 days) or 500 miles per rental (5+ days) on car rentals with Dollar and Thrifty, but will no longer be able to earn miles on new car rental reservations with other rental companies, effective November 1, 2014.
Dollar and Thrifty are grandfathered in because Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hertz Global Holdings. But rentals from National, Alamo, Enterprise, and other companies will no longer earn miles with United Airlines.
Earn More United Miles with Hertz Rentals
These new benefits came at a cost: fewer options to earn miles and potentially higher prices for your next rental if Hertz thinks that United customers will look to it as a default choice without doing any comparison shopping.
Such tradeoffs may be worthwhile if you are already keen on earning airline miles rather than free rentals for each reservation. I’ll admit that I almost never rent enough to earn more than two or three free days a year. But I know how to use miles to my advantage. As a Premier 1K, United tells me that I could now earn 1,250 miles for a two-day rental — much more than the previous amount of 400 miles. Other people won’t be so lucky: general members without status will earn only 500 miles.
MileagePlus Premier Members Get Hertz Elite Status
I’ll also get some elite status with Hertz. I already had some car rental status through my American Express Platinum Card. Now Premier Silver and Premier Gold members with United will receive Hertz Five Star status, normally earned after seven rentals. Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members will get Hertz President’s Circle, which normally takes 20 rentals.
But besides a few upgrades, most of the benefits come in the form of extra Hertz Gold Rewards points. You don’t earn those points if you choose to credit rentals to United instead.
Is This a Blip or the New Normal?
Regardless of how you look at it, this is an interesting development. More loyalty programs — and more types of loyalty programs — are beginning to team up. Some of those partnerships are more extensive than others in terms of earning points in one program vs. double-dipping or whether they offer status matches to existing elite members. But, as I said, I have not previously observed these new partnerships coming with conditions that old partnerships be severed. That’s what worries me.
I look forward to a world where all the brands I love work better together and reward me at every step of the journey. I don’t look forward to a world where, because I fly with one airline, I’m penalized if I don’t also choose their preferred rental agency and hotel chain.