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Why car rental coupons don't always work?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

finicky car rental coupons

Car rental coupons have a reputation of being extremely finicky. One moment it works fine and the very next moment it doesn't. It works for one of your rentals, but not the other. It saves you a boatload of money on one rental & mere pennies on another. Why is that? Let's examine the top reasons for this finickiness.

The Dreaded Fineprint

The most common reason why car rental coupons don't work is because you don't meet all the requirements in the fine-print. It doesn't help that most of us have the attention span of a goldfish and the fine-print is purposely designed to be boring, lengthy and hard to skim through.

We analyzed hundreds of car rental coupons and found that the average fine-print contains a whopping 231 words and mandates an average of 4 requirements that need to be met in order to qualify. Based on over 100, 000 searches on Zalyn, we found that you can increase the odds of finding a working coupon by 3 times if you first check the fineprint to make sure you qualify.

The only problem is that reading coupon fine-print is as exciting as watching paint dry and it can take up a lot of time. We've got a solution? Zalyn uses an algorithm that helps you find eligible discounts for each available rental car by evaluating the coupon terms & conditions for you.

Ambiguous Participating Locations

While analyzing fine-print is challenging, it is something that you can deal with. However, despite meeting all requirements the coupon may still not work, especially if you're renting at a non-participating location.

Huh? What the heck is a participating location and how do I know which one's participating? Unfortunately, that information is not available anywhere. You'll only find ambiguous stuff like this in the fine-print
  • Avis: Offer is available for U.S. and Canadian residents only for rentals at participating locations in the U.S. 
  • Hertz: This offer is redeemable at participating Hertz locations in the U.S. 
  • Dollar: A limited number of vehicles are available at this promotional rate at participating locations. 
  • National: The availability of this offer is limited to participating locations in the U.S and Canada 

While the fine-print may occasionally mention that the promotion is not valid in New York Metro, there are plenty of non-participating locations that are never mentioned. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to know if your preferred rental location is participating or not, unless you try to use the coupon.

What happens when you try to use a promo code? If you're lucky and the promotion code is accepted, you'll most likely see a list of available vehicles and their corresponding rates. Depending on the website and the type of promo code, you'll either see the discount upfront or all the way at the end of the reservation process. If the rental location is not participating in the promotion, you'll either see an error message that tells you that the location is not participating or a cryptic message that doesn't really tell you much.

Rental car companies classify rental offices in a few different ways. One classification is based on the location - Airport locations vs Neighborhood locations. The other classification is based on ownership - Corporate-owned vs Franchise-owned. A lot of coupons and promotions don't work at franchise locations and coupons for Airport rentals don't work at Neighborhood locations. Some coupons are a little more informative and specify what kind of rental office they're valid in
  • Enterprise: Valid at participating neighborhood locations within the U.S. and Puerto Rico only for rentals reserved in advance. 
  • Hertz: Valid at Airport and Off-Airport locations through December 31, 2015 in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. 
  • Budget: Pick up at participating Budget airport locations in the U.S. from August 15, 2015 through December 15, 2015.

Unknown Blackout Dates

Blackout dates are specific times during the year when travel rewards, discounts and promotions are not available. These dates typically fall on or around major holidays and other national or regional peak travel periods. Coupons and promotions are meant to augment demand and since the demand is usually high during the blackout periods, rental car companies don't need to provide any additional incentives.

Unfortunately, blackout dates are not mentioned in the fine-print and the only way to find out is by trying out the coupon for your dates. To make matters worse, most websites won't tell you why a coupon didn't work and will either just show you regular rates or show a generic message that doesn't say a lot.

The good news is that there are quite a few discounts that will work even during the busiest travel periods. It's important to remember that you're more likely to run into coupons that don't work than you'd normally expect. However, if you set reasonable expectations there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to score a good deal, even during blackout periods.

Discontinued Promotion

Finally, the last reason why a car rental promotion may not work is because rental car companies retain the right to discontinue the promotion at any time. It is not clear why they would do this but a reasonable guess is that they have healthy demand and no longer need to provide additional discount to spur demand. It is possible that they have the ability to pause / stop a promotion at specific locations based on the fleet utilization status.

The other reason (purely speculative) could be that the rental car companies allow only a certain number of reservations using a discount code and when the threshold is crossed, the promotion is automatically discontinued.

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