Updated March 10, 2016

Study: Best Car Rental Company - Hertz vs Avis vs Enterprise

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You need a rental car either for a very good reason – you're on vacation – or a not-so-good one, like when your own car breaks down or you're on the road for business. Armed with knowledge about which rental car company is the best can save you (or your company) some money and heartache, no matter why you need the rented wheels.

Before we get into the answer of which rental car company makes the most sense for your needs, we have to make one thing clear: There really are only three big car companies out there. As referenced in this IndependentTraveler.com story, "Avis owns Budget and Zipcar, Hertz owns Advantage, Dollar and Thrifty, and Enterprise owns Alamo and National."

If your budget dictates your options, the lowest-priced company will be most attractive, but even then, other factors will play into your decision. Size and type of car (i.e., hybrid, luxury, convertible) will impact your cost, as well as additional fees, mileage and gas.

Best Place to Rent a Car

Study Methodology

CreditDonkey utilized three factors in determining the best rental car company:

  1. Cost
  2. Car selection
  3. Locations

Most people rent cars merely as a means to get to their destinations, so who wants to pay a lot of money for a temporary necessity? We based our cost calculations on renting a Toyota Corolla out of Orlando, Fla., because the car and destination are fairly popular and provide as accurate an apples-to-apples comparison as possible.

When it comes to the type of car you want to rent, different strokes for different folks. While some consumers might be perfectly fine in a compact Ford Focus, others might prefer a mid-size vehicle or even something bigger, like an SUV. For some, splurging on a convertible is always part of the plan, so companies that offer a large fleet are often the most appealing to them.

Finally, there's nothing worse than being in need of a rental car and having to hunt down a location. You need a lot that’s convenient, even if the company will pick you up. After all, you don't want to then spend another hour on the road as a passenger just to retrieve your car. And picking up a car at the airport is more expensive due to additional fees, so having a nearby satellite location in most cases is not only convenient but cost-effective.

BEST RENTAL CAR COMPANY FOR PRICING: ENTERPRISE

  • Cost: Economical, even after additional fees (licensing cost recovery, etc.) 4/5
  • Car Selection: Huge, including a large range of car classes (sub-compact, etc.) 4/5
  • Locations: Easy to find, largest number of non-airport locations 5/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.3/5

While Enterprise isn't necessarily the first car rental company you think of, it should be. Its prices are lower than most and it was the first company to boast, "We'll pick you up!" - a convenient offer by any standard.

Enterprise raises the bar when it comes to accessible, non-airport locations. According to an article by Lisa Brown in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Enterprise set itself apart from competitors in its early years by building rental car branches in downtowns and neighborhoods – markets other rental car companies ignored."

Why We Like Enterprise
Budget-friendly. Huge selection of cars. Website is easy to navigate. Easily accessible locations, often close to home. And, not to beat a dead horse, but they pick you up!

The Downsides
As with all rental car companies, there are a lot of additional, non-negotiable fees to contend with when you use Enterprise, and the cost of your daily or weekly rental adds up really quickly. For instance, a base rental fee of a Toyota Corolla in Orlando at $192.36 per week is actually $260.12 with all the taxes, surcharges and fees, and that's not including a GPS system or gas. However, it's important to note that you can save money by declining rental insurance if you pay via some credit cards. While many credit cards offer car rental insurance, each have variations in benefits, so be sure to check the details on your particular card.

Who Enterprise Works Best For
The leisure traveler and people on a budget, who need someone to pick them up from home or work. Another group are people who need a replacement car after an accident or if their car is in the shop.

BEST CAR RENTAL COMPANY FOR NUMBER OF LOCATIONS: HERTZ

  • Cost: Competitive with coupons and promotions but not the cheapest overall 4/5
  • Car Selection: Many options, including green and "dream" cars in select cities 4/5
  • Locations: Most of any rental car company, including international locations 5/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.3/5

Hertz is usually the first name in car rental companies that comes to mind. It's also the exclusive rental car company of AAA; AAA members get an additional discount when booking a weekly rental, including free child car seat rentals and up to 20% off.

In a 2012 article in USA Today, Tim Zagat, co-founder of the eponymous food and travel guidebook, told writer Gary Stoller, "Hertz is No. 1 by virtually all standards that we survey and, at the same time, is considered a solid value."

Why We Like Hertz
Trusted name. Rewards membership programs. AAA discount. Online check-in. Plus, the company has seasonal promotions, such as up to 30% savings if you pay in advance via the website.

The Downsides
More costly without coupons, discounts, or promotions. The Gold Club rewards membership is $60 to join, unless it’s offering a promotion where the fee is waived.

Who Hertz Works Best For
AAA members. People who travel a lot, especially internationally, and want to rent upscale cars.

BEST CAR RENTAL COMPANY FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS: AVIS

  • Cost: Competitive if paid in advance via the website 4/5
  • Car Selection: Fair enough, though not many hybrids 3/5
  • Locations: Not a lot of non-airport locations, but working on improving4/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 3.6/5

Avis has been a trusted brand in the car rental business for decades. It also offers a year-round "pay now" option on its website where you can save up to 30%. Avis is also the exclusive rental car service through Costco Travel, so you can get a deal if you’re a Costco member.

Avis is making a concerted effort to appeal to a wider, non-business-traveler market. Dee Gill of Forbes recently reported that "Both Hertz and Avis are building out car sharing businesses that scatter cars at numerous off-airport sites for quick rentals... They add customers that don’t rent at airports (college-aged), as well as weekend business."

Why We Like Avis
It's nice, for busy executives especially, to be able to pay for the rental in advance. Avis is a fan of the small business owner, offering up to 25% car rental fees for a corporate rental plus car rental rewards if you're a member of the program. Also, as an Avis Preferred Rewards member, you can get a fair amount of perks (including skipping lines), and membership is free. The company also offer discounts to seniors through AARP.

The Downsides
Fewer locations. More costly than competitors; additional costs, such as GPS navigation, satellite radio, and car seats, are priced higher than other companies.

Who Avis Works Best For
Business travelers who need to pick up their cars at the airport, Costco members, AARP members, small business owners, and executives who rent cars frequently.

Other Car Rental Companies to Consider

Honorable mentions go to Alamo, Budget, and Dollar. While these companies are owned by their bigger counterparts, they also offer their own discounts and operate independently of their corporate owners, and all offer specially equipped vehicles for those with disabilities.

There will always be additional issues when renting a car (customer service, time of year, ease of vehicle pick-up and return, accident or damage waivers, etc.), so oftentimes, renting a car with a particular company comes down to cost and convenience. If you don't need the car for an entire week, look for weekend rentals, as they're often cheaper than weekdays. Don't forget to keep in mind additional costs (taxes, fees, car seats, GPS, etc.), that can make the base rental price almost double once you include your gas costs. Regardless of the pricier competitors, if you have the time, do your own research and compare prices online, because you might be able to use additional discounts that will reduce your overall costs.

Cynthia Cohen is a retail analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Cynthia Cohen at cynthia@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped travelers make savvy decisions. (read more)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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