How Using the Kiosk with Elite Status Can Mess Up Your Car Rental

I have elite status with National–which is really nice.  You just walk out and choose the car you want.  There’s no waiting on line.  No problems at all.

You don’t get this benefit when you book through a 3rd party.  So if you use Hotwire, for example, you get a normal, elite benefit-free reservation.

But the kiosk may not be able to handle this distinction.

car rental

I booked a National rental on Hotwire and when I got there, I headed inside.

I pulled up my reservation on the kiosk and when I scanned my license, it said that I was an Emerald Member and needed to head outside.  It printed out a voucher with what type of car I had and everything.

So I followed directions and headed outside.  The problem was the kiosk printed out incorrect information.

When I went outside, the employee helped me find the section where I could grab a car from.  I went to the gate, handed over my paperwork, credit card and license, and the gentleman at the gate was totally stumped.  My reservation was completely wiped out.

It wasn’t missing.  There was just nothing in it.  He said he could see fragments of information but nothing that was complete.

It took about 20 minutes and me handing over my iPad with my original Hotwire reservation to reconstruct my reservation.  Apparently, once I scanned my license, the kiosk switched over to the rules that apply to Emerald members.  But I didn’t have that type of reservation.

So it decided my Hotwire reservation was wrong without creating a new type of reservation.  When you have a 3rd-party reservation and are a member of the loyalty program, I recommend talking to a person instead of leaving it up to the kiosk’s algorithm.

Unfortunately, that usually means much longer lines than you’ll get at the kiosk.

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. i’m confused why you needed to go to the kiosk in the first place? emerald members always skip the counter and just pick a car and do all the formalities at the exit gate.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      You can’t do that if you book through a 3rd party. You don’t get elite benefits through Hotwire.

      • This might be fact/situation specific. I’ve booked through carrentalsavers and gotten Hertz and other “elite benefits”

        • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

          Ooo, really? I don’t use Hertz, and maybe I should start then!

          • This is all YMMV though. Ive used hotwire and got a car in Dallas and was told I could pick anything but luxury but didn’t get any benefit in Los Angeles.

            Same with Hertz, I got the benefit in PHX but not in IAD or DCA.

          • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

            Those are really interesting data points. I’ve been a National/Alamo person and only booked with Hotwire a fraction of the time, but never got benefits.

  2. So I’m wondering if it might help to check the reservation on the website before you get to the airport?

    I’m getting ready to pick up a car in Austria that I booked through Expedia via Europcar and I don’t expect this to be smooth.

    I too am a high level elite with National. My corporate booking site usually all but forces us to use National or Enterprise. What I can’t figure out is why nothing seems to carry over to the Enterprise side. Occasionally at smaller airports where there is no National desk I’ll book it and it turned into an Enterprise reservation and I get punished with the Enterprise checkout process.

  3. Not all third party sites are created equal when it comes to using elite benefits.

    Hotwire and Priceline “name your own price” bookings do not allow frequent renter benefits from any agency as per their booking terms and conditions.

    At all the rental agencies we work with allow elite benefits through our bookings. Just add your frequent renter number when checking out.

    Most of the big OTA’s (Expedia etc.) also pass through frequent renter information with bookings.

    Mark Mannell
    CEO-Co Founder

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