This is how not to get Hertz car rental Five Star status

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Christopher Elliott

Hertz told Khaled Mahmoud that he had rented enough cars and spent enough money to achieve Five Star status, the car rental company’s middle elite level. But that was not exactly true.

On the Hertz car rental app, it showed Mahmoud was a Five Star customer. And he was excited to take his new status out for a spin. Among the benefits: He qualified for a “free” upgrade from A full-size car to an SUV like a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

But when he tried to reserve a rental at Portland International Airport, a Hertz representative told him he was not a Five Star customer. 

Upgrade denied.

“I asked them to call the customer service department to verify my status,” he says. “They told me, ‘We only give you what we see on the system.'”

For years, I’ve turned down cases like Mahmoud’s. If you play the points and status game, the only winner is the company. But my policy on loyalty cases has shifted lately. If a company promises you status and “free” upgrades, it had better deliver. 

And Hertz wasn’t delivering.

Mahmoud’s case raises several other questions: Is Hertz status worth achieving? How do you get Hertz Five Star status, and how do you make it stick? What can you do when you reach status with a car rental company, but the company won’t recognize it? 

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Mahmoud was expecting an upgrade to a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Instead, he got a flat denial from Hertz. (Photo by Kirk Thornton)

Should he have tried for Hertz car rental Five Star status?

Here’s my standard disclaimer on loyalty programs: Use with caution. Some restrictions apply. 

Loyalty programs are a way for a company to recognize your business. They’re not something you should try to hack for fun, as some bloggers might suggest. They’re a marketing tool, and they’re not for everyone. If you only rent one or two times a year, you’re better off skipping the points and finding the best value for the money. 

Mahmoud is a frequent business traveler, so participating in Hertz’s loyalty program makes sense. But if you just want a cool-looking gold card, and rarely rent a vehicle, you should skip it. Here’s my complete guide to loyalty programs for more information.

What do you get with Five Star status?

Hertz car rental Five Star status is the middle elite level. You get it by renting 10 vehicles per year from Hertz or spending $2,000, exclusive of taxes and fees.

So what do you get for that?

  • A one-car-class upgrade at certain locations, subject to availability.
  • A 25 percent bonus on Gold Plus Rewards points on all qualified rentals.
  • Expedited vehicle pickup at many locations worldwide, and at some you don’t even have to stop at the counter. 
  • Ability to choose any vehicle in the Five Star section of the Hertz Ultimate Choice lot, on the spot and at no extra charge.
  • No additional driver fee for a spouse or domestic partner in the U.S.

Hertz hedges the benefits with fine print, like “subject to availability,” or available at “participating locations.” And while you’re more important than the average renter, you still have a few miles to go before you reach the top published elite level with Hertz, President’s Circle.

Making Mahmoud a Five Star customer should have taken just a few keystrokes. But it ended up much, much more complicated than that.

Why won’t they make him a Five Star?

If Mahmoud has all the rentals he needs to be a Five Star, then what is going on? 

“I have reached the Five Star level, and I have a confirmation email that I am a Five Star customer on the loyalty department system,” he explains. “I also have evidence that shows the total number of rentals required to achieve Five Star at the time I became Five Star, my current number of rentals and my current status.”

But it wasn’t enough for Hertz. When he contacted the Hertz location at Portland International Airport, it claimed he still had Hertz Gold status, the company’s lowest elite level. 

“The Hertz rental mobile app still shows my Five Star status,” he says. 

He submitted two trouble tickets through the Hertz website, but the company quickly closed them. 

“They just told me I am a Five Star, and I should log out of the app and then back in to see the Five Star status, which I did multiple times,” he says.

Hertz car rental’s elite levels.

What’s wrong with Hertz car rental’s loyalty program?

So what’s going on with Hertz’s loyalty program? Wasn’t this something a simple call could have fixed? I asked Mahmoud to walk me through the troubleshooting steps he’d already taken.

“In addition to opening a case through their website, I called them a couple of times, and they just suggested that I log in and out of the app to see my updated status as Five Star on the app,” he explained. “Most customer care representatives I speak with over the phone are clueless. On the third time I called, a customer service representative suggested that she would request an escalation. But she never got back to me.”

How about the paper trail — the correspondence between Mahmoud and Hertz? It showed they were sending him in circles.

Dear Khaled Mahmoud,

Thank you for contacting us. I appreciate the opportunity to review your concerns.

I apologize for the delayed response and for any inconvenience this has caused you.

As I checked our records, I can confirm that your account tier is Five Star status. You log out and log back in to your app so you can see the updated tier level. You can also contact our Loyalty Department at 1-888-999-4900 to assist you with concerns regarding your account status.

So Hertz says he is a Five Star customer, but Hertz also says he isn’t

How strange.

Here’s the truth about the Hertz loyalty program

My position on loyalty programs is no secret. And Hertz is no exception.

Loyalty programs can benefit a frequent traveler, but they also have a considerable downside. Over time, they can make travel more expensive, entice you to spend more money, and segment customers in ways that would make even an aristocrat blush. The Hertz program, like that of other car rental companies, is less toxic and addictive than many frequent flier programs. 

Incidentally, if you look at Mahmoud’s case more closely, you can see the problems inherent in a loyalty program. He had not shopped for a less expensive car, instead offering his business to Hertz in exchange for possibly getting a one-class upgrade.

He probably could have gotten a two-class upgrade for less money from a different car rental company, but he wanted to stay with Hertz — for the points.

If you work for a company with a preferred agreement or a negotiated rate with Hertz, by all means, work your way up to President’s Circle and enjoy all the benefits. But for the rest of us occasional car renters, being a member of a car rental loyalty program like Hertz’s is probably not worth the time and money. 

How to reach Hertz car rental customer service

If you’re one of the few people who really are frequent Hertz renters and you run into a problem with your status, here are a few expert strategies for reaching Hertz car rental customer service

  • Start by calling the Hertz car rental customer service. You can reach the loyalty department at (888) 999-4900. If you have a problem like Mahmoud’s, you might be able to resolve it with a quick call. 

If none of those strategies work, someone is clearly asleep at the wheel in the Hertz car rental customer service department. You’ll want to try my advocacy team.

Which is exactly where Mahmoud found himself. And his experience begs the question: Is this loyalty program worth belonging to? So let’s do a quick poll …

Is the Hertz loyalty program worth joining?

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A one-star resolution from Hertz car rental?

Car rental companies should treat all of their customers well, not just a select few. But if you’re going to offer a benefit to your elites, you should at least follow through. Hertz wasn’t following through.

I contacted the company to find out what was happening with Mahmoud’s status. To its credit, Hertz responded almost immediately and agreed to investigate his lost status.

A representative also promised to fix his status.

Mahmoud made a call to Hertz to find out if he could finally use his status for his next rental.

“A representative was very cooperative and promised to grant me extra 1,920 points, enough for additional two free rentals,” he says.

He called back later to make a reservation and a representative denied the company had ever offered him any points.

“I don’t think they have any goodwill,” he says.

So I contacted Hertz again. And this time, it fixed Mahmoud’s status and gave him the points it promised. 

I got an email from Mahmoud a few days later saying that he now officially had Five Star and all the points. 

“Thank you so much,” he added. “You are doing God’s work by helping customers.”

A few notes on the impermanence of elite status

Well, if we’re going to get all theological about it, here are a few deep thoughts. Status is not eternal. If Mahmoud stops renting from Hertz, he’ll get bumped back down to “Gold” and have to rent with the rest of us peasants. 

Even when a company designates you as one of its elites, it can take that privilege away at any time and for any reason. It doesn’t even have to give you a reason.

It is disheartening to see otherwise reasonable consumers pursuing something so transient, so fleeting. But when a company says you are an elite, it should at least live up to its end of the bargain.

Your thoughts, please

Your turn, commenters. Was Hertz within its rights to deny Mahmoud his status benefits? After all, companies can do almost anything they want under their program agreement. Is Hertz’s program worth participating in? The comments are open.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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