This was going to be either a genius move or a miserable failure. Either way, I figured I'd at least end up with a good story. Back in June, Avis had a promotion offering 5000 EuroBonus miles per rental. What made this offer so special was that the terms and conditions clearly specified that it was valid for rentals of any length
. Too good to be true? I tested it out during a layover in Copenhagen, renting a €49 car, circling the airport a bit, and returning it. Sure enough, I was rewarded with 5000 EuroBonus miles. The challenge was on!
I value EuroBonus miles at 2.2 euro-cents a piece, which means that 5000 miles is worth €110 to me. Any rental cheaper than that, and I would effectively make
money. The cheapest rental in the town where I live was €63. However, by scaling this up a bit, the price of a flight ticket would be negligible, so I looked up the price at all the 2820 Avis offices in the 109 countries/regions where this promotion was valid, i.e. Europe, Africa and Middle East. (This was an automated process.)
Initially, Lebanon came in cheapest with rentals for €13.65 per day, and I started making plans for Beirut. South Africa was an interesting option, renting half ton trailers for €15.41 and cars for €18.76, and I played with the idea of a combined rental car / trailer run in the suburbs of Johannesburg. I wasn't quite able to get the logistics right. Meanwhile, the search process was still running, checking a wide range of rental dates, and after a couple of days, Funchal, Madeira suddenly popped up at only €11.30 per day for early September rentals. A clear winner.
How many cars could I rent? The two Avis offices in Funchal were open from 8.30 am - 12.30 pm and 3 pm - 7 pm. Searching online, it seems that having two or more simultaneous bookings could present a problem. Furthermore, having back-to-back rentals from one and the same office could result in the agency combining them into one. So I settled for renting one car every half hour, each one for a half hour period, and alternating the rentals between the two offices. (They were located only 1.2 km by foot from each other.) I figured two days would be enough, or the reps might become fed up with me. (I also didn't want to invest too much if things didn't work out as I hoped.) I extended the final rental to 24 hours, giving me a third day of sightseeing at the end. This added up to 37 rentals, all picked up in two days.
Two weeks before my trip, Avis Funchal called me. A man explained that there had been an error in the system, and that 18 bookings had been created in my name. I told him that there must indeed be an error, because it's supposed to be 37. After typing a bit at his computer, he told me that this was nonsense, and that he would combine all the rentals into one. I explained about the promotion and that I would really appreciate 37 individual rentals. He seemed to understand, but ended the conversation by saying "you will pay for this", so it was unclear if he was onboard with it or not.
A few days before my trip, Avis Funchal called again. The same man again wanted to combine all the rentals into one, saying that they would need to place a hold of ~€110 for each rental, which would likely eventually block my credit card. I told him no worries, since I had bumped up the credit limit for my credit card and would call them to pre-authorize the purchases. The rep said it didn't make sense, I would just open and close contracts all day, is this how I want to spend my vacation? I apologized for the inconvenience and tried to explain again. I was hopeful.
Arriving at Avis at 8.30 am for my first rental, I was prepared for a brutal day. Since I was not able to book one-way rentals, I was planning a rather brisk 1.2 km (3/4 mile) walk between the two offices for each rental. However, I was very happily surprised. They had prepared and streamlined everything, giving me a car to use for all the rentals (a 7 seat diesel Opel Zafira), allowing me to just drive between the two offices to close and open contracts. The reps were completely onboard with the idea, all 5 of them that I dealt with, and even seemed to think it was mildly amusing, one of them commenting "25 years in Avis, never seen this before", and one girl printing and organizing all my bookings with paper clips and post-its. (The exception here was the handyman, whose job was to receive keys and park/deliver cars for the customers. He was equally confused every time I arrived and left, and never seemed to understand what was going on.)
It was a ~5 minute drive between the offices, parking right outside, and ~10 minutes to close and open a contract. I even had time to spare, which I mostly spent hanging out at the five star Carlton Madeira hotel right next to one of the Avis offices. During the lunch break I went swimming one day and drove up to the mountains the other day. The final 24 hours was an intensive tour of the mountains, coastline, levadas and gardens of the central and east part of the island. The Avis rep waved me off at the end, saying "see you next promotion". Amazing customer service from these two offices, very talented and organized staff, who did everything they could to help and never once complained, in spite of the additional workload I put on them (the second day, one of the offices had a total of 10 bookings of which 9 were mine).
Just returned from this trip, and thought I'd type this up while it was fresh in mind. The only thing remaining now is wait for the miles to arrive....
Detailed cost analysis below, assuming miles post, and keeping in mind that this came with a free vacation in Madeira. Yes, I travel cheaply!
Flight ticket: €317
Rental cars: €418
Gas (for 317 km): €35
Airport transport: €29
Accommodation 4 nights: €42
Food/drinks 3 days: €41
Monte Palace Gardens: €10
TOTAL: €894 ($997)
Cost per mile:
0.47 euro cent (0.52 USD cent)
Earned at 2.2 cent/mile:
Finally some photos of the trip...