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Optimal reservation strategy (EE free days) to get the car I want at SAN

Optimal reservation strategy (EE free days) to get the car I want at SAN

Old Jan 27, 20, 12:30 pm
  #1  
QBK
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: WAS
Programs: UA 1K + UC + 0.94MM, Marriott/Hiltongold, National EE
Posts: 1,310
Optimal reservation strategy (EE free days) to get the car I want at SAN

TL;DR: I'd like your advice on the best class to reserve for an upcoming free day reservation at SAN. I'm Executive Elite (for now), so I can use my free days for any standard class up to Luxury SUV. But I'm not sure what class will give me the best chance of getting the car that I want.

Details: My 11-yo wants to do a road trip. We've got a 4-day weekend around President's Day, so we're going to jump the shark in true FT style. We're flying to SAN, renting a car, road tripping the entire length of California, and flying home 4 days later from MFR (Medford, in southern Oregon). The whole point of the trip is the drive, so I'm obsessing a bit about getting the "best" rental. We don't need much space -- it's just the two of us and very light luggage. I'd like something high-end, fun and satisfying to drive, and comfortable to ride in for 8 hours a day. Possibilities:
  • Usually, my ideal car is a small to midsize SUV. BMW X5 or X3, Volvo XC60/90, maybe Cadillac XT5, comparable models from Infiniti / Mercedes / Audi. Most of my favorite rentals seem to be Premium Elite SUV.
  • But... I had a Miata on a recent Bay Area trip and it was amazingly fun. I'd be really tempted to grab a Miata if available... except that it's winter and we're thinking about going up through Bishop and Tahoe, where a Miata might be actively dangerous
  • An AWD convertible (BMW 2 series?) seems like a neat compromise, but I don't know if it's possible with National (at SAN).
Main Question: Given the kinds of vehicles I'm looking for (high-end small SUV or high-end AWD convertible), what class should I reserve? Obviously I can always fall back on the Aisle, but I'd like to maximize my chances of convincing the folks at SAN to give me something great without an upgrade charge. My highest-end reservation options seem to be Luxury or Luxury SUV. Which of those (or what else?) will give me the best chance to point at something awesome on the lot and say "That one, please!"

Secondary Question: Given my confused preferences above, what specific vehicles do you suggest I should aspire to rent? (I'm not excited by muscle cars, Mustangs, or Camaros, although I'm also not prejudiced against American cars per se -- recent Fords and Cadillacs have been pretty good, although I lean toward German or high-end Japanese...)

Thanks in advance for advice... and sorry for being somewhat confused about exactly what I want!
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Old Jan 27, 20, 5:05 pm
  #2  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 109
I was facing a similar scenario not too long ago -- EE, using free days, wanted Premium Elite SUV -- and I think booking a Luxury SUV makes the most sense. My dilemma was between Luxury and Premium SUV (couldn't book Luxury SUV, likely because I was doing a one-way), and I went with Luxury and was offered a Jaguar F-Pace or Cadillac XT5, as those were the only remotely "luxury" options at my location (PVD, if it matters). So I think your odds of getting a Premium Elite SUV will be even better, and I imagine the lot attendants will be flexible, in light of your status and relatively high-end reservation (plus the fact that it's pretty much as cold as it gets in California now, so convertibles not in as high demand), if you decide last minute you would like a convertible.

I do agree though that a convertible doesn't make much sense if you plan on driving through Tahoe.

As for your secondary question, I'd be on the lookout for particular options (moonroof, CarPlay, etc.) since, as has been discussed at length on this forum, lots of cars with luxury nameplates tend to be lightly equipped. All things being equal, an X5 seems like a good combination of fun and utility

Good luck and make sure to report back!
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Old Jan 28, 20, 8:59 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Oct 2016
Posts: 1,282
I'd just reserve the most expensive available car (it'll tell you the regular daily rate). Then you can walk through the lot, go to the counter and wait to see what they offer you, and say "I saw X outside, can I rent that?" As long as it's smaller/lower than the class you reserved it should be fine.
​​​
But as @juhlee said above, look for features instead of brand. Most German-brand rental cars are going to lack luxury features (heated/cooled seats, adaptive cruise control, etc.) that can be found in a Ford Explorer Limited or even a Chrysler Pacifica Limited.

And I would not expect to find an AWD convertible at National. Most AWD convertibles are obscure cabriolet models that you wouldn't typically find on a rental lot. But you could get a Jeep Wrangler.
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Old Jan 28, 20, 12:24 pm
  #4  
QBK
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Join Date: Dec 2010
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Posts: 1,310
Originally Posted by juhlee View Post
I was facing a similar scenario not too long ago -- EE, using free days, wanted Premium Elite SUV -- and I think booking a Luxury SUV makes the most sense...
...
Good luck and make sure to report back!
Originally Posted by m907 View Post
I'd just reserve the most expensive available car (it'll tell you the regular daily rate). Then you can walk through the lot, go to the counter and wait to see what they offer you, and say "I saw X outside, can I rent that?" As long as it's smaller/lower than the class you reserved it should be fine.
​​​...
And I would not expect to find an AWD convertible at National. Most AWD convertibles are obscure cabriolet models that you wouldn't typically find on a rental lot. But you could get a Jeep Wrangler.
Thanks to both of you for the suggestions! Happily, your advice coincides with what I already did -- reserved Luxury SUV, which is also the most expensive car type available. I've done a lot of National rentals, but most of them are extremely straightforward ES procedures, so I don't even understand the exact hierarchy of classes. I sort of get the impression that it's location-dependent, though -- other than the base classes, each location seems to consider different classes more desirable. But it seems like Luxury SUV ought to be higher than Luxury (at least it's more expensive), and I'm reassured that @juhlee was offered an F-Pace on a Luxury rental (although SAN doesn't seem to have a great reputation on this forum). I just don't want to get stuck with "Here's a QX80 / Navigator, take it or leave it."

And the point about AWD convertibles being unlikely at National is fair. If they happen to have something appropriate I'll take it as a plus, but otherwise I'll plan to be happy if I get a nice luxury crossover. I'd be delighted to get an X5 or F-Pace. Not a Wrangler, though.

Originally Posted by juhlee View Post
As for your secondary question, I'd be on the lookout for particular options (moonroof, CarPlay, etc.) since, as has been discussed at length on this forum, lots of cars with luxury nameplates tend to be lightly equipped. All things being equal, an X5 seems like a good combination of fun and utility
Originally Posted by m907 View Post
​​​
But as @juhlee said above, look for features instead of brand. Most German-brand rental cars are going to lack luxury features (heated/cooled seats, adaptive cruise control, etc.) that can be found in a Ford Explorer Limited or even a Chrysler Pacifica Limited.
Good points. A lot of the available options don't excite me a whole lot, but a good moonroof is one that does. And adaptive cruise is a nice bonus on a 1200-mile road trip. Somehow, even a fully loaded Explorer doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi fun factor, though...
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Old Jan 28, 20, 3:10 pm
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2019
Programs: National EE, Avis PP
Posts: 21
My first reflex was to actually recommend Silvercar since it's the only way I know to have AWD Convertibles consistently (Audi A5 Cabrio).
But....with the one way nature of your situation, not gonna be a good idea.

With that though, I would suggest a sportier AWD sedan given the long distance if it's just the two of you. Better mileage and a more spirited drive
I've seen posts that SAN carries Audi A5 Sportbacks (essentially sedan version of the A5). Those are fun and AWD, which would work and moonroofs are standard.
Other than that, I've seen relatively well-equipped X3s and XC60s in several locations. X5 was a one of unicorn in SFO, but from experience the California fleet is generally standardized.

Overall I'd say just ask, National staff tend to be the nicest of the bunch and with at least a Luxury rental, you'll be hardpressed to not be able to tell the staff "Hey, this is great and all but do you have something more like..."
Several times I've come across situations like this and they're more than willing to look through their current stock or even nab from the adjacent Alamo inventory.
Had a convertible reservation at SFO, started raining, and the staff was happy to grab me an Audi A6(!) from Alamo next door.

Last point, I don't think anyone has touched on this, but the one-way part of the rental may make some complications if you start to reach into the higher-tier stuff.
An example, I was driving from SFO to LAX and had some trouble convincing staff to walk away with a BMW 430i that was on the aisle.
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Old Feb 18, 20, 9:01 am
  #6  
QBK
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Join Date: Dec 2010
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Posts: 1,310
Hi all,

Figured I'd close the loop on this in case anybody is curious how it turned out. I made the Luxury SUV reservation, and flew in to SAN on Thursday night (before Presidents' Day Weekend) at 9pm. Off the bat, they offered me a QX80 -- exactly what I didn't want. (There were about 5 of them lined up on the SUV row). I politely said "No way," but the only other thing they had was a QX60. I asked about convertibles (totally sold out) and luxury sedans (one BMW 3-series in the lot, being held for a Luxury reservation), and even walked the ES and EA to see if something was hiding (about 200 mid- and full-size sedans).

In the end, I took the QX60 -- because it was literally the only thing they had other than Fusions, Altimas, etc -- along with an offer to come back in the morning and try for an exchange. The QX60 is okay, but it's basically a plush minivan with a fairly powerful engine. Very comfortable seats, good acceleration, but drives and feels kinda like a truck.

We came back early the next morning for an exchange. Still nothing in the lot, but after I pleaded with the attendant, she made a call, and said they could bring an XT5 or a GLC300 around. I bit on the GLC300. Took about 15 minutes to bring it around, which earned me a free tank of gas from the attendant.

After 3 days and 1360 miles, I returned the GLC300 a happy customer. For a grand total of $53.60 (free days), it was a fun and comfortable drive! En route from San Diego to Medford, we cruised down bumpy national/state park roads to see attractions, crossed the Sierras via Lake Tahoe, and enjoyed the winding curves for the entire length of US 1 from the Golden Gate Bridge to Crescent City. Yeah, a Miata would have been more fun on the curvy bits (and there are a lot of them!), but it wouldn't have taken the bumpy roads nearly as well. And I'd have worried about the possibility of snow in the mountains (although the weather was perfect). The only real downside to the Mercedes was visibility -- it doesn't have a great windshield, and this one didn't have any kind of moonroof. But the adjustable driving dynamics (including suspension) was fantastic -- I dialed it to "comfort" for freeways, and "sport+" for the coastal slalom.

However... I do have one regret. When I showed up at SAN, they had a prominently displayed Maserati Levante for a $60/day upgrade fee. I reflexively balked at the upgrade charge... but realized later that this was the perfect opportunity to get a bucket-list driving experience. For $240 total, it would have been worth it. Oh well -- the GLC300 was just fine!
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Last edited by QBK; Feb 19, 20 at 12:00 pm Reason: Word choice
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Old Feb 18, 20, 10:09 pm
  #7  
 
Join Date: Nov 2019
Location: NYC
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So glad to hear it turned out great QBK! I am in a similar boat of planning to use my free days for something nice and fun. Thanks for sharing this!
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Old Feb 19, 20, 4:53 pm
  #8  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 109
Glad to hear it worked out in the end -- I would have felt badly about steering you toward the Luxury SUV if you had indeed gotten stuck with a QX80!
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Old Feb 20, 20, 11:19 pm
  #9  
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
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I actually like the QX60 better than QX80. Feels more nimble. And I never need the space anyway.

At SAN you better reserve a convertible if you want one. They sell out. I had one reserved and they had nothing (no cars at all), so waited til they pulled stuff up. And ended up getting a 4 series. But I don't even know that you can reserve anything higher than a standard convertible anyway.
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Old Today, 8:09 am
  #10  
QBK
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Join Date: Dec 2010
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Posts: 1,310
Originally Posted by s0ssos View Post
I actually like the QX60 better than QX80. Feels more nimble. And I never need the space anyway.

At SAN you better reserve a convertible if you want one. They sell out. I had one reserved and they had nothing (no cars at all), so waited til they pulled stuff up. And ended up getting a 4 series. But I don't even know that you can reserve anything higher than a standard convertible anyway.
Agreed on both counts. They had several QX80s, and I took the one QX60 instead -- but it still wasn't what I was looking for. The QX80 would have been a catastrophe for that particular trip!

And, yeah, it seems like SAN is a place to try and reserve what you want, because (unlike e.g. LAX) most of what's lying around on the ES is... full size sedans. When I checked in, they had a single BMW 330, but it was being held specifically for somebody with an LCAR reservation. I was reserving with free days, and convertible wasn't one of the allowed classes.
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