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Miles Away

Are mileage programs at car rental companies running out of gas?

Getting frequent-flier miles for renting a car used to be a cinch. The incentives were offered for practically every airline under the sun--all you had to do was pick the program.

But times are changing. Hertz has severed ties with several mileage programs, including Midwest Express and Northwest. Avis bid adieu to Northwest, TWA and US Airways, and other companies are contemplating similar moves.

The reductions are part of an aggressive cost-cutting trend in the car rental industry, according to Warren Lieberman, director of travel and hospitality consulting at DFI-Aeronomics, a revenue management consulting firm in Mountain View, California. "Mileage programs were costly for the car rental companies and didn't provide them with a lot of value," says Lieberman.

So is this the beginning of the end of car rental incentives? That's unlikely. Many large car rental companies continue to offer miles with major airlines because it makes sense for them.

However, there may be a catch. On your next trip, you could pay for the privilege of collecting airline miles without realizing it. Hertz slapped a 36-cent surcharge on travelers claiming miles on American, United and Southwest, for example, and other car rental companies could follow suit.

Jim Haynes, president of the Commercial Travelers Association, an organization of independent business travelers based in Atlanta, doesn't think collecting miles on a rental is worth the trouble anymore.

"Forget miles," Haynes says. "They cost the car rental companies money. They cost us money. It's better to ignore the programs and shop for the best deal."

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Christopher Elliott is an Orlando, Fla., writer and independent producer who specializes in technology, travel and mobile computing. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and online. You can find out more about him on his website or sign up for his free weekly newsletter.

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This article was originally published in the June 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Miles Away.

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