Testing National Car Rental’s Premier Selection

If you’re a member of National Car Rental’s loyalty program, the Emerald Club, you know that membership includes the time-saving perk of being able to bypass the counter and go directly to the “Emerald Aisle” to pick out your car if you’ve booked at least a mid-size car.

The options there are enticing, but back in 2013, National began been rolling out another quite tempting option: a “Premier Selection” section where renters can upgrade (for a fee, of course) to far more fancy cars from the likes of BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln and Maserati.

National Indulg

“Premier Selection” sections are now offered at 25 airport locations and, at National Car Rental’s invitation, I had the chance to test out the process of choosing this upgrade option in Seattle, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and driving one of the cars around.

SEA-TAC Airport Rental Car Center has some great art.

SEA-TAC Airport Rental Car Center has some great art.

To be honest, as someone who drives an older, small car and who has had to deal with the aftermath of a small fender bender in a rental car, I was quite nervous about participating in the project.

But once I reconfirmed that my current credit card offers primary coverage on a rental car, I felt a bit better about it and booked a mid-size car for a day trip in my home-base of Seattle – in part to experience the airport’s still-new consolidated rental car center experience.

National Car Rental options

Here’s a report:

From airport to rental car center: A breeze! The wait for a bus from the terminal to the rental car center was less than 4 minutes and the ride there, less than ten minutes. Once in the door, the counters for all the rental car agencies are lined up along a wide corridor. There’s even a coffee stand there.

Getting the car: As an Emerald Club member, I could have gone straight to National’s lot and upgraded from the Premier Selection there, but I stopped to do my paperwork at the main counter. Customer agent Maribel checked me in for my mid-size car reservation and explained the Premier Selection option when she noticed my husband leafing through the binder with the pictures of cars available.

The Premier Selection cars aren’t even in the binder, she explained “You pick those out once you get downstairs.” She also said, even with the extra fees charged, the Premier Selection is very popular. “On the first day we had them available, we had one guy who rented a Corvette for the day and brought it back having driven 800 miles,” she said.

Once at the car selection aisle, another customer agent stepped in to help me choose my Premier Selection car. The choices: A Corvette, a BMW 7 Series, and a really big SUV. (I think it was a Maserati, but I got distracted by all the shiny cars…)

The upgrade price – right there on a little tag in the window – was $100 (it varies by vehicle) – and the customer service agent helping us out said the Premier Selection options get rented nearly every day.

The agent also said the Premier Selection cars get special treatment. “Only the managers can drive them in the lot and only a few employees are allowed to clean them,” she said.

That made me nervous again about renting one of these special cars, but we chose the BMW, got instructions on how to hook up the Bluetooth for tunes, and were off.

Into a driving rainstorm.

That wasn’t the most enjoyable way to test drive a fancy car, but it was a good way to experience the performance. Which was, as promised, excellent.

And being in stuck in highway traffic in a fancy BMW sure beats the same experience in my little Honda.

Returning the car: No special drop-off necessary. The person checking us in asked twice how we liked the car and ride. Was it because we didn’t put 800 miles on the BMW?

Here’s a list of airports where you can upgrade to a Premier Selection: Atlanta, Denver, Miami, San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago O’Hare, Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis, San Diego, Houston Intercontinental, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Raleigh Durham, Portland, Nashville, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Orlando.

Please note: I partnered with National Car Rental on this project; all opinions/observations are my own.