37 Rental Cars in 2 Days: 185,000 Miles Earned

Oct 14, 2015

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Making the most out of a vaguely worded rental car promotion, new TPG Contributor Max Bennedich tells us how he ended up on the subtropical island of Madeira in Portugal, picking up 37 rental cars in 2 days in order to earn 185,000 frequent flyer miles. Max lives in Sweden and is a member of Star Alliance partner Scandinavian Airlines’ EuroBonus loyalty program, but his story illustrates an amazing way to maximize a simple promotion — something all of us can do! (All photos by the author.)

This was either going to be a genius move or a miserable failure. Either way, I figured I’d end up with a good story.

Back in June, Avis Car Rental had a promotion offering 5,000 Scandinavian Airlines EuroBonus miles per rental (SAS and Avis are EuroBonus earning partners). I noted that the promotion’s terms and conditions clearly specified that this offer was valid for rentals of any length — was this too good to be true? To test out what “any length” might mean, I rented a $55 car during a layover in Copenhagen (CPH), circled the airport a bit, returned the car — and sure enough, was rewarded with 5,000 EuroBonus miles.

The challenge was on!

37 Avis contracts.
This is what your paperwork haul looks like when you rent a LOT of cars from Avis — and this isn’t even all of it.

I value EuroBonus miles at around 2.45 cents a piece, which means that 5,000 miles is worth $122 to me. So I figured that as long as I spent less than $122 on each rental during this experiment, I would effectively make money.

In the Swedish town where I live, I found that the cheapest Avis rental car was $70 — but it seemed like more fun to go somewhere else and turn this project into a vacation. I expanded the scope of my research and looked up the prices at all of the 2,820 Avis offices in the 109 countries/regions in Europe, Africa and the Middle East where this promotion was valid. (Thankfully, this is an automated process on the Avis website, and you can leave it running for a few days while it does its work.)

Initially, Lebanon looked like the cheapest place to go, with rentals for $15.22 per day, so I started making travel plans for Beirut. However, South Africa was another interesting option, renting half-ton trailers for $17.18 and cars for $20.91 per day, so I played with the idea of a combined rental car/trailer run in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to get the logistics quite right for either destination.

europe map with madeira
Location of Madeira. (It’s that single pixel that you can’t really see.) Map courtesy of OpenStreetMap.

Meanwhile, the search process was still running, checking a wide range of rental dates and locations. After a couple of days, the town of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira popped up, displaying September rental rates of only $12.60 per day — a clear winner.

Plus, Madeira looks like this:

ponta_de_sao lourenco_cropped

With my destination decided, the next obvious question was: How many cars could I rent?

There were two Avis offices in Funchal, each located only three quarters of a mile from each other, and both open from 8:30am-12:30pm and 3-7 pm. Searching on FlyerTalk, I found that having two or more simultaneous bookings could result in the agency combining them into one, so I opted to alternate my car rentals between the two offices in Funchal, returning each car within a half-hour period. I figured two days would be enough time to amass a nice stash of SAS miles without fully exasperating any Avis reps. (I also didn’t want to invest too much time or money if things didn’t work out as I’d hoped.)

avis route
The route between the two Avis Rental Car offices in Funchal. Map courtesy of OpenStreetMap.

In two days’ time, I figured I’d be able to pick up and return 37 rental cars. I extended my final/37th car rental to 24 hours to give myself a day of sightseeing on Madeira.

The Avis office at Largo Antonio Nobre in central Funchal.

Two weeks before my trip, a rep from one of the Avis offices in Funchal called me, explaining 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 was supposed to be 37. After typing a bit at his computer, he told me that this was nonsense, and that he would simply combine all the rentals into one. I hastily explained the promotion and said I’d really appreciate being able to make 37 individual rentals. Though he seemed to understand at first, he ended our conversation by saying, “You will pay for this” — so it was unclear whether or not he was on board.

A few days before my trip, the same man called again, still wanting to combine all my rentals into one. Otherwise, he said, they’d need to place a hold of about $120 on each rental (an expense of about $4,440), which he worried would max out my credit card. No worries, I told him, as I’d bumped up the credit limit on my SAS EuroBonus World MasterCard and would simply call them to pre-authorize the purchases.

This credit card is only available to cardholders living in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, and I used it for three reasons: 1) the Avis promotion would only be valid if I paid with it; 2) I earn SAS EuroBonus miles each time I make a purchase with it; and 3) the bank that issues this card made it very easy for me to raise the credit limit and temporarily remove the fraud protection that would otherwise kick in if trying to make so many transactions in a short time span.

The Avis rep remained puzzled, convinced that my elaborate car-rental plan didn’t make sense. “You’ll just open and close contracts all day,” he said, genuinely confused. “Is this really how you want to spend your vacation?”

I apologized for the inconvenience, gently assured him that this was what I wanted to do — and remained hopeful.

The Opel Zafira, the seven-seater vehicle Avis arranged for my rental adventure.
The Opel Zafira, the seven-seat diesel vehicle that Avis arranged for my rental adventure.

On the day of my first rental, I arrived at Funchal Avis #1 at 8:30am, fully expecting the day ahead to be pretty brutal; I hadn’t been able to book one-way rentals, so I was facing a rather brisk three-quarter-mile walk between the two offices for each and every rental. Instead, I was happily surprised to find that all five Avis reps at the Funchal offices had climbed on board with my plan, streamlining the process by giving me one car to use for all my rentals (a seven-seat diesel Opel Zafira), which allowed me to simply drive between the two offices to close and open contracts.

Most of the Avis employees I dealt with seemed to think my whole plan was pretty amusing — and possibly even amazing. One of them commented, “25 years at Avis, I’ve never seen this before,” and another printed out and organized all my bookings with paper clips and post-its. The exception here was the handyman at one of the offices, whose job was to receive keys and park/deliver cars for Avis customers; each time I arrived and left, he was equally confused, and never did seem to grasp what was happening.

Throughout two days, I repeatedly made a roughly five-minute drive between the offices — each of which offered parking right outside — and then spent about 10 minutes closing and opening each contract. Without much more to do, I was left with a fair bit of time on my hands.

The pool at Pestana Carlton Madeira, right next to the Avis office.

I whiled away one afternoon at the pool at the 5-star Pestana Carlton Madeira hotel, which was set right next to one of the Avis offices. I wasn’t actually staying here, mind you — I just hung out at the pool. I tend to be a more thrifty traveler, and my lodgings on Madeira consisted of rooms in two different guest houses — $19 and $28, respectively — one night of camping atop Pico do Arieiro (see below), and one night sprawled on a chair at Madeira Airport (FNC).

The road up to Eira do Serrado. Madeira is subject to microclimates, and the weather can go from sunny to dense fog in the time it takes you to drive over a hilltop or simply round a corner.

In addition to my two-day rental odyssey, I spent roughly 24 hours taking a scenery-intensive drive around the central and east part of the island to explore mountains, coastline and gardens. Along the way, I followed along many of Madeira’s famous levadas, irrigation channels that criss-cross Madeira over thousands of kilometers, transporting water from the wetter parts of the island to the drier parts.

Here are just a few highlights of my drive around Madeira:

The gorgeous Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, in the Funchal mountains.
Traditional thatch-roof Madeiran houses in Santana.
Fortim do Faial, a fortress and lookout point on the northern side of the island.
Hiking trail PR 21 – Caminho do Norte, between Encumeada and Ribeira Grande.
A skinny, water-filled levada on the way to the Balcões viewpoint.
Clouds often move in before lunch, covering Pico de Arieiro in thick fog — but this is what it often looks like early in the morning.

Between the two stretches of daylight on this driving adventure, I headed to a campsite on Pico de Arieiro, the island’s third-largest peak, which is famed for its hiking trails and soaring views — especially of the sunrise.

Throughout my successful car-rental adventure, I received amazing customer service from these two Avis offices in Funchal, where friendly, organized staff members did everything they could to help me and never once complained — despite the additional workload I put on them. For instance, on my second day of rentals, one of the offices had a total of 10 bookings… and nine of them were mine.

Upon returning my 37th rental car, a cheerful Avis rep simply waved me off with a smile, saying, “See you next promotion!”

pico do arieiro sunrise
Sunrise at Pico do Arieiro, at roughly 1,800 meters (about 5,900 feet) above sea level.

Here’s how this mileage haul actually panned out for me:

SAS EuroBonus Miles Earned
Rentals: 185,000
Flight: 4,930
Purchases: 1,142
TOTAL: 191,072

Money Spent
Flight ticket: $353
Rental cars: $466
Gas (for 317 km): $39
Parking: $2
Airport transport: $32
Accommodation (four nights): $47
Food/drinks (three days): $46
Monte Palace Gardens (admission): $11
TOTAL: $996

Cost per mile: 0.52 cents

Ever scored a great milage haul like this one? Please share it with us in the comments below!

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