Two New Programs Driving Budget

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Working to strengthen its value message, Budget Rent a Car Corp. shelved two membership programs for bigger and more contemporary versions that already have recruited 250,000 members.

On the heels of launching the rewards program Perfect Drive with a mailing to 1.2 million consumers, Budget, Lisle, IL, is slated this week to introduce express service with Fastbreak. That program will keep a customer's signature on file to expedite the rental process.

Although Fastbreak is only hitting rental counters just now, Budget already introduced the service through a 500,000-piece mailing to American Express cardholders who use competing rental companies. Next month, Budget will drop another 200,000 to 300,000 pieces to recruit members for Fastbreak by again teaming with American Express. The plan incorporates a business-to-business plan that will yield a 20,000-piece mailing in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, memberships are rolling in for Perfect Drive, which was supported by a 1.2 million-piece consumer mailing, the Web and counter service. Perfect Drive partners Budget with Callaway Golf Co. as the supplier of a range of golf products that can be redeemed for reward points.

"The programs are connected, but you don't have to participate in one to enjoy the benefits of the other," said Kimberly Mulcahy, vice president of corporate communications. "Our goal, however, is to have everyone who is a frequent customer enjoy Fastbreak, because it is easier and more cost efficient for us and faster for the customer. We felt by tying the two together -- one with an attractive, premium hook -- it would give consumers a stronger reason to pay attention to the information."

As part of Perfect Drive, members receive points redeemable for either Callaway Golf products and free car rentals or Callaway Golf products and mileage toward airline tickets for each dollar spent on a Budget car rental. A welcome-packet mailing includes a Callaway product brochure and required points for redemption.

"We uncovered some research that indicated those who travel frequently or who are frequent renters are five times more likely to buy golf equipment, so we went to the premier golf manufacturer. The response has been just phenomenal," Mulcahy said.

The new programs replace two less efficient ones, Budget Awards Plus and Budget Express, which provided the database for the 1.2 million-piece mailing.

The move to update the programs follow the company's beefed-up marketing strategy that last summer spawned a new attitude with its "Get out of the Ordinary" positioning.

"We have never priced ourselves as the cheapest," Mulcahy said. "Even in the '70s and '80s, you could rent a Lincoln for $39.95. We're not cheap, we are a good value. This is not just a little promotion."

Targeting value-minded consumers as well as budget-conscious, corporate-travel managers, Budget helped drive response with a choice of offers, including a Motorola pager that was issued with one rental before Aug. 1 or the redemption of 300 points earned through five rentals for a Bobby Jones putter.

Mulcahy said the company's former Budget Express program was deemed outdated.

"The Express database was huge, but we didn't have the means to implement car preference or credit-card numbers," she said. "We had the information but couldn't use it because we still had manual processes. We mailed to that database to convert them over and to sign a master rental agreement that allows us to have a paperless transaction. The master agreement files a credit number and signature. Before, we didn't have this document and now it forever lets us rent them their cars."

The latest programs are fully automated. A file number indicates whether customers belong to each club and will automatically tally reward points for members of Perfect Drive and automatically process rental agreements through a bar-coding system for members of Fastbreak.

"After they rent three times, the system automatically generates a membership and welcome packet with upgrade coupons," Mulcahy said. "The strategy helped us avoid sending information to people who are not really frequent renters."

Aside from direct programs, Budget devised employee incentive programs to drive membership at rental desks and featured the offers in airline magazines. Ads include a toll-free number for signing up. The company tapped Carlson Marketing Group, a division of Carlson Cos. Inc., a Minneapolis-based hospitality conglomerate.

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