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Help! Dollar didn't have my rental car but charged me $82 anyway

Dollar doesn't have the rental car Beth Bonness reserved in Atlanta, but that's not stopping it from charging her $82. Can it do that? And how does she get a refund?

I recently rented a car from Dollar at the Atlanta airport. When I arrived at the airport, there was a four-hour wait for a car. There were no computer or weather issues. If I had continued waiting, I would have missed my wedding rehearsal. I tried to resolve the problem by calling the 800 number, but I could not. So I left and rented from a different company.

Since I had prepaid for the rental, Dollar charged me $82 for the car, anyway.

I reached out to Dollar on Twitter, and a representative offered me a $50 coupon and a credit for the rental that expires in just a few months. I'd rather get my $82 back. I paid for a rental car at a certain time, and Dollar could not deliver it. I should not have to pay for the car. Can you help me?

Beth Bonness, Portland, Ore.

Dollar shouldn't have charged you for a car it couldn't deliver. And when you pointed out the problem, the company should have promptly refunded the $82 -- not offered you an expiring credit.

What happened to your rental? I wasn't there when you arrived at the airport. But there have been widespread reports of car rental shortages, especially on busy weekends and holidays. The reason: Car rental companies routinely accept more reservations than they have cars, anticipating that some customers will be no-shows. When everyone shows up, they have a problem.

What's especially problematic is when you prepay for your rental. That means you pay Dollar for the car when you reserve it, and in exchange for a lower rate, your reservation becomes nonrefundable (the discount is usually 15 to 20 percent). You should reasonably expect Dollar to hold a car for you since it has already received your money. But this time, with a four-hour wait, it simply ran out of vehicles.

How do you avoid a situation like this? First, consider booking a non-pre-paid reservation. You might be able to get the same savings by shopping around for a better rate. You can also find discounts through AAA or your favorite club warehouse. To ensure your car is available, consider renting a car at a less busy time (Friday afternoons tend to get crowded, for example, and Wednesday mornings are quieter).

But for you, letting a representative know that you couldn't wait four hours -- and getting that representative's name -- would have probably saved you a world of trouble. Dollar marked you as a no-show and kept your money, which it is allowed to do. If you had spoken with an employee at the Atlanta location, they might have authorized a refund. (If you booked through an online travel agency or travel advisor, you could also contact them to handle the refund.) I wouldn't have just walked away from the rental location knowing that Dollar had $82 of my hard-earned money.

It looks like you appealed this to an executive at Hertz, the parent company of Dollar. (I list the Hertz executive contacts on my consumer advocacy site, But the company would not issue a refund. Sometimes, even a meticulous paper trail and a polite request aren't enough. And while my methods for resolving a customer service dispute are highly effective, they don't work every time.

You reached out to my consumer advocacy organization, and I contacted Hertz on your behalf. The company apologized to you, issued a full refund for the $82, and let you keep the $50 credit as a "goodwill gesture."

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him on his site.

© 2024 Christopher Elliott


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