If the world seems a little topsy turvy these days, let the record show that the car rental company, Hertz, has reached a new low with our recent experience at one of their facilities located outside a major California airport terminal. As members of the Hertz #1 Gold Club, we showed up at the facility to retrieve our reserved car. Seeing our family name on the board, we quickly found our vehicle (a Toyota Prius) and proceeded to the checkout lane. I must say, this process occurred smoothly and swiftly, although we had a little trouble figuring out how to start the Prius, which is no fault of the rental agency.
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The Rental Car: The car we retrieved, a Prius, served us very well on our California tour. We were actually thrilled to have the opportunity to try a Prius for a day, and found the vehicle clean, well maintained, and with very low mileage. The money we saved on gas with the Prius' excellent mileage, is a small consolation for the money we forfeited upon returning the car (see ahead).
The Hertz Facility: we found the Hertz facility in close proximity to the airport, with a terminal bus that takes you to all the rental facilities on a circuit. Since we had a relative drive us to the Hertz facility to rent our car, she was easily able to drop us off and get on her way.
The Personnel: Leaving the facility with our rental car was a breeze. We signed the requisite contract and were on our way in minutes. We did not accept any of the additional fees, like the Collision Damage waiver or Pre-paid fuel. We did have a little trouble understanding the accent of our checkout staff, but that didn't make much of a difference. They were both friendly and courteous. However, neither of the attendants alerted us beforehand about the problem which we encountered upon returning the vehicle: a substantial $70 penalty was charged simply because we returned the vehicle 90 minutes earlier than we had contracted for.
Yes, folks, you heard me correctly! Upon leaving the facility, I looked at the receipt and mentioned that $140 was an awfully high price for renting a car for a day. My husband agreed ~ we had been charged almost double the contracted rate! He went into the building to investigate the surcharge, and the manager repeatedly explained that this was Hertz's policy. He actually chided my husband for breaking our contract with Hertz. He said that we had promised to return the car at a certain time, and that we had broken our agreement by returning it an hour and a half too early! Can you imagine ~ my husband was dumbfounded, he kept arguing with the manager and the manager said he couldn't change the situation because that was the company policy. My husband even offered to drive out of the lot and return in 90 minutes in order to waive the charge. They refused our offer, saying we had already returned the car and it was a done deal.
After about 20 minutes arguing with the manager, my husband decided to take up the charge with our credit card company. The manager did give my husband a certificate for a discount on our next rental, but that assumes we are planning to use Hertz again. We are still waiting for a resolution with the credit card company.
I am still in shock about our experience with Hertz. I simply cannot fathom where they get off treating loyal customers that way. The attendants in the Hertz lot were not surprised ~ they admitted that since Hertz was under new management they had heard this complaint fairly frequently from customers. I will definitely investigate the possibility of an early return fine when I rent another car ~ needless to say, we felt outraged by the whole experience!
Postscript: Bait & Switch ~ After reading some other reviews of Hertz here on Epinions, I realize that we may have fallen prey to a type of bait and switch scheme. In other words, we were quoted one rate, but only if we dropped the car off exactly at the predetermined time. Thus, it seems our 90 minutes early dropoff was enough to change the terms of the rental and therefore, almost double our rate. However, I fail to see how 90 minutes early is a reasonable excuse to increase our rental charge ~ it's just an excuse for Hertz to make an unreasonable profit at their customer's expense.
Update: Here's what I found when I checked the FAQs on Hertz's website about the early return charge:
Question: Why has my rate changed? (note bolded answer)
Answer: The rate quoted at the time of reservation is an approximate amount based on the details you provided. If the rental does not meet the conditions of the confirmed reservation (for example, returned earlier/later or to a different location), the reserved rate is not applicable. The most economical rate available at the time the vehicle is returned will be applied. Also, rates quoted at the time of reservation often already include any discounts that may be applicable in the quoted rate. Your invoice will reflect the quoted rate and the discount separately, but the net rate will be the same. Contract rates are not guaranteed. If a contract rate was applied, the rate in effect on the day of your rental will be applied, which could be different than the rate in effect at the time of reservation.
Grace Period: I read on the website that there is a 29 minute grace period, so I guess we were too early according to this stipulation. (Yikes ~ not even 30 minutes? It doesn't seem very generous to me). I did ask one of the online Hertz representatives whether there was an early return charge, and she said "No, unless it was a prepaid rental, and then you would not receive a refund." I guess she wasn't aware that Hertz rates can change outside the 29 minute grace-period window, whether early or late.
UPDATED: DECEMBER 2008: Hertz finally sent a letter saying they were refunding the overcharge to our credit card. If anyone from Hertz reads my review, I have a few comments about your business practice:
1) This error should have been corrected at the branch level at the time it occurred. There is no reason why the manager couldn't have understood that charging a $70 fine for returning the car 90 minutes early is ridiculous and refunded our money on the spot.
2) Now that you are aware that your contract overcharging system is flawed, I am hopeful you (Hertz) will revise your policy of penalizing customers for returning their car several hours early. I can understand if you're charging customers a fee for returning their car on a different day than it was booked for, but not when returning it earlier on the same day.
Thanks for listening, Hertz ~ I hope you change your policy! In every other way, we felt your service delivered what we needed and were pleased with our rental.
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