Can Hertz give a goodwill gesture and still send you to collections?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Hertz customer Aaron Baird made a costly mistake during his last car rental. Because he returned the vehicle to the wrong location, the car rental giant slapped him with a $780 upcharge. Ultimately, in the spirit of positive customer relations, Hertz offered Aaron a goodwill gesture and erased the debt.

Lesson learned, and all was well – or so Aaron thought.

A few weeks after Hertz offered the goodwill gesture, a different department within the company resurrected the invoice. That Hertz team sent Aaron’s account to collections and put him on the Do Not Rent (DNR) list.

Now an exasperated Aaron is hoping our advocacy team can help. He wants Hertz to take his account out of collections and remove his name from the DNR list.

Can we make that happen?

Taking a scenic road trip with a Hertz rental car

Last June, Aaron and his wife took a trip to Washington state. The couple booked a Hertz rental car in downtown Seattle.

“When we picked the car up, we asked the Hertz agent if we could return it to the airport,” Aaron recalled. “She told us we could, and it would cost an extra $75.”

For the next four days, the couple used the car to visit the picturesque locations outside of Seattle.

“Then we returned the car to the airport and flew to San Diego to continue our vacation,” Aaron recalled. “It was an enjoyable visit to Washington.”

The memories of that part of the trip were just about to get much less enjoyable.

An unpleasant billing surprise from Hertz

A few hours later, when the couple landed in San Diego, Aaron opened his email. There was the receipt for the car rental with a big surprise.

“I expected the bill to be around $430,” Aaron remembers. “Instead, it was $1,200!”

Aaron says he headed straight to the Hertz desk at the airport in San Diego. There he showed the agent the extra-large bill with a dropoff fee of $780. Explaining that he had been told that the dropoff fee would be $75, Aaron asked the agent to remove the charge.

This Hertz agent was very nice. She typed in some information and told me she cleared it all up. Then she handed me a printout that said I only owed $430, which was the original rate.

Aaron

Pleased that Hertz had quickly corrected the problem, Aaron and his wife continued on with their journey.

It isn’t entirely clear what that Hertz agent actually did at the San Diego airport. But in the coming week, Aaron would discover that she definitely did not remove the $780 overcharge.

Consumer warning: Don’t file a credit card dispute against Hertz

A few weeks after the couple returned home to Georgia from their west coast adventure, Aaron reviewed his credit card bill.

“The pending charges on my credit card bill had become permanent,” Aaron says. “Hertz had charged me $1,200 for the rental in Seattle. That included the $780 for the dropoff fee.”

After speaking to multiple Hertz agents, none of whom was willing to correct the charges, Aaron gave up. His next call was to his credit card company. He decided to let the bank sort this out for him.

Unfortunately for Aaron, filing a credit card dispute against Hertz is almost always a mistake. The car rental giant often simply ignores the chargeback inquiries from credit card companies. This results in the consumer “winning” the dispute. But then Hertz sends the debt to collections and puts their former customer on the Do Not Rent list. Then the consumer has a whole new set of problems.

We’ve seen this scenario over and over in our case files.

What many consumers don’t understand is that winning a credit card chargeback only ends the credit card company’s involvement in the case. The merchant is always free to pursue the debt elsewhere if it believes the debt is valid. (You can read more about the dangers of using a credit card chargeback in the wrong way here.)

Aaron was our latest entry into the Hertz DNR club via his triumphant chargeback.

“I won the credit card dispute by showing that I had the adjustment given to me in San Diego by that Hertz agent,” Aaron remembered. “But Hertz didn’t care that I won the chargeback.”

That’s right, Hertz didn’t care that Aaron’s credit card company had sided with him. Hertz wanted that inflated dropoff fee paid.

The company soon inundated Aaron with a plethora of demands and threats for payment.

Asking our advocacy team for help

Several months after this car rental fiasco began, Aaron came across an article I had written that caught his eye.

In that case, Andrew Dupuy had a somewhat similar situation with Hertz in Seattle. He claimed that he didn’t realize where he had made his return reservation. But when he dropped the car off at the airport in Seattle instead of the local branch two miles away, that triggered a nearly $1,000 upcharge from Hertz.

I had successfully mediated that case with our friends at Hertz, and Aaron hoped we might be able to help him too.

So he sent his request for help to our team.

Unfortunately, you broke your car rental contract.

When Aaron’s request first hit our helpline, it landed on my colleague Dwayne’s desk. He assessed the case and pointed Aaron in the right direction to escalate his complaint.

Mr. Aaron,

Unfortunately, if you didn’t have the rental contract changed at the time, then you basically broke the contract terms by not returning it as indicated in the contract. Your documentation doesn’t support that the company didn’t follow the terms of the agreement, so it is likely the additional charges would apply. The estimated charges documentation you received at San Diego doesn’t indicate that they updated the rental agreement.

When disputing a charge with a credit card, it is essential to remember that a successful dispute only removes the credit card from the equation, the company can still pursue the amount owed through other means such as collections. We also recommended that you exhaust all other possibilities first, as the credit card dispute will usually cancel out any goodwill the company may have been willing to provide and, in many cases, will put you on the Do Not Rent list until the amount is paid.

Our recommendation is to write to the company to request some goodwill gesture in either canceling out the amount owed or trying to negotiate a reduced amount.

Dwayne Coward, Consumer Advocate

And soon, Aaron reported good news back to our team.

A Hertz goodwill gesture: Yes, we will give you one free pass

By following Dwayne’s guidance, Aaron had reached an executive at Hertz who had agreed to erase the debt.

Thank you for contacting a member of our Senior Leadership Team, they have asked that I respond to you on their behalf. I appreciate the opportunity to review this matter. I understand you are concerned with the rental *****  which took place in Seattle, WA on June 26th.

Based on our records the rental vehicle was scheduled to be returned to the renting location on June 29th; however, the rental vehicle was returned to the Seattle, WA Airport causing the rate to change. Please refer to our Terms & Conditions which state that if the stipulations of the contract are altered the rate is subject to change. By accepting the rental record, you indicate that you accept the terms within the agreement. Based on this the charges are considered valid.

We received a dispute from your financial institution on July 6th in the amount of $726.87 and the funds were returned to the card on file. The disputed amount was then sent to our Direct Billing Team and we began collection efforts. Since the rental vehicle was returned to a neighboring location as a one-time goodwill gesture, I have written off the amount owed and closed the collection file. However, in the future should you require a change to the contract please contact us directly so we may make the appropriate modifications.

I hope this offering will restore your faith in our brand and I appreciate you allowing me the opportunity to review this matter in full. Please know that we take all customer concerns very seriously and I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to review this matter. Please do not hesitate to raise any future concerns and thank you for choosing Hertz.

Kind regards,

Hertz Executive Customer Service

That should have been the end of this story. But it isn’t.

Is this a joke? Hertz still wants its money and sent me to collections!

Nearly two months after we first heard from Aaron, he was back.

Good Afternoon,

I had contacted you about six weeks or so regarding an issue with a Hertz car rental. By way of quick summary, we dropped off a Hertz rental at a different location than we picked it up back in June, were charged about $700 more (than the original $400 or so due) but only expected to pay a $75 fee, eventually disputed the $700 extra with our credit card and won the refund for the $700, started receiving bills from Hertz, and finally had the $780 written off by Hertz after both contacting you and using the executive email address on your web site to contact them directly.

This was all great news and a lesson learned, but now we have a new set of problems with the same rental issue that we don’t know how to resolve.

After receiving the email from Hertz that the amount disputed would be written off, we received another bill for the same amount shortly after. I emailed the same person that had told us it was written off and she said we could ignore it, as the timing of the sending of the bill was close to when the amount was written off. We ignored the bill, but then received a letter from a collection agency a couple of weeks later.

Aaron to our advocacy team

When I went through Aaron’s latest paper trail, I could see that Hertz had waived the dropoff fee months ago. It was unclear why a separate department at Hertz had then pursued the debt and sent it to collections and put Aaron on the Do Not Rent list.

It was time to see what our executive friends at Hertz thought about this car rental fiasco.

Why did Hertz send this customer to collections?

Hi ******

How are you?

We have another case similar to the one last week, where Hertz gave a goodwill gesture to a customer and then someone else in the company sent the debt to a collection agency!

In this case, we have Samantha Nowak/ Aaron Baird. She and her husband returned their rental to the wrong location and Hertz charged them nearly $800 extra. Later, after they escalated their case to their credit card company and to the executive customer service level *****, Hertz Executive Customer Service, wrote in an email below (in red) that she was granting a one-time goodwill gesture and removed the additional drop off charges. That was at the beginning of September. Two weeks ago, the couple began to get demand notices from a third-party collection agency for the fees that ****** had removed. So it looks like there is some problem with the communication between the various entities here.

Now, this Hertz customer is being chased by a collection agency for a fee that ****** assured the couple was being removed from the record.

Do you think your team could have a look here and call off this collection agency?

Thank you! 😊

Michelle to Hertz

Good news from Hertz (for real this time): You’re all clear!

And soon, Aaron’s battle with Hertz was really over.

Hi Michelle,

I just received a call from Nicole at Hertz. She was very nice and said that our case is closed and has been pulled from collections. I asked if she could send me that in writing and she said yes.

I’m assuming this means that this is the end of it.

I want to thank you again for all of your help. Without your help this would have been a much bigger mess and I am very appreciative!

Aaron

Hertz has removed Aaron from its Do Not Rent list, refunded that $780, and he’s back to being a customer in good standing.

Hertz can’t send you to collections if you follow these tips.

We know from our case files that Hertz is more than willing to send its customers’ accounts to collections (See: Is this the worst car rental experience ever?). To avoid making yourself an easy target, here are some tips for you to follow.

  1. Review that contract.
    Remember, when you rent a car, you will be asked to sign a contract at the Hertz counter. That contract is legally binding and contains all the details of the agreement between you and the car rental company. Make certain that you read every part of that contract before you walk away with the keys to your rental car. Yes, it is tedious to read it all. Yes, you might be holding up the line behind you. But who cares? You must do your due diligence and be sure you understand all parts of that contract. Remember, you are taking responsibility for a vehicle with a value of $20,000-$50,000 (maybe more). Don’t overlook that significant fact.
  2. Get all changes in writing.
    If you want to change the terms of that contract, you must get it in writing. “I was told” is one of the most useless phrases when battling a complaint. If an agreement is not in writing, it doesn’t exist. This is particularly true if the case involves a change in the contract terms, such as a different dropoff location. Don’t walk away from a car rental counter until your contract reflects all promises and understandings.
  3. Understand that any modifications can result in a rate change
    It’s important to remember that when you make a reservation, the rate is based on the specific details you’ve provided. Even the slightest deviation from those details can result in a significant change in the rate. This is especially true for prepaid reservations. So don’t fudge that information in any way. If you know you want to return the car to the airport, don’t enter a downtown location. Many airport locations have surcharges and other fees not associated with off-airport locations. You can’t circumvent those fees by booking an alternative location with the intention of returning the vehicle to the airport. (Google maps can help you to make absolutely sure you’re booking the correct car rental location.)
  4. Review your receipt
    When you return the car, get a receipt and look it over carefully. Here is where many consumers stumble. They return the car to the airport, they’re in a hurry, and they just want to offload the vehicle. But this is one of the most critical parts of your car rental experience. You need to document the state of the car with video and photos. You also need an employee to provide you with a receipt. Make sure to leave plenty of time to return the rental car, so you aren’t pressured. If you leave your rental vehicle behind without getting a receipt, you’re opening the door to a variety of troubles – from being accused of never returning the car – to being overcharged thousands of dollars. Get a receipt and review it!
  5. Do not ignore demand letters from Hertz or any other car rental agency.
    We know that most car rental companies, including Hertz, will pursue you to the ends of the earth if they allege you’ve caused damage to a vehicle. Many Hertz customers have contacted us after they’ve ignored the company’s inquiries for months. We don’t recommend that tactic. Make sure that you follow the guidance in my article about fixing your own consumer problem and escalate your case up the corporate ladder. You can Just ask Meera, Consumer Rescue’s research valet if you need help finding real customer service and executive people within the company. Keep in mind, it is tremendously more difficult to fight a problem once the company has sent your account to collections. So it is always best to face a billing problem head-on before your account lands there. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

*Before you go: Don’t forget to check out Consumer Rescue’s Ultimate Car Rental Guide.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer reporter and advocate, author, mediator, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on tv helping fix a situation. :) Michelle is also an Ombudsman Columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.