Shannon Mikus says Hertz made a big mistake during her recent car rental. She says the company charged her nearly $750 extra, and she can prove it. So why won’t anyone at Hertz acknowledge this outrageous error and refund her cash?
That’s the question of the day.
This tale is another that highlights the dramatic rise in billing mistakes by Hertz and other car rental agencies since the pandemic began. Whether by carelessness, lack of skilled employees, or questionable business practices, something is amiss in the car rental industry. Here’s Shannon’s frustrating experience and some vital information so you can avoid ending up in the same situation.
The first Hertz mistake: A pricing error made by a computer glitch
In April, Shannon was searching for a car rental for a 6-day trip she was taking to Denver in August.
I had read about the high rental prices and car shortages. So I knew I needed to make the reservation in advance. Surprisingly, I easily found a reasonably priced car rental at Hertz, where I’m a gold member. I made the reservation and got the confirmation email. I felt so lucky!Shannon
Lucky is definitely not the word Shannon would use today to describe this car rental experience.
At that moment, though, she was relieved just to have found a vehicle. But things started going wrong about two weeks before Shannon planned to leave.
I was preparing for the trip, and I opened up the Hertz app. I couldn’t believe my eyes — my confirmed rate had jumped from $265 to $850! Immediately, I called the Hertz number to report the pricing mistake.
After a very long hold time, a Hertz agent assured Shannon that the $850 was just a mistake. He told her that a computer glitch had caused the pricing error, but his team would correct it soon.
“I trusted that Hertz would fix the pricing mistake by the time I got to Denver,” Shannon says.
Unfortunately, as you’ll soon see, that trust seems to have been misguided.
Will it be a problem to adjust the dates on this car rental?
On the day Shannon was flying to Denver, she got an idea. Her work schedule was flexible, as were her family’s airline tickets. She had booked a weekly rate at Hertz, but she was scheduled to return it after just six days.
I thought that I should just extend the trip for one day since I was paying Hertz a weekly rental rate anyway. The price should stay the same.
Part of the benefits of being a Hertz gold member is that renters can skip the lines. When her plane landed, Shannon knew that her car was ready, but she waited in line anyway. She wanted to speak to a Hertz representative and find out if she could adjust the return date by one day without affecting her rate.
I spoke to a very nice Hertz employee at the airport. I explained that I was thinking of keeping my car for one additional day beyond my original reservation. But I was scared to mess up the great rate of $265. She said I could have the car for an additional day, and I would still have the car for only a week. She told me not to worry, and that I would still have that great low weekly rate of $265. What a relief! My car was ready, so I jumped in with my family and headed to the exit. There was no paperwork at this point for me to review.
The family had a long drive ahead of them. But Shannon says she felt like this Hertz employee had lifted a weight from her shoulders.
Unfortunately, an even heavier weight was just about to replace the one that had been lifted.
“Hertz, you’ve made a mistake! This isn’t my weekly rate.”
At the turnstile, Shannon was handed the official contract for the rental. She briefly glanced down at the document and then, when the security gate arm lifted, drove off.
At the first rest area, she pulled the car over and carefully looked at the contract. That’s when she saw that the pricing error Hertz had made earlier in the summer had returned.
Alarmed, Shannon tried to call Hertz from the road to inform the company of the expensive mistake.
She waited on hold for an extended time. But finally, she gave up as the family’s drive took them up into the Colorado mountains where cell service is sketchy.
“I figured I would fix the problem later,” Shannon explained to me. “After all, I had the confirmation from Hertz that proved this rate on my contract was a mistake.”
The family enjoyed their week-long vacation, returned the car, and flew home.
Shannon then discovered that she had made a grave mistake of her own during this Hertz rental.
One that might end up costing her around $750.
Warning: Always review your car rental contract before you drive away
If you’re a regular reader of my columns, then you’ve probably already recognized the mistake Shannon made.
It’s always the consumer’s responsibility to review every aspect of their car rental contract before driving away with the vehicle. If you don’t go over that agreement like you’re reading a best-selling novel, you’re exposing yourself to many potential problems. It’s critical to correct any mistakes on that document before you leave the lot.
Once you take possession of the automobile and drive away, you’ve agreed to everything in that contract. It’s extremely difficult to change those terms after you’ve returned the car and flown home.
Shannon found this out in the most unpleasant way.
“After I got home, I couldn’t reach anyone who would adjust the rate,” she reported. “In the end, Hertz billed me $1,190 for a rental that was supposed to cost $265 plus tax and gas!”
Why you shouldn’t try to fix a Hertz billing mistake by filing a credit card dispute
Shannon received multiple rejections of her request to adjust her rate to the originally confirmed rate. In fact, the Hertz representatives all pointed her back to the contract. That was the document that Hertz intended to use to prevail in this case — the contract given to Shannon in the dimly lit garage.
“I did receive a callback from a supervisor who indicated the case was closed,” Shannon recalled. “She explained that she could do nothing as Hertz would adhere to the contract.”
Frustrated and feeling that her $750 was in great jeopardy, Shannon briefly considered filing a credit card dispute.
In this case, that would have been a mistake as well.
We know that Hertz often doesn’t respond to credit card chargebacks. This move allows the consumer to win by default. But the customer doesn’t know that winning the chargeback only ends the credit card company’s involvement in the dispute. The next step in this scenario involves Hertz sending the debt to a collection agency. Now the consumer has a hit to their credit score and a persistent debt collector hounding them for payment.
Fact: Credit card chargebacks are not the magic problem solver that many consumers believe them to be. You can read more about credit card disputes and how to use them properly here.
Luckily, Shannon thought of another way she might be able to get Hertz to recognize and fix its costly mistake.
She sent her request for help to our advocacy team.
Can our advocacy team get Hertz to correct this mistake?
When Shannon’s plea for help landed on my desk, she had been struggling with Hertz for over a month.
Any assistance you can give me here would be much appreciated. I was charged $1,190 but expected to pay $265 + tax and a full tank of gas. I would not have rented this car through Hertz if I expected the price to be $1,190. $750 is a lot to lose. Can you help me, please!?
I went through Shannon’s paper trail, and the case seemed pretty straightforward. She had a confirmation of a rate of $265 since April. The only thing that changed, in the end, was that she had extended the contract by one day. Yet, she was still only keeping the car for seven days and an employee assured her that the rate wouldn’t change.
So why had the weekly rate jumped from $265 to $850?
Asking Hertz about this pricing discrepancy
It was time to ask our helpful executive contact at Hertz to have a look at this case.
Hi ****! How are you?
We have a Hertz Gold customer over here with what looks like a significant billing error that I hoped your team could correct.
Shannon booked a one-week car rental (minivan), pickup, and return at the Denver airport (Aug 8-13, 6 days) using her discount code. The total cost with fees was to be $359, and the invoice indicates this is a weekly rate. When she picked the car up, she asked the Hertz agent about keeping the car for the entire week (Aug 8-14, 7 days). She says the agent told her that would be fine and it wouldn’t change the rate since she was still just keeping the car for just seven days.
However, Hertz billed her $1,190. It appears that the agent rewrote the entire contract and changed the weekly rate to $850, plus the expected additional fees. I don’t see Shannon’s discount code reflected anywhere on the final invoice either. Nothing about the reservation changed except that Shannon asked to keep the car for one extra day, but still within the weekly time frame that she had booked. (I’ve included the two invoices under my signature for your team’s review)
Could your team have a look at this situation and see if there has been a billing error here that can be corrected? Thank you!Michelle to Hertz
The good news: Hertz is returning the $750 it collected in error
And the good news came swiftly for Shannon.
In certain circumstances, rates can change, but we’re continuing to look into this specific situation. Meanwhile, understanding that [a Hertz agent told Shannon] that the rate would not change, we’ve let her know we will refund the difference between the rates.Hertz to Michelle
As for Shannon? She’s learned quite a few lessons fighting this battle. But one thing is for sure; she’ll never drive off a car rental lot again without going over that contract with a fine-tooth comb.
I am so thrilled with this outcome. I thought it would have been fair to get a refund of about $750, and I did receive a refund of $749! Hertz also called to apologize for the whole thing.
I can’t thank you enough for your assistance with this matter. I could not have gotten this result without you.
Thank you so much!!Shannon to Michelle
And with that, we can add one more satisfied consumer to our success file.
How to avoid and fix a Hertz mistake
- Book your car rental reservation carefully
When you’re scrolling through the internet looking for good deals on a car rental, be careful. You don’t want to book a great rate at Hertz or anywhere else and later find out you made a mistake and need to adjust the dates (or location). All bets are off if you make even the slightest change later. This is especially true if you book a nonrefundable rate.
- Consider using a professional travel advisor
There are many benefits to using a professional travel advisor to help you plan a trip — even for just a car rental reservation. Remember, a good travel agent is skilled at finding the best deals and ensuring that you don’t make a mistake during your booking. And if there is a problem later, you’ve got your own built-in advocate who can help you.
- Don’t make any changes on a prepaid booking
Be very careful when you prepay for car rental to a third-party booking agent. These deals can save you some dollars, but you’ll be locked into the date and pickup time. Any alteration on those key points can break the deal, and you can end up losing all the money paid. These reservations are often nonrefundable and completely unchangeable. Even a several-hour change in pick-up or return can cause massive price increases. With the travel industry in its current chaotic state, it’s best to skip these kinds of deals for now.
- Get everything in writing
If, as was the case in today’s tale, an employee of Hertz or any other company tells you that you may deviate from the stated terms of your reservation, get it in writing. Keep in mind that if an agent of the rental car company offers you something that isn’t in writing, it will be your word against the company in the end. And guess which side the company will likely choose to defend?
- Start at the Hertz customer service level
When you start your problem solving mission, begin at the customer service level. To make your initial attempt at fixing a billing mistake by Hertz, use this form. You can also call Hertz customer service at 1-800-654-4173 (6am-7pm CST M-F), but remember it’s always best to keep everything in writing.
- Escalate your complaint to the executive level It’s true that during the pandemic, customer service across the travel industry took a powerful nosedive. Many companies have clearly been outsourcing these positions to artificial (un)intelligence and cheap international labor worldwide. If you need help finding a real person in the company who can help, send a request to Consumer Rescue’s research valet (Meera Sundram). She can find those hard to locate company contacts.
- File a complaint with the attorney general in your state
When a company is blatantly disregarding a consumer’s request for help, filing a complaint with the attorney general can nudge the business to do the right thing. You can find your state’s attorney general here.
- File a credit card dispute as a last resort
A chargeback should be your absolute last move when you’re trying to resolve a billing problem. Keep in mind, winning a credit card chargeback only officially ends your credit card company’s involvement. The company can pursue the debt through a variety of other means. You might even land on the Do Not Rent List as happened to Hertz customer Heather Steele last year. Beware, Hertz is known for ignoring chargeback disputes and then sending the debt to collections afterward. Remember this awful car rental experience? Last week the subject of that fiasco asked for additional help. Hertz publicly corrected her problem and zeroed out her bill. That resolution came from the executive level of Hertz. Then, unbelievably three months later, and after we published the article describing the case, someone else within the company resurrected the invoice, sent it to collections, and banned the customer’s account. That Hertz employee was under the impression the invoice was reversed through a credit card dispute. (Don’t worry, that problem is fixed now, too.) But consumers should know that Hertz is not shy about banning renters or damaging customers’ credit ratings by sending their information to a debt collector. So if you think Hertz has made a mistake that’s costing you money, make sure to try everything else first (including contacting the Consumer Rescue team). Otherwise, even if the facts are on your side, you might find yourself facing a whole new set of problems. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)