Home >> Travel Troubles >> You’re not paranoid. Someone is watching you — it’s Thrifty Car Rental!

You’re not paranoid. Someone is watching you — it’s Thrifty Car Rental!

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

As Marc Markowitz drives out of the Thrifty Car Rental lot in St. Louis, he has no idea that his whereabouts are being tracked. But when he returns the car, he receives an expensive surprise — someone was watching. 


Question

I picked up a rental car at Thrifty in St. Louis. At that time, the representative told me that I had unlimited mileage. No one mentioned a restricted driving area. Expedia charged me for the six-day rental.

When I returned the car, the agent gave me a receipt showing the Expedia rate. But when I received my credit card statement, it showed that Expedia charged me $250. But then Thrifty charged me an additional $121 and $181.

I called Thrifty about this overcharge for the rental car. The agent told me that the unlimited mileage plan was dropped when I visited a neighboring state, and an additional surcharge was added. Also, Thrifty charged me for six days of being out of the zoned area. But I was only there for two days.

I am shocked. No one told me that if I drove the rental car into a different state, Thrifty could detect this and charge me over $300. Can you help me? — Marc Markowitz, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Answer

It’s not unusual for car rental agencies to restrict driving into foreign countries — but “foreign” states?

That’s new to me.

After all, we live in The United States. So it was unclear why crossing the border into another state with your rental car triggered Thrifty to bill you an additional $300.

But more importantly: Why weren’t you made aware of this restriction or the fact that your rental car was equipped with a GPS locator that was tracking you?

When you contacted our advocacy team, you had a limited paper trail. But you did have a rental receipt for the car. This showed the regular car rental rate with unlimited mileage— no mention of driving restrictions.

What’s a “special” car rental?

Taking a look at your original Expedia reservation, I noted that your reservation noted: “special.” But there was no explanation of what made this car rental special. I continued to scour the page for a justification of the charge.

I finally found it — but it wasn’t easy.

When I clicked on your actual rental voucher for the car and scrolled to the very bottom of the page I saw this:

UNLIMITED MILE RATES ARE FOR THE STATES OF MISSOURI, IOWA, INDIANA, MISSISSIPPI, ARKANSAS, ILLINOIS, KANSAS, KENTUCKY, NEBRASKA, OKLAHOMA, AND TENNESSEE. IF TRAVELING OUTSIDE OF THE LISTED AREA, RENTERS MAY NOTIFY THE COUNTER AGENT AT TIME OF RENTAL

ADVISORY: CHARGES ASSOCIATED WITH THE BASE RATE ARE THOSE WHICH ARE APPLICABLE AT THE TIME OF BOOKING AND COULD BE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. ONLY THOSE CHARGES LISTED AS MANDATORY ARE INCLUDED IN THE TOTAL RATE FOR THE DISPLAYED RENTAL.

GEOGRAPHIC DRIVING RESTRICTIONS: UNLIMITED MILES RATES ARE FOR STATE AND BORDERING STATE MO,AR,IA,IL,IN,KS,KY,MS,NE,OK,TN. IF TRAVELING OUTSIDE LISTED AREA RENTER MAY NOTIFY COUNTER AGENT AT TIME OF RENTAL TO RECEIVE UNLIMITED MILES FOR ADDITIONAL CHARGE 20.00 PER DAY OR 100.00 PER WEEK. IF THE VEHICLE IS TAKEN OUTSIDE THE LISTED STATES WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL FROM THE LOCATION, A GPS SERVICE FEE OF $150.00 WILL BE CHARGED IN ADDITION TO THE $20.00/DAY OR $100.00/WEEK. VEHICLES ARE NOT ALLOWED INTO CANADA OR MEXICO.

Warning: Don’t travel to forbidden lands in your Thrifty rental car

Where had you gone?

Unfortunately, Thrifty caught you traveling in your rental car to the forbidden land of Michigan.

Gasp!

That short trip to visit your friend cost you an additional $300.

This didn’t sit right with me. The fact that the Thrifty representative had not reviewed the geographical “no-drive zones” before you drove away, seemed particularly unfriendly to a loyal customer. And although the information was located on your confirmation, it was quite difficult to find.

Such unusual terms should be made crystal clear at the time of the reservation and at the rental counter.

A GPS locator is tracking you and your Thrifty rental car

The company should make it very clear that Thrifty is monitoring your movements in your rental car.

I reached out to Hertz, the parent company of Thrifty, to find out what went wrong here. Our executive contact explained that this particular Thrifty branch is a franchise. For that reason,  the investigation was a little more involved.

In the end, Hertz agreed to refund all of these charges. It’s still unclear why this branch of Thrifty finds Michigan so objectionable, but you are pleased with this outcome and will use an alternative agency the next time you plan to visit your friend there. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

Before you go: What happens if you return a rental car to the wrong airport? One Dollar customer found out in the worst way.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel 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. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. 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.