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Warning: Your rental car may not come with unlimited miles

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Richard Wallerstein and his wife made an expensive car rental mistake when they assumed their reservation included unlimited miles. It didn’t. Unfortunately, they discovered the zero mileage allotment on their rented SUV only after they completed a 1,150-mile road trip.

Now they’re asking if there is any way to reverse this car rental mistake.

If you’re like the Wallersteins, you may be unaware that not every rental car comes with unlimited miles. Their tale is a reminder that when making your own reservations, it’s important to pay careful attention to all details. The information this couple needed was in plain sight — if only they had looked — before they took their lengthy road trip.

Surprise! A rental car with no included miles

Richard and his wife, loyal Avis customers for over 30 years, decided to take a 12-day California adventure. They planned to fly into Los Angeles, rent a car and explore the Golden State. Their journey would eventually end at the San Francisco International Airport.

“Our contract said that the estimated total was $806,” Richard explained. “In small print, however, it said the SUV did not come with unlimited miles. In fact, Avis included no miles at all.”

So when the Wallersteins returned the car, they received a shock. The final cost of the rental had ballooned to $1,310. Each of the 1,150 miles that the couple had driven added 35 cents.

“Avis knew of our intentions to drive all those miles,” Richard lamented. “Why would I want a rent a car that had no included miles for a road trip?”

Richard says that he immediately tried to have the bill adjusted at the counter in San Francisco. The Avis employees told him they had no authority to remove the mileage fee.

Completely flabbergasted, Richard called Avis. He asked to have the invoice corrected to the original quote. He explained that he never imagined that the rental car could come without unlimited miles.

When he did not reach a sympathetic ear at Avis, he requested that our advocacy team take a look at this “rip off.”

That’s when some interesting facts about this car rental problem came to light.

Don’t assume your car rental comes with unlimited miles

When I first read through Richard’s complaint, I thought his case was a bit lukewarm. And I debated about what to do with it.

In today’s traveling world, most, but not all, car rentals in the United States come with unlimited miles. So it wasn’t an outrageous assumption that this rental would have unlimited miles too.

And, I reasoned, since Richard booked a one-way rental, Avis should have made it crystal clear that the car didn’t include any miles. Richard, though, said the blurb that indicated “no miles included” was in tiny print — very easy to miss.

On the other hand, it’s important that consumers read every detail, including the fine print, in any agreement.

So I needed to see exactly how fine that print was before deciding if we should take the case. Richard sent it, and from there, things quickly started going downhill.

The Avis confirmation makes it clear that the rate for this car rental included no miles. It would be hard to argue that point. The phrase “No miles included” is in the same font and size as the other essential details on the page.

Avis: “No miles included.” Unlimited miles are definitely not included with this rental car.

No, unlimited miles are not included with this rental

After I pointed out that this was a glaring problem in defending his complaint against Avis, Richard explained their confusion:

Avis knew we were renting in LA and returning in SF so there would be miles involved. We thought the estimated total was an estimate of the total cost [including the miles] not an estimate of the total before miles were included.

Richard W.

That argument would certainly be a tough sell to the executive resolution team at Avis. But I was curious about rental cars with no miles included. I was under the impression that these types of car rentals are nearly extinct. However, Richard’s confirmation proved their existence.

How easy is it to book a car rental with no miles included?

So I did a little research.

It turns out it is quite difficult to find a mainstream car rental company at a U.S. airport that doesn’t include unlimited miles. In fact, I tried date after date on the Avis website for a one-way rental from LAX to SFO. I was unable to bring up any car rentals that didn’t include unlimited miles. And that was equally true for any vehicle category — including the standard SUV that the Wallersteins rented.

No matter what dates I tried, I never pulled up any car that did not include unlimited miles with the rental through the Avis search box.

And then, I tried Expedia, Priceline, and Hotwire for various dates with the same rental criteria. I found similar results. It was seemingly impossible to find a one-way, 12-day rental that didn’t include unlimited miles — with any car rental company from LAX to SFO.

Finally, I discovered that Expedia has a search filter for “limited mileage.” But there aren’t many cars to be found that meet that criterion.

limited mileage for car rentals, save money by skipping unlimited miles for the rental car
Who wants a car rental that doesn’t include unlimited miles?

Only then did I find a few rentals that offered limited miles.

At this point, I began to wonder how Richard’s wife had come across this “no miles included” rate in the first place. I still believed that she made a rental mistake by not reviewing the details of her confirmation, but I thought I should ask Avis for an explanation.

Who made this car rental mistake?

I sent a request over to our helpful contacts at Avis to see if we could get some clarity.

[The Wallersteins] neglected to look carefully at the terms and booked a car with no included mileage! So, as you can imagine, the rental turned out to be much more expensive than the expected cost. Apparently, they were unaware that “no miles included” was even an option. Actually, I was a bit surprised by it as well. And given that it was always their intention to drive hundreds of miles, one-way, it seems like something definitely went wrong here in the booking process.

Michelle to Avis

And after taking a close look at the case, the Avis resolution team responded with a compromise.

Our Avis executive contact indicated that many one-way rentals that Avis offers do not include unlimited miles. Their team regretted that these long-term Avis customers had been confused by the rate they booked. And as a gesture of goodwill, the company refunded $352 to the couple. This refund reflects all but $50 of the mileage that Avis charged the couple for their road-trip miles.

Richard is pleased with this resolution. And one thing is sure, he and his wife will scrutinize every reservation they make in the future. This will definitely be a car rental mistake they won’t repeat.

How to make sure you don’t end up renting a car without unlimited miles

  • Read all the details: Before clicking that confirm button on your next car rental reservation, make sure you’ve read all the terms of the rental. Whether or not you’ve selected a car with unlimited miles is an important detail you won’t want to overlook.
  • Read the contract: Your car rental company will ask you to sign a contract at the counter. Many consumers simply affix their signature and proceed to the vehicle. That’s a car rental mistake that can lead to a plethora of problems later. It’s critical to review the contract and ensure all information is correct, including the rate, the insurance you’ve declined or accepted, where you will return the car, and whether or not you’ll be charged for each mile you drive.  Keep in mind that contract is legally binding and the ‘I-didn’t-read-the-contract’ defense is no defense at all in consumer disputes.
  • Review your receipt at return: Remember, problems are always easier to resolve as soon as you discover them. And if your rental car should go “missing” after you return it you’ll want to have evidence that you did so. Getting and reviewing your receipt when you return your rental car can alert you to (and prevent)  a variety of billing problems that may be easily fixed before they become a battle you need to contact Consumer Rescue about! (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

*Before you go: Here’s why you should never return a rental car dirty!

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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.