Forced Rental Car Upsells?

Christopher Elliott writes in the New York Times about rental car companies claiming to be out of the class of car a customer reserves and attempting to charge an upgrade fee for the next level vehicle.

This has never happened to me, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone.

After all, that’s the very idea of a reservation, a point hammered home in an episode of Seinfeld

    Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.

    Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

    Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

    Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the

    Agent: I know why we have reservations.

    Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to
    take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation and
    that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody
    can just take them.

This hasn’t ever happened to anyone that I know, but if it should happen to you, first insist on receiving the next higher car class at the same price — the company has committed to provide you with X car type or better for Y dollars, that’s well what they should deliver. Second, call the company’s 800 number for assistance, you may get better help from the central office. Finally, consider taking the car and disputing the higher charge in writing with the car company and then with your credit card company.

The best prophylactic measure, as Elliott suggests, is to be a member of the car company’s frequent renter program (e.g. Avis Preferred, Hertz #1 Gold) which is usually free. By having your membership number in the reservation, a car should be pre-assigned and you should be able to skip the checkin process altogether.

Avis Preferred is always free, and Preferred Select is available to anyone with an American Express Platinum card. I have one, though Avis didn’t verify that fact when I called to upgrade my membership. Hertz charges a nominal fee for membership, but waives it for just about everyone (see here and here).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve found Hertz’s #1 Gold to be worthless. The last two reservations I booked at Hertz, I was able to find significantly cheaper rates than at After I booked them, I called Hertz and tried to “attach” my #1 Gold number so that the car would be waiting for me. No dice – I was told that I would have to cancel and rebook the reservation to attach the #1 Gold number, and accept their price increase. No thanks.

  2. I used to work for a rental car company: This is an unscrupulous attempt to extract a commission.

    A car will always be available, or we have to just give the next car up for the same price.

    For every “upsell” we can charge extra for (even if it’s $10/day) we get a commission. It goes by a percentage of how many people walk in the door, and how many people we manage to upsell to a higher car, is how our comission is calculated.

    Cliff notes: Guy at counter was lying to make his comission check.

    P.s.: You can use this to your advantage, and book a lower car than you need, and tell him what you would be willing to pay for an upsell, and get the car you originally wanted for less money. – The rental guy is happy he made his comission, and you’re happy you saved money.

    P.s.: All the comissions are negotiable. We would size up the customer and make a guess what we thought he would be willing to pay for the upsell.

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