What Do You Do When You Have a Reservation But It’s Not Honored?

I was tweeted this morning with a question about rental cars.

[A] friend trying to drive to her wedding this weekend is getting a shrug & “what can you do?” from @Hertz, but no car. Advice?

You’re less likely to have this happen to you if you’re a member of the rental car company’s frequency program, but it’s not a guarantee of protection.

There are no new problems in travel of course, and it’s even happened to famous comedians on TV.

There’s a Seinfeld meme for almost everything, for those old enough to remember. At the very end of the series, Elaine Benes declared her love for… United Airlines (and the next day United issued a press release “we love you, too.”). There was even one for an Orbitz discount.

But no Seinfeld meme in travel is more powerful than:

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 reservation.

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.

If your rental isn’t prepaid, and another rental company has cars, just go to them.

The rental car company you booked through can’t hold you to a deal when they don’t have a car at the assigned time, anyway.

If the other car companies are more expensive, you’ll generally be able to get your rental car company to make up the difference for the first day of the rental at least. That may require followup after the fact.

Here’s the policy from Hertz and Avis in this kind of situation.

In situations like mine where there are no cars left at the airport, Hertz will let customers rent from a competitor and pay the difference, or pay for a cab to and from your hotel, asking you to return the next morning when more cars might be available.

The company will also provide a $50 voucher for a future rental.

Alice Pereira, a spokeswoman for Avis Budget Group, Inc., outlined a nearly identical policy at her company.

When no one has cars, you’re in a pickle. The most you can get is compensation later. I’d check with off-airport rental companies for cars. I’d look to going without a car and having one delivered later. Or in a worst case, like getting to a wedding, paying the exorbitant costs for cab or driver. Not satisfying, but when there legitimately aren’t cars there are few options.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 had this happen a couple of times, between my status with National and the company I work for, National was able to upgrade me to what they had left. I would assume all the rental agency would try and take care of the customer and possibly split the difference in the upgrade or rent the next category of car free.

  2. @viewfromthewing
    strange. i once had a reservation with hertz @ FLL. hertz ran out of cars.. 1am. said to wait until 3am. did not offer to pay the diff b/w my reservation rate & neighboring competitor.. i paid the diff

  3. I have had this happen quite frequently. If downsized, (Standard to Midsize or Compact). I ask for a discount from my charged rate and they will oblige. Usually I am upgraded to a Premium Car. Pays to belong to all the car rental clubs, whether you use them or not.

  4. @Tony: There’s a big difference between “no cars” and “no cars in your reservation class”. I would be shocked if they didn’t give you a vehicle if they had something in stock.. although it may not be what you want!

    One time with Hertz I had reserved a mid-size vehicle. They didn’t have any and tried to give me a 10-person passenger van! This was out of SFO and they had hundreds of vehicles sitting around, just not the one I reserved.

    I insisted that I had reserved a sedan and I would only accept a sedan, so the agent offered me an Infiniti for an additional $30/day. I was late so I accepted that, although it seemed unfair.

    When I returned the car I showed up early and spoke with a manager. I told her that I considered it to be a bait-and-switch scam to guarantee a reservation and then demand more money at pickup because they happened to be out. She apologized and removed the additional charges.

    I’d be really interested to hear what a state AG would have to say about these business practices, but very few are interested in consumer protection these days…

  5. The day after Labor Day reserved Mid-Size SUV at Hertz LE. Not there, offered a Camry. After reading all these comments, I am very thankful that I was driven to an HLE on the other side of town to get my reserved class of vehicle.

  6. I once reserved a full size car with Enterprise at JFK, and the agent tried a really hard sell on an SUV upgrade. He was very persistent, but I didn’t take it. Ten minutes later he comes back and gives me the SUV without any additional charges. Turns out it was the last car on the lot.

  7. The rest of the story, since Twitter is limiting: my friend & the groom showed up to get their reserved car to drive to Cleveland from home in Chicago and no cars at Hertz. “Fleet issues.” Panic. Meanwhile, I picture Seinfeld taking lots of fluttering reservations and tweet you for advice. The groom is a lawyer, so I’m sure he’ll be able to work it out later. If this is the worst issue on their wedding weekend, good for them. Thanks again, Gary.

  8. Just happened with enterprise in ireland not only dif they not have a automatic but no manuals . We went to avis and got one for 40% more . When I got back to the states I wrote enterprise and complained. The sent me a credit to my credit car for more than what I paid avis.

  9. I ran into this problem today. The reason this happens (and the rental companies will not admit it publicly but it was confirmed privately) is they have contracts with car insurance companies that state the car rental company will bump a person with a reservation and give the car to their car insurance customer.

  10. Why should the rental car company be responsible for YOUR First day of any other reservation?

    Thank God this thread is approaching the 7 year mark.

    Little adage for those who don’t “know it by heart” . If you’re an American and it’s more than 7 years old ? It never happened.

    Enjoy your week. Stop trying to hop onto the playground spinner while it’s running full speed Marcus AuRealius.

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