Travelers Beware: New Sneaky ‘No Show’ Fee and How to Sidestep It

Most airline tickets are non-refundable. However, unless it’s a basic economy ticket, if you cancel prior to flight departure you’ll have a credit to use for future travel.

Hotels sell prepaid, non-cancellable reservations. They also sell reservations that can be cancelled without penalty, though how many days in advance you have to cancel will vary – most are one to three days in advance, but some hotels in remote locations and during peak season might be seven or even 28 days prior to check-in.

  • I will almost never book prepaid, non-cancellable hotels. The savings is rarely worthwhile, and I can often get similar rates like AAA rates that are still cancellable (though not all AAA rates are).

  • My plans do change and I don’t want to be completely out the money, so I will choose hotels that give me some flexibility over ones that don’t. It’s also a competitive advantage they offer over many Airbnb’s, although many short-term home rentals have been moving towards allowable cancels.

Rental cars are a whole different beast. While there are prepaid rentals (the savings is almost never worth it, except perhaps through opaque booking sites liquidating excess inventory) most rental car bookings have carried no penalty for not going through with the rental.

Car rentals are among the scammiest parts of travel, and there’s a self-reinforcing problem that’s been memorialized in popular culture over car rental agencies not actually having cars to provide to customers who make reservations.

Rental car companies don’t reliably deliver their reservations. I’ve shown up with dozens of customers waiting on cars several times in the past few years. They overbook because they’re scammy, but also because they don’t know what their no show rates will be. Years ago Hertz told me they do not guarantee to honor any reservation.

It makes sense to make more than one rental car booking, hoping that one will be honored when you get there! But rental car companies may be starting to put a stop to this. Bookings made directly with Hertz will now charge a no show fee equal to the base rate for a day’s rental.

For now this hasn’t been made to apply through third parties, because getting those terms changed and getting card information from the third parties to charge is a cumbersome endeavor. So you’re better off booking Hertz rentals through third parties rather than on their own website.

I suppose I might be more sympathetic to Hertz here if they didn’t just shorten points expiration not just without advance notice, but without even telling customers they’d done so (expiring points instantly in accounts without activity within 12 months, even though they had a published 18 month expiration policy). And if Hertz hadn’t been… sending customers to jail because their fleet tracking is so poor they were reporting cars stolen that they continued to rent out.

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 never ever ever book direct, only use third party OTA’s and specifically car rental companies. The thing I like, 95% of them allow cancellation 24-48 hours before pick up. But better still, all your Insurances are included ( sometimes even the excess ) so I know exactly what I am paying and I know I am not being ripped-off by the likes of Americans Hertz and Avis. I do occasionally book direct with Sixt who seem to be more credible than the rip-off merchants from the United States.

  2. @ Gary — Do they want no one to rent cars? It’s getting to the point where it is just better to use uber/lyft except in rare circumstances. It is ironic that taxis have adapted and have become more competitive with uber/lyft, while rental cars are shooting themselves in the foot with their greedy policies.

  3. This is not a blanket policy, I have over 6 upcoming rentals booked directly with Hertz over the past few days and none of them show a no-show fee

  4. I’m already not ever booking Hertz because of the maybe-I’ll-get-arrested-and-jailed problem and the Hertz-repos-my-car-in-midrental problem. Why would I now give Hertz my CC data when, on top of all that, they don’t ever guarantee a vehicle? And how do I know they won’t hit my card for $2,000 when they meant $200, then deny everything, etc.? Talk about a bad-actor provider.

    Book through Autoslash or Costco only.

  5. Tom, you are mistaken if you think booking Hertz through Autoslash (which means Priceline) is going to stop Hertz from hitting your card (which you must provide at pickup regardless of where you book).

  6. @Steve obviously you provide your CC when you pick the car up, and it’s established there is a car in the lot for you. I don’t want them to arbitrarily charge me before that point.

  7. What will Hertz consider a no-show? If my plane is delayed a couple hours and I’m unable to contact Hertz, will they cancel the res & charge me the fee? Just another reason to avoid Hertz.

  8. Easy to ‘blame it all on the agencies’. Reality is that people don’t cancel their car rental reservations, they just don’t bother. There’s no penalty, so why do the right thing? What do travellers expect the car rental agencies to do? If they have 35 reservations for a given morning and 12 of them are no-shows, how can they adequately run a business? If customers have no ethics, they’ll eventually pay the price. It’s not ‘sneaky’, it’s good business management. It takes five minutes to make a reservation for dinner or a rental car. It takes 3 minutes to cancel it. Get real here, customers are responsible for this situation. They’re either stupid or uncaring.

  9. @ jsn55 — Maybe the rental car companies could start with some of their own ethics? It’s a 2-way street.

  10. I have never had an issue with Hertz that I could not get resolved, and so far always a car for my reservation. The points changes a few years back and now were not fun, but I have activity in the last 12 months always, rent 10-20 times a year, and Pres Circle. I did once have one car choice and it was not ideal, but that was arriving 35 minutes after the official close at PDX and they stay open unofficially for another hour. I can see the logic in a no show fee. Just polite to cancel if not arriving. Demand is high for all the car rentals. So far with the corporate savings when I compare to those other channels I am still better off with Hertz. In my experience all the companies have complaints. I do wish they had not devalued points last time just before I used them. Lately I use them as I go, no more saving them up, so no more major surprises.

  11. Car rental agencies are the 2nd scammiest part of traveling, but Greyhound Busses are the biggest scam. People just don’t talk about Greyhound because they’re usually out of mind.

  12. I’m okay to pay the no-show fee if they pay me a “car no-show fee” when the car I reserved is not available.

  13. Seems to me that the same technology that can serve up a slew of Hertz ads on web pages if the five letters H,E,R,T & Z randomly occur to me could be used to identify people who may have been a no-show for a rental reservation two or three or four times, and apply the no-show fee to those high risk customers.

  14. @Tom When you book through Priceline for a pay-at-counter reservation, you don’t even have to provide your credit card — name, phone number, and email address only (and you can make up the latter two if you are so inclined). Without a credit card number, how could Hertz possible charge you?

  15. Correction — @Steve S When you book through Priceline for a pay-at-counter reservation, you don’t even have to provide your credit card — name, phone number, and email address only (and you can make up the latter two if you are so inclined). Without a credit card number, how could Hertz possibly charge you?

  16. @Robbo I used to be a huge fan of Sixt but they ripped me off recently on a rental return. It was at a hotel-based (company-owned) office location. I literally had the car there for 24 hours before it was due back but their office didn’t open until the next day at 9 am. I showed up before the doors unlocked to physically have them check the car back in before the 24-hour mark of my week-long rental. Later they claimed I didn’t turn it in until later in the day and charged me another day. I even had time-stamped multiple photos that I provided to them to prove otherwise and they still would not reverse the false charges. Now I no longer rent from them either.

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