Hertz gave away his car — does he deserve any compensation?

Stephen Ballard’s plane arrived late in Stuttgart, Germany. Six hours late.

But he was unconcerned, because he’d prepaid Hertz for his rental car. He was confident that the vehicle would be waiting for him.

It wasn’t.

“Our prepaid car had been rented out to another party,” he says.

He says the Hertz representatives at the airport tersely informed him that cars were in short supply and that since he was late, he lost his car. “We were treated in a rude manner,” he says.

But wait. Didn’t he pre-pay for the vehicle? Doesn’t that mean it should be waiting for him?

Not exactly.

Here’s what Hertz’ policy says about late arrivals:

Reservations will be held for two (2) hours past the reserved pick-up time, except if you contact your Reservation Centre to change your arrival time.

Two (2) hours after the reserved pick-up time the reserved vehicle will be made available for other customers. If you arrive at the location more than two (2) hours after the reserved pick-up time, we will try to provide a vehicle for you, however, availability cannot be guaranteed.

And that applies to all rentals, including the ones you pre-pay. Sorry, Stephen.

People who are unfamiliar with how car rental companies manage their fleets might assume it would be easy to hold a car for six hours. But that’s not the way the system works, unfortunately. (Although you might be able to do that with a specialty vehicle that’s been reserved in advance.) Cars come and go during periods of high demand, and if you’re not there to pick up the vehicle, someone else may claim it.

All ended well. Hertz found a comparable car, even though it was lacking in the manners department, according to Ballard. But he’s not ready to let the company off the hook.

“Some penalty or compensation should be levied against Hertz to lessen such actions to others in the future, so as to avoid the anxiety, stress and problems we as 76-year-olds experienced.”

Ballard wants me to get an apology and compensation from Hertz for giving away his rental and being unpleasant.

I agree, no company should ever be rude to a customer. Hertz should definitely apologize. But for giving away his car? I’m not sure it owes him anything for that.

Should I take Stephen Ballard's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Alan Gore

    I dn’t see much of a case here. If people could get compensation for rude treatment when we travel, we would all be millionaires.

  • MF

    True, true, while others just might owe millions for their rudeness.

  • Realitoes

    Interesting, your link states this about prepaid:

    “This does not apply to prepaid rentals. For prepaid rentals, the following policy applies:

    Airport locations: If you do not arrive at the specified pick-up location for the prepaid rental transaction at the scheduled pick-up time, then the reservation for the transaction will be held only until 11:59 p.m. (local time) on the specified pick-up date, unless the pick-up location closes before 11:59 p.m., in which case the reservation will be held until the closing time of the location.”

    Based on this, as long as he arrived before 11pm (when the Stuttgart Airport Hertz location closes), his reservation would still been good. Of course, they are only keeping the reservation active, that doesn’t mean a car will necessarily be available!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    How long did he have to wait for them to find him a comparable car? If the wait was minimal then he’s not really owed anything. Not excusing them being rude but you don’t typically get reimbursed for bad manners.

  • Richard

    What he is asking for is essentially punitive damages. I do not think that falls under the scope of consumer advocacy. OTOH, rude behavior should not be accepted and perhaps he is owed an apology. But, let’s not forget cultural differences, a tired flyer arriving 6 hours late to an unexpected unpleasant discovery. It is not inconceivable that the LW might have helped contribute to the situation – though I am also not saying that was the case. But, absent any real damages here, I don’t think a possible apology is worth your effort. Perhaps direct the LW to the contacts list so he can pursue the apology on his own.

    What actually makes sense to me, in terms of a pre-paid rental policy is the option to have the rental automatically begin (in terms of starting the clock) 2 (or, whatever) hours after the reservation time. If that option is declined, well it seems they already have a policy for that.

  • MarkKelling

    “compensation … [for] … problems we as 76-year-olds experienced”

    So if they weren’t 76 year olds, all would have been OK?

    Germans can come across as rude. It is just part of their mannerisms that we are not used to in the US.

    Hertz found a car, no mention of being charged more was made, no mention of a long wait before the car was provided. I see nothing to be compensated for and nothing to be advocated. He pre paid for A vehicle and A vehicle was provided, not for any specific vehicle.

  • Tom McShane

    To be meaningful, I think the apology should come from the person who was rude to him, not a company spokescreature.

  • MarkKelling

    You said it better than I was going to.

    It is very easy to be grumpy, sleep deprived, and not exactly on your best after arriving from a long flight especially one that was delayed 6 hours. The Hertz agent may have had to deal with an entire plane load of late customers which would put anyone in a mood to be rude.

  • Richard

    Stimmt Daß. (So true)

  • Laura616

    Two hours is not very long. This man doesn’t deserve compensation but the company should extend the time frame in which customers need to pick up cars.

  • Bill___A

    Hertz asks repeatedly for flight arrival information. If he did indeed supply Hertz with the flight arrival information, then it is indeed a hertz problem. However, I see no mention of that whatsoever. Therefore, he should be thankful that hertz gave him something in the end.
    Hertz has a way to for them to know if it is a late flight issue, if you don’t use that facility…that’s just too bad.

  • sirwired

    If you are a total no-show, I can understand giving away your rental, but every rental reservation has your flight number attached to it, and Hertz knows (if they care to check) that your flight is running late.

    But under “all’s well that end’s well”… at best, he might score a discount voucher or something.

  • DChamp56

    What isn’t stated is whether they gave him his money back.

  • Richard

    “..every rental reservation has your flight number attached” IF he provided the incoming flight info and not just a pick-up time.

  • Richard

    I would assume there was no refund since they got him a car. The issue seems to be the interaction that took place between his arrival at the Hertz counter and his assignment of a car.

  • ChelseaGirl

    Well, they did get him another car, so compensation for what? He would have been owed a refund if they hadn’t given him a car.

  • Mel65

    Such a … non-event. Basically it boils down to, “I went somewhere and when I got to the car rental counter…. I got a car.” When did “he hurted my feelings” become a cause of action? SMH

  • Mel65

    They got Ballard a car. And frankly, if they hadn’t said “Oh we gave your car away” he might have never have known because they “got him a comparable car.” I’m not even sure how they gave away a specific car that was destined to be “his”… I rent often and I choose a class of car, usually “compact”; I don’t specify “blue, Toyota Prius, with fewer than 50K miles on it,” so honestly I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about. HE drove away…IN A CAR. We don’t even know that he had to wait at the counter any significant additional time to get the replacement car; nothing in the story indicates they were waiting for a “scheduled return” other than assumption. For all we know it was a few keystrokes and maybe they moved THAT car from someone ELSE who was late picking up a car. What we DO know is, that the OP got mad cuz the counter person wasn’t “nice enough” to him and that falls under the category, as my Mother would have said, of cry me a river.

  • Mel65

    Why would they? They gave “him a comparable car.”

  • Mel65

    I would agree *if* we knew the person WAS rude to him. Rude is often a perception, particularly when you aren’t getting what you want. I worked in a variety of customer service positions putting myself thru college and the number of times people said I was rude, when what they meant was “you aren’t saying what I want to hear” is in the jillions. Language/accent barriers, late hour, delayed flight, 76 year old who is just told “I’m sorry, we thought you were a no show and rented that car out, let me see what else we have” could easily be viewed thru irritated glasses as rude.

  • MarkKelling

    Well, we don’t have a transcript of the conversation so exactly what was said is unknown.

    The exchange could have gone:

    “I’m Ballard here to pick up my car.”
    “You are late. The car we had for you was given to someone else.”

    “I’m Ballard here to pick up my car.”
    “Because you are running late, the type of car you reserved is currently unavailable due to high demand. We will find you a comparable car shortly.”

    Or, so on and so on.

    How Mr Ballard reacted to what was told to him may have influenced the conversation that followed the initial exchange.

    The fact that Hertz did apparently find him a car and didn’t charge him extra for it makes Hertz more acceptable as a rental company to me.

  • MarkKelling


    “Pre paid” doesn’t mean “waiting at the curb running with a fine looking smiling agent waiting to help you on your way.” It simply means they have your money.

  • Mark Carrara

    My thoughts exactly. How can you call from a plane over the Atlantic?

  • judyserienagy

    I’m not exactly sure how you would let them know your plane was 6 hours late since you’re in the plane and can’t use your phone. A prepaid res should be kept 24 hours minimum. Shabby treatment of a customer. As for rude, well that does occasionally happen when you travel. Like having a late flight.

  • Richard

    If the LW gave Hertz his flight info, (which we do not know) they should have known on their own. If he only gave them an arrival time, they had nothing else to go by. But, inflight Internet is now available in many planes and aren’t there still air phone services?

  • Karen Kinnane

    When I rent with Hertz (in Leipzig) they ask for the number of my arriving flight. I always prepay for my vehicle because it is cheaper and you can cancel and get a refund if you change your plans. I THOUGHT they asked for the flight number so they would know if the plane was late.

  • KarlaKatz

    I had a similar experience with Hertz, and the rep was quick to tell me that I would receive a complete refund, and it would appear within the next two billing cycles on my credit card (60 days[ish]). I frequently check my credit card statements online, and the credited refund from Hertz appeared within 2 days.

  • KarlaKatz

    What is often viewed as rudeness by Americans in foreign venues, is generally only the local standard of operating in a professional manner. As I was once reminded, “I am here to serve you, not to become your next best friend.”

  • Peter

    I had the exact thing happen to me in Austin last year on a pre-paid car, including rudeness for a flight that arrived an hour late. I persisted an talked to a manager and eventually got a car. But as a 20+ year Gold member (which clearly means nothing) that was how I was treated. Loyalty is just foolishness these days.

    By the way, why do they require you to give them your flight number when making a reservation if they give your pre-paid car away after an hours delay that you had ni control over? Sorry, foolish question.

  • Richard

    For those that may have missed this, just forgotten it, or would love to see it again:


  • cscasi

    Good point. Most, if not all car rental companies ask for your flight arrival information, so it would be in the reservation the agent at the arrival location could look up and see if your flight has arrived or is late. However, I suspect many do not ever attempt to do that, especially if they are busy and have a lot of customers to deal with. You could not inform Hertz if you were flying on a plane. However, what are the chances that you would flying around on one that would make you six hours late. If your flight is delayed, the prudent thing to do before you board the delayed flight, is to call Hertz reservations and update your expected arrival time.

  • Grant Ritchie

    One of my favorites! But, with a hat tip to Jerry…”Didja ever notice that big lump on the back of reservation lady’s left hand? What’s up with that? :-o

  • LonnieC

    Let’s see: He rented a car – not a specific car – just a car. “His” car wasn’t there when he arrived, six hours late. Hertz got him another, comparable, car. I don’t see any monetary damages here. They were rude. Shame on them. He’s 76 (I’m 75). So what? We don’t get special treatment just because we’ve lived that long. All we (should) expect is to be treated politely and courteously, just as anyone else. An apology from Hertz, sure. Cash? I don’t think so.

  • judyserienagy

    Gosh, I have no idea if they still have phones on airplanes! And I’ve not yet been on a flight where the internet connection was usable … but gotta admit I haven’t tried lately. I will test it on my flight tomorrow morning.

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