Cross the state line, pay extra car rental fees

It felt like a flashback. There was Christina Daves, standing at the rental counter in Atlanta, and an agent was warning her not to take the car out of state. If she drove out of Georgia, her car rental fees would increase — considerably. Is this fair?

It reminded me of the first travel column I wrote for The New York Times back in 2004 — a story that led to legislation in California banning this opportunistic fee.

Have things changed?

I thought car rental companies stopped doing that kind of thing. Sure, they all have GPS tracking devices to make sure their cars don’t take a detour to a Mexican chop shop. But what’s happening to Daves should have been outlawed a decade ago.

I thought wrong.

Daves, who was in Atlanta with her son to visit colleges, had made her reservation for ACE Rent A Car through a site called Rentalcars.com.

Crossing state lines

“The agent said, ‘You will be staying in Georgia, right?'” she remembers. “My husband replied, saying we would be going to Mississippi and Alabama as well. She then said they would be charged $.26/mile for any traveling outside of Georgia.”

At this point, I would have walked away. But they couldn’t. “We had a non-refundable prepaid reservation, so we couldn’t cancel and go with another company,” she says.

Additional car rental fees?

Daves pulled out the rental agreement. Here’s what it had to say about driving across the state line:

Your car will be reserved for unlimited mileage, but some car companies have additional restrictions regarding mileage. Please refer to ACE’s specific policy.

Well, that’s some disclosure. Kinda like the “some restrictions apply” disclaimer that covers a multitude of “gotchas.”

Related story:   "I should know better" -- stung by Travelocity's fine print

This practice appears to be limited to a few rogue franchises. I can’t find a significant number of complaints online and ACE’s site is silent on the issue.

A ridiculous policy

“This is really ridiculous,” says Daves.

Well, I agree. It is.

The car rental agencies build the depreciation cost of driving a vehicle into the rental rate. Or, to put it in the simplest terms, you’re already paying for those miles. ACE is essentially charging you twice, and at an exorbitant rate. That’s two cents more than the government reimbursement rate for using your private vehicle.

ACE has no business dinging anyone for crossing the state line, especially in Georgia, where you’re a stone’s throw from five states. Heck, if I flew into Atlanta in the mid-morning, I could be at my favorite barbecue joint in Birmingham for lunch.

Ding! At 26 cents per mile, that’s about $40 extra.

Someone in the Georgia legislature needs to put an end to this unsavory practice. And they need to do it now.

Per-mile charges on a rental when crossing a state line …

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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.

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