Did we forget to mention the underage driver fee?

Jean Zacher’s client books a vacation package through Expedia. Then the client is charged extra for her car because she’s under 25. Is that right?

Question: I’m an Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate, and I’m writing to you on behalf of one of my clients for whom I booked a vacation package. I’m writing to complain about the car-rental portion of the package and, specifically, a fee imposed by Hertz on my client because she’s under 25.

While I explained to my client at the time of booking that Hertz may assess an additional charge for being under 25 — I was quoting Expedia’s language from its site — nothing was said to her regarding this charge at the time of rental, and she therefore assumed that she was not assessed this charge.

When she returned home, she found an additional charge of $73 from Hertz on her credit card. When she asked about it, Hertz said it was an “underage” charge, for being younger than 25.

I believe this fee should have been disclosed at the time of rental. The terms and conditions of the rental suggest that the charge is discretionary and not imposed at all times, and since no mention was made of the charge at the time of rental, it was reasonable to believe that the charge would not be assessed. The charge, if applied, should have been presented at the time of rental by the rental agent, and it was not.

While I have tried to resolve this with Hertz directly, the company says I must work through Expedia. Can you help me get a refund? — Jean Zacher, Crockett, California

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your client, and I’m happy to help. Travel agents advocate for their customers every day, so I consider it a privilege to lend a hand when I can.

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This appears to be one of those “lost in translation” cases, with two middlemen — you and Expedia — between the client and the rental agency. Disclosure is important, and when there is none, the void often is filled with incorrect assumptions.

You’re right; Hertz’s terms say that a charge for an under-25 driver “may” apply, and since your client wasn’t advised of a fee at the time of her rental, it follows that she wouldn’t pay anything extra. Also, the price of the vacation package should have been an all-in, total rate. So I can understand how she, and you, would be surprised at the extra $73 on her credit card.

Charges for young drivers are not unique to Hertz. The rest of the car rental industry does the same thing, arguing that young drivers get into more accidents. Mostly, though, it’s because rental agencies can charge them (and also older drivers, but please don’t get me started on that).

I would have referred you to an Expedia supervisor for a fix, but here’s the problem: At the time you wrote me, most of the executives I have listed on my site apparently had changed their emails to avoid dealing directly with customers. Here’s the page: elliott.org/company-contacts/expedia.

One executive, whose name and number still worked, emailed me repeatedly begging to be removed from the list. He insisted he was the wrong person to handle consumer complaints. As a goodwill gesture, I agreed. But that left people like you with no place to appeal your legitimate travel problems. So I’ve been getting barraged by Expedia complaints as a result.

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Fortunately, I still have a few contacts at Expedia whose emails do work. I reached out to them. Expedia’s records show that your client was charged an “underage” fee for her rental, and although Expedia says it was not at fault, it will reimburse you the $73 as a “gesture of goodwill.”

This story first appeared June 10, 2015.

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.

  • VoR61

    I just tried three of the emails you have listed and they “validate” successfully

  • RichardII

    Sorry, but this resolution was just wrong. As a travel professional it was Zacher’s responsibility to be informed about car rental policies and properly advise her customer. As you point out, under age fees are well known and common. As a paid advisor, Zacher’s should have told her client the applicability of a fee would be determined at the agency at the time if the rental. You used up some of your valuable access and influence to help someone who should have known better.

  • mbods2002

    But she DID advise her client about this “possible” charge (2nd paragraph) but was expecting it to show up as part of the package, at the time of booking, not when her client showed up at the counter, which still didn’t happen because she only found out about the charge after the fact, on her credit card bill. I don’t know, seems tricky to me. I mean isn’t a person’s birthday asked when booking a trip, for ID purposes etc.? This charge should have been revealed then. Agree the travel agent could have reimbursed, just for good customer relations and then fought it herself.

  • RichardII

    Key word “expecting.” A travel professional should “know” not expect. However, the key point here is the charge was legitimate and not completely unexpected. What would the client have done differently had she been advised at the time of the booking or rental? Every car rental company has this charge, so going elsewhere was not an option and I doubt she would have canceled the entire vacation because of a $73 fee.

    An experienced agent should know under age fees are the norm and should have advised her client of that information. But, in any event, that should not require Expedia to cover a legitimate charge.

  • MarkKelling

    Show us the rental agreement. That is the only way we will know the renter was not informed of the charge at the counter.

    This was most likely a pre paid rental which is why the extra was seen as a separate charge on the credit card statement. The person picking up the car should have read what was signed at the counter. I have had unexpected charges added to car rental contracts, but they are always there on the paperwork when I signed to pick up the car.

  • Altosk

    Expedia needs to have ALL of their executives listed on this site because that place is Hell’s Outhouse of the internet. Heck, I think Tumblr is better at this point…

    (And if you don’t know what Tumblr is, consider yourself lucky…)

  • mbods2002

    Yes, OK, you have a point there but Hertz’s own terms say, “that a charge for an under-25 driver “may” apply”. Does “may” apply mean “will” apply? What’s a person to think, professional or not? I guess the point is, we want all charges up front and clear when we go to pay, regardless of what we should or shouldn’t know. It’s deceptive if it’s otherwise…

  • Jeff W.

    The clause about a surcharge for under-25 drivers “may” apply is there because there are exceptions. I know specifically for certain corporate contracts, such a surcharge would not be applied. Depends on what was negotiated between the company and car rental agency. I would assume that this may also apply to gov’t rates.

    Hence the “may”, as it probably would be a technical challenge to display all the nuances of what is and is not included for every corporate rate code that each agency offers.

  • Bill___A

    Hertz has had the underage driver fee for eons. Many car rental companies don’t rent at all to those under 25.

  • DZN1

    This is correct. Back in the 80s, I remember only Avis rented to under-21 with a steep underage fee. Hertz and National started at 21 with their underage fee.

  • Barthel

    Why should the car rental company charge extra for a driver under 25. If the driver has an accident, the insurance the renter purchased will pay, and if the renter did not purchase the insurance, the rental company can collect from the driver since they screw the customer routinely for dings anyway.

  • Jason J Olson

    The Travel Agent did the right thing by advising the client about the possible fee. From an ‘expectations’ standpoint, I’m not sure why the client expected otherwise? Are we supposed to believe that if the Hertz agent told them at check in they would be okay with it, but somehow now, after the fact, they’re surprised and upset? How can that be? Ultimately, if the agent’s representation here is correct, then what is sounds like is the client was “hopeful” they “got away” with something, and when they didn’t, complained.

    However, what is really authoritative, and not presented above, was on the rental contract? While it was prepaid, they still agreed to something. What language and prices were listed on the rental agreement? That is what the client and Hertz should be bound to.

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