Dollar’s ‘additional driver’ fee that won’t go away

Question: We rented a car for our month-long vacation in Baltimore through Dollar Rent-A-Car recently. I was quoted a rate of $872 for an economy car.

When we arrived at the counter, we were told they didn’t have any economy cars but that they would give us a midsize car. Even though the gas mileage would be worse than we had planned, we grudgingly accepted.

Next, they announced that there would be a $10 per day additional driver fee for my wife to be listed as a driver. The fee hadn’t been disclosed to us when we booked the car.

We generally share the driving responsibilities on our vacations. We had reserved the car for 28 days. That was going to be $280 we hadn’t planned on! We protested and argued. They wouldn’t budge.

We felt “had” on both counts — car size and fee.

After a few days, we called Dollar and told them we wanted the car we originally reserved and didn’t want to pay the additional driver fee. They agreed and arranged for us to exchange our car in Philadelphia, which we did. Dollar agreed to remove the additional driver fee from the new rental.

You can imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were charged the fee, anyway. We found out about it only at the last minute, as we tried to catch our flight home. We didn’t have time to argue.

Is there any way to have this bill reduced by the $180 we believe we were overcharged? — Bayard Allmond, Berkeley, Calif.

Answer: Dollar should have told you about the additional driver fee up front, so you could have made an informed decision about your rental.

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It’s highly unusual for a car rental company to charge an extra driver fee for a spouse, but such a surcharge isn’t illegal. It is something of a money grab, though. Does it cost the car rental company more if your wife, brother or son drives your rental? No. Will your car insurance cover damage to the vehicle if it’s damaged? Check with your insurance company, but I’ve never heard of an “extra driver” fee having any relevance in a claim that involves a driver’s insurance company.

Some car rental companies will allow spouses to drive a rental at no extra charge. But what does marriage have to do with a rental car? Last time I checked, it had nothing to do with it at all.

So, no, I can’t blame you for feeling “had” by the extra driver fee.

The involuntary upgrade, however, was not a scam. That was just Dollar not managing its fleet well, and running out of economy cars. To be fair to Dollar, and other rental companies, it’s really difficult to effectively manage your fleet when drivers can cancel their rental with no penalty.

I checked with Dollar on your case. It says that its terms and conditions, which include its additional driver fee, are disclosed on its site but “can be overlooked,” according to a spokeswoman. “We also have a detailed counter system that itemizes and fully discloses all rental charges, options, taxes and fees,” she added.

Dollar apologized for not handling your case better and refunded the additional driver fee, as agreed.

(Photo: Kevin Labianco/Flickr)

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

  • Just goes to show that savvy consumers have to ask about every single thing nowadays. If there’s anything else to which the travel industry hasn’t yet found a way to tack on a fee, they’ll dream some more up, I’m sure. Travelers now have to keep a checklist of what to ask when making plans (resort fee? additional driver fee? checked bag? carry-on?) Sigh. Between the TSA and the airlines/hotels/rental agencies, it’s a wonder anyone travels anymore…

  • jikinn

    When we rent with Enterprise, we tell them that we’re domestic partners, and they waive the “extra” driver fee. I’m glad I don’t have to pay the fee anymore, but Chris is right – what does  marriage (or domestic partnership) have to do with driving rental cars? Why couldn’t my friend (non-domestic partner) and I who were traveling together both drive the car without an additional fee?

  • Chris_In_NC

    No sympathy on the “involuntary upgrade” as this is unfortunately standard business practice with rental cars.

    However, the “extra driver” to add a spouse or domestic partner is really annoying. Especially with policies vary widely between companies and locations. Hertz policy is schizophrenic, with some locations charging, and others not. It also depends on the type of contract that you have, whether it is an individual rate, or corporate rate. I believe that AAA rates allow additional drivers, but only in certain states.

    The last time I asked a manager, I was told that in certain locations, state and local laws mandate that spouses and domestic partners be allowed to drive a rental car, with out an additional fee. Hence, why most websites say a “fee may be charged” without giving specifics.

  • BillCCC

    Rental car companies are free to charge what they want. It is up to consumers to tell them whether they are getting it right or not.

  • I thought the extra driver fee was normal? It’s a way to cover their butts with insurance to have someone else covered for the driver’s seat as well. Charging it by the day, though, seems silly and they never should’ve charged it to you after agreeing to waive it. Glad you got it refunded at least. 

  • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

    Once, the clerk at an Enterprise explained the extra driver fee / waived for spouses to my boyfriend and me by ending with, “…but if you were to get married…” and paused as if he were half expecting us to tell him to hang on a minute and run to a court house.

  • rlegan

    Budget never charges for spouses.   If you join Hertz Gold,  there is no additional driver fee for spouses.   If you join Emerald club with National, then also there is no fee for a spouse driver. 

  • AutoSlash

    Additional driver’s fees can usually be gotten around fairly easily with most of the major companies.  Dollar and Thrifty (both owned by the same corporate parent) are the exceptions though.  There is no known way to avoid the charges with them unless you are on a corporate contract that specifically waives the charges, which is very unfortunate.  

    Hopefully Dollar/Thrifty will change their policy on this in the future.  In the meantime, here’s how to get around the charges with the other companies:  

  • shannonfla

    For starters, I don’t understand why an extra fee has to be charged in the first place, especially every day!  However, I hardly rent cars but I do know enough to be aware that there is a fee for everything but most can be waived.  Enterprise waived the extra driver fee for my father after seeing his retired military id, which I’m sure had a lot to do with the decision. 

  • alaskanjackal

    I love how people don’t pay attention and then expect Chris Elliott to fix the mistakes they could have prevented in the first place.

    Dollar’s T&C for BWI says:

    Additional Authorized Drivers: Additional drivers must qualify with a valid driver’s license in their own name. There may be charges for additional drivers. 

    The full T&C available in a GDS system (which any travel agent has access to) says:

    ADDL DRIVERS 25 YRS 10.00/DAY. AGE 21-24 37.00/DAY.

    Either way, it was disclosed, certainly at least to the point that they could have called and asked for details if they knew there were going to be multiple drivers.

  • SoBeSparky

    They are free to charge what they want only when they prominently reveal all the fees, add-ons, extras and up charges.  To hide these at the bottom of ten pages of fine print called “terms and conditions” is purposely obscuring the true cost of the car.  All renters cannot be expected to have college-level reading comprehension skills to get through all the convoluted fine print. 

    Fair is fair.  Charge what you like.  But tell the consumer plainly upfront. 

  • TouchyFeely

    “… to show that savvy consumers have to ask about every single thing nowadays.”

    That has always been true. 

    “Bayard from Berkeley.”  What a shock.

  • TouchyFeely

    Sounds like one of those entitled idiots that pack Berkeley.  I’ll bet they camped next to the rental every night.

  • BillCCC

    I am no lover of fine print but if you sign something without reading it you really have nobody but yourself to blame.

  • SoBeSparky

    The reality is that you have little time to stand there and read the backs of rental agreements or ask for the agreement itself because the short-form computer card doesn’t have it.  Then it is printed in 6-point type, single spaced, in gray ink on a colored background.  Your bifocals are working, but the lighting is poor, contrast is bad, and you are getting a major headache trying to get past the thirteenth “nothing herein contained shall, notwithstanding the foregoing, apply to the exception as stated in Paragraph 5, additional driver charge.”

    Try that sometime when five people are behind you, some with kids running around in circles and others just tapping their feet on the floor clearing their throats almost in unison.

    Just tell us plainly the total charges.

  • Agreed that the proliferation of  confusing policies across the same company varying by state and locality is unfair and frustrating.  Even if a company’s extra driver policy is stated on their website or on the emailed reservation, I don’t trust it unless I’ve called the individual rental location to confirm. 

  • y_p_w

    I’ve gotten some strange deals in my day with those “involuntary upgrades” or cases where the vehicle type was declared to be in the same class as what I reserved but way different than I expected.  Try a Chevy HHR when the vehicle type is supposed to be an intermediate sedan.  I really wanted to have a car with a trunk so my luggage wasn’t visible to potential thieves.  It drove well and actually got decent mileage, but nothing bad happened.  Or how about a minivan with a sliding door when a full-size was reserved?  Again – luggage hiding and handling issues although one of my passengers really like to be able to spread his legs out.

    Once I was traveling on business and didn’t like the handling of the full sized car I originally got and called in to Avis to get a swap the next morning for a compact car.  It was a corporate rate, so they didn’t bump the price down.  I also called a couple of times to extend the rental, and strangely talked to the same Avis CSR all three times.

    I’ve never been charged for an additional driver though.  My wife doesn’t like to drive anyways.

  • y_p_w

    I could imagine the whole thing about charging for more drivers is that alternating drivers might mean driving more overall distance if one driver can relieve the other when tired.

    Most rentals are unlimited mileage, although usually the terms include restrictions on what states one is allowed to take the vehicle, and they use might even use GPS devices to record that. When I had a rental in Florida with Enterprise, the terms were that I couldn’t take out outside of Florida. When I’ve rented in California, the most common terms were that the car had to remain within California, Oregon, Nevada, or Arizona. I’ve even rented a car in California with Nevada plates and registration.

  • y_p_w

    Yeah, right.  I looked up the name, and it’s actually Dr. Bayard Allmond, M.D.

    Note: I originally linked to information on Dr. Allmond, not knowing it showed his home address (which is public information, but I originally though it was an office address until I realized it was in a residential neighborhood). Let’s just say that judging by the where he lives, I think he could probably afford a very cushy hotel room.

    And remember that Mr. Elliott spent some time in Berkeley too.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I generally rent from Dollar.  That fee is plainly disclosed at the time of booking.  I don’t agree with the fee, but it’s there, and not “at the bottom of ten pages of fine print”.  The OP was at fault here.  But the fee should go away.

  • Fortunately, the law has moved past such simplistic, draconnian notions of caveat emptor or let the buyer beware.  Today, truth in lending laws, adequate disclosure rules etc. all exist to combat this false notion that consumers can possibly protect themselves from a large corporation.

  • Michael__K

    If mileage was the reason, I would expect that the additional driver fee would be waived for the subset of rentals which do have a mileage charge (such as many one-way rentals).  

    But AFAIK, no company will waive its additional driver fee in that scenario.

    I’ve had agents explain to me that the reason was to recoup costs for the additional driving record check for each driver. But that would justify a per-rental fee, not a per-day fee.

  • The funny thing is, back in the day when gas was $1 a gallon, the “involuntary upgrade” was usually considered a good thing.  You paid for a compact, you got a bigger car, and since gas was so cheap, the extra gas cost for the worse mileage really didn’t matter.  Funny how times change.  Although, depending on what kind of car you actually end up getting, the MPG issue might be a non-issue.  For example, Budget considers a Hyundai Elantra a midsize, and a Hyundai Accent a compact.  The Elantra actually gets better mileage than an Accent, so you would have actually come out ahead with your involuntary upgrade in that case.

    Or, sometimes you just get lucky.  My wife and I rented a car to drive to California and back over the holidays.  I wanted a compact for the mileage.  The Budget at Dallas Love Field had nothing but Mustangs in the lot because they had a bunch of overdue rentals (or so they said).  I grudgingly took it, but as it turned out, the Mustang got us 30-35 MPG on the freeway, and was a ton of fun for just the two of us.  And since it was an involuntary upgrade, we paid the same as we would have for a compact.  A nice win-win in that case.

  • y_p_w

    If you needed the rear seats, with a Mustang your passengers might not have been happy.

    I mentioned renting the full-size car but trading it in during the week for a compact.  The braking on the full-size was absymal and I’m used to driving a smaller car.  I didn’t really care about the fuel costs as they were borne by my employer, but I remember unleaded regular gas in Arizona (where I was on business) was typically 79.9 cents/gallon at the major brand-name gas stations.

  • magnet1125

    Just as an aside, my experience in renting in Jackson Hole might be a reminder to check the terms of your “secondary” insurance from your credit card company…I had reserved a full size car in Jackson, and they offered me a Surburban which I accepted (not caring too much about the additional fuel cost) …after returning home I happened to read the terms of inusrance on my credit card, and discovered that the Suburban was excluded, so, check closely

  • y_p_w

    What would the secondary terms get you that your primary insurance wouldn’t cover?

    If I were renting in Jackson Hole, I’d be thinking of driving some roads where I’d be too scared to take a Suburban.  Maybe Forest Service roads or some of the scenic routes in Grand Teton or Yellowstone.  I was a bit wary even driving those roads in a mid-sized sedan.

  • bodega3

    National doesn’t charge for spouses, Emerald Club or not.

  • magnet1125

    The secondary terms were the standard insurance provided by the credit card company…if one did not accept the rental company insurance fees, any damage to the car that would normally be covered by the credit card company would not be covered…I had no trouble in Yellowstone..maybe I did not go to the scenic roads you took

    In a message dated 1/6/2012 12:41:26 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, writes:


    y_p_w wrote, in response to magnet1125:
    What would the secondary terms get you that your primary insurance wouldn’t cover?

    If I were renting in Jackson Hole, I’d be thinking of driving some roads where I’d be too scared to take a Suburban. Maybe Forest Service roads or some of the scenic routes in Grand TEton or Yellowstone. I was a bit wary even driving those roads in a mid-sized sedan.

    _Link to comment_ (

  • Cybrsk8r

    Ummm, wouldn’t a married couple have a joint policy on their personal auto(s) which would cover damage to a rental regardless of who’s driving (assuming they have full coverage)?

  • rlegan

    Be sure to contact your personal insurance agent.  When I asked my State Farm agent whether my wife would be covered if she was not disclosed to the rental car agency as an additional driver and spouses weren’t automatically allowed,  he said that my state farm insurance will only cover us when we are authorized drivers of a vehicle.  If my wife is not an authorized driver of the rental car,  then we would not have coverage if she is driving…….  

  • bodega3

    It will vary from state to state, plus the type of rate booked.  Some contracted rates max the amount paid for an additional driver, some waive the fee totally.

  • bodega3

    Exactly!  If this person is a doctor, I bet his rates and conditions are not posted for a patient to see when they check in and BEFORE they meet with him. 

  • y_p_w

    I was thinking Tower to Roosevelt.  They’ve got some narrow roads with some sharp dropoffs. Of course tour buses drive there all the time.

    I’m just used to driving a compact performance car.  I really don’t like driving larger vehcicles.

  • BillCCC

    You can choose to be a victim or not. I choose not.

  • MikeInCtown

    they either ask you what insurance you have, or you sign up for the additional insurance. if both people driving have insurance, that is all that should be required. their investment is protected. -and they carry insurance anyway, so all it is is a money making opportunity.

  • RITom

    When the fine print printers give me a lamp and a mag glass to read the fine print along with a lawyer to understand it then i have no one to blame but the idiots who force you to sign it.

  • elisabethos

    I have been renting cars primarily through Alamo lately – but via my membership at – rental rates on average through this have saved me 25% over rack rates, (so over the course of two 10 day trips, it was about $400 better than any deals I’d found on OTA sites) & the costco deals almost always do a free car class upgrade & they waive the extra driver fee as well, so it’s just nice not to even worry about whether or not our insurance would cover, though I’m sure we’re fine either way.   

    With Alamo quicksilver, I do personally like the flexibility to pick whatever car you want from the class of car ordered, and have gotten some pretty decent choices/upgrades. 

  • bodega3

    But this was on the website so there is no excuse for not knowing the added costs.  I personally am tired of the ‘I didn’t know’ letters to Chris and I need your help.  If you take responsibility of handling your own bookings, then take responsibility of gleeming all the information.  Can’t do it?  Use a professional.

  • With all due respect, that’s just silly.  Throughout our history, powerful interest take advantage of the powerless.  That’s the entire reason why civil rights and consumer protection laws were enacted. 

    Your perspective is based upon a belief that you have choices.   However, in the past, large corporations would simply band together to prevent meaningful choices.   The worse example of course was the practice of not hiring minorities and women. Other examples including paying workers with company script, firing injured workers, paying below minimum wage, etc

    Basically, if every business in is engaging in unethical practices, you will be the victim, despite your protestations.

  • Nancy Miller

    this is a pure and simple ripoff – i had to check about 5 different rates with National until i found one (with the AARP discount) that didn’t charge at least $6/day to have an additional driver – and they are not forthcoming at all about this fee – in fact they will indicate ‘additional driver included’ on the confirmation and it’s up to the renter to ascertain what that means (spouse, colleague,….)

  • bodega3

    I found this in less than 30 seconds:
    Additional Driver Fee
     Is there always an additional driver daily fee? How much is it?
    Any additional driver (including a spouse or domestic partner) will pay a daily fee of approximately $10 per day unless the primary renter is a member of Emerald Club or has a Corporate Contract Agreement.Emerald Club Members in the United States and Canada are allowed to have the following Additional drivers without a fee:Emerald Club member’s spouse, common law spouse, or domestic partner who has the same address on the drivers license as the Emerald Club member and meet normal renter requirements.
    Immediate family member, Mother/Father, Son/Daughter, or Brother/Sister who has the same address on the drivers license as the Emerald Club member and meet normal renter requirements.Corporate Contracts / Business Benefits Member in the United States and Canada are allowed the following additional drivers at no charge:Commercial (corporate) rentals, the renter’s business partner, employer or fellow associate, who has an assigned corporate contract with National and drives the car for business purposes and meet normal renter requirements.All other additional authorized driver situations are subject to a daily charge.

  • Some states don’t allow the rental companies to charge for an additional driver.  Last year, my wife and her sister went to CA
    and rented a car (Hertz or Avis – can’t remember which) and there
    was no extra driver charge.

  • zakany

    Was your rental experience a good one, though? I’m looking forward to my trip there next summer, but haven’t settled on an auto rental company, yet.

  • We were in Spain a couple of years ago and rented a car from Hertz.  Our adult daughter was with us for a few days, and we wanted to put her on the rental for just the first day, and we would have paid the extra fee.  But Hertz would only let her drive if we paid the fee for the full term of our rental (25 days), and she wasn’t even going to be with us for most of the time.  We declined!

  • sister7

    Sorry Chris, but you missed the mark. Rental car companies CAN charge for the extra driver fee’s.  If you have AAA (and I think AARP) rate, then the spouse drives free. 
    What I don’t know is what if the driver who is not listed is at the wheel of the rental car?.Wouldn’t the renter be in violation of the contract?..

  • Mel65

    What jumped out at me reading this was, “We found out about it only at the last minute, as we tried to catch our flight home. We didn’t have time to argue.”  Every LW with a rental car issue says the same thing.  Either they aren’t allowing enough time, which is just stupid and careless, or they just chose not to argue, assuming that someone like Chris would step in and save the day for them. How tight did they cut their flight that the LW didn’t have 15 minutes to calmly discuss this with Dollar at the time of drop off.  I’m beginning to feel like “In God We Trust” should be replaced with “Not MY responsibility” anymore. Jeez

  • kanehi

    Before you sign on the dotted line read everything including the boxes where they make you initial the extras. 

  • Larry O’Connor

    I have rented cars for years and was always asked if there would be any additional drivers. If I said my wife they wanted her drivers license on file as well. I have never been charged extra for her, until today when I went to pick up the car they told me it would be an extra $120.00. I only know because I asked. They did not inform me or ask before hand. The lady at the counter told me in Ohio they will impound the car if an unauthorized driver is pulled over, even if I am in the car with them. Ridiculous!

  • Larry O’Connor

    People who say “It’s your fault” are usually the ones guilty of ripping people off. Shame on you! 

  • Larry O’Connor

    bodega3, you are part of the problem. Just because you are special or privileged, you expect everyone to be so empowered. I will assume everyone who reads this post who has ever been ripped off by devious schemes, will blame people like you. 

  • Maquis

    HMM… How about asking the rental car company to reimburse for the lower mpg?

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