Why won’t United reimburse me for my car rental?

United Airlines promises Linda Oliver that it will reimburse her car rental expenses when her flight is delayed. So why won’t it?

Question: I recently flew from Seattle to Wichita, Kansas, on United Airlines, with a stopover in Denver. My first flight was delayed, which caused me to miss my connection in Denver.

I called United, and a representative offered me two options: I could stay overnight and fly home the next evening at 5:30 p.m., or I could rent a car, and United would reimburse me.

I asked for a confirmation number or an email in regard to this promise, and the agent reassured me that it was not necessary. She transferred me directly to Hertz to make the arrangements, and said that all I needed to do was fax the car rental expense to United and I would be reimbursed.

I decided to rent a car and drive home. When I sent United my bill, the company refused to pay it, saying that it’s very sorry, but it’s not United’s policy to reimburse for car rental expenses. Can you help me convince United to do the right thing? — Linda Oliver, Cheney, Kan.

Answer: If United promised that it would refund your car rental, it should have refunded the rental — regardless of its policy.

According to Rule 24, Section E of United’s contract of carriage, it may, at its sole discretion, arrange for you to travel on another carrier. “United may also, at its sole discretion, and if acceptable to the passenger, arrange for the passenger to travel via ground transportation.”

You followed all the correct steps, first by emailing your bill to United through its site, and then appealing its decision to one of United’s executive contacts, which I list on this site. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, either.

Related story:   Accidentally booked 10 nonrefundable nights instead of one on Expedia

United is trying harder to fix its badly damaged relationship with customers, and this would have been an excellent opportunity to deliver on a promise. I’m disappointed that it didn’t come through for you.

For future reference, it’s very unusual for an airline to pay for alternate transportation, although it’s not unprecedented. These assurances had been given to you in a phone conversation, and as you probably know, these calls are recorded for “quality assurance purposes.” All United needed to do was review the recordings, and it could figure out what was said.

I contacted United on your behalf and urged it to review its records. United cut you a check for the car rental bill.

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.

  • Bob Davis

    Always get it in writing.

  • cscasi

    Isn’t this one we saw on here before? Or it is just really close to the one we had on here before?

  • sirwired

    As long as she wasn’t asking to have a Jag or ‘vette reimbursed, United should have paid as agreed, especially since this exact sort of accommodation is explicitly listed in the CoC.

  • sirwired

    We’ve seen passengers who took it upon themselves to rent a car having trouble before (as well they should), but I think a customer who the airline explicitly told to rent a car with full reimbursement in lieu of a flight is a new wrinkle.

  • Rebecca

    To be fair, she tried. The agent insisted it wasn’t necessary and directly transferred her to the rental agency. I’m glad she finally was reimbursed.

  • Tom McShane

    I’m surprised. I always had the idea that the airlines would never reimburse for ground transportation, bus, train, but esp. rental car. I’ve rented cars to get home when the airlines stranded me, but it was always understood that it would be on my dime. My impression is that airlines would give more legroom in steerage before they pay for a rental car.

    I suspect that if this site had not been involved, that the traveler would wait a very long time, indeed, for her reimbursement.

    Here is a genius idea: Airlines set up their own car rental firm at each airport. What should it be called? Maybe Air Rage (or Road Rage?) Rentals. When carrier hopelessly stands you somewhere, they give you a voucher (heh) for their rental car. Of course the voucher could not cover the whole cost of the rental–you’d have to pay mandatory insurance and there’d be a luggage and gas surcharges.
    It’d be a win-win. Passenger gets home and airline makes enough profit off that car rental to offer fliers the whole can of Coke. (Or is Pepsi OK?)

  • MarkKelling

    I have had an airline put me in a taxi and pay for it when transferring between two airports within one city because the plane was either diverted to the other airport or where the connecting flight could not go due to bad weather that the little plane could not fly through.

  • Alan Gore

    This was a classic “Get it in writing” situation. From the airline’s point of view, the cost of a rental car vs a hotel night with meals is roughly equivalent, so it makes sense that a passenger facing a wait for the next once-a-day puddle jumper would opt to drive, and that agents on the scene would support that decision. Then the bean counters in the back room tried to stick it to this passenger, until they got Chrissed.

  • Jeff W.

    Although not part of the issue, here is hoping that she was refunded the unused portion of airfare without much hassle..

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I remember it, as well. It was fairly recent. If it wasn’t this exact case then it was the same itinerary because I remember those same cities being involved.

    EDIT: Yes, it is definitely a dupe. Same person and exact same case. Original article was in December.

  • Lindabator

    Or get the agent name and city call center

  • Joe Blasi

    mandatory insurance! total the car so they lose on that!

  • AJPeabody

    Nope. She was a no show for the next day’s flight.

  • AirlineEmployee

    Maybe United needs to train it’s uninformed or lying telephone agents to get it right. Why is not anyone on their end (the agent that took the call and can be traced) being held responsible or at least dressed down for giving out wrong information ??

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