Imagine this: You show up at the airport car rental counter, and the company refuses to give you a vehicle. And then the company keeps the $1,749 you spent, too.
Outrageous, right? That’s what Aliza Leifer thought when it happened to her (actually, she used language that I can’t repeat).
Leifer arrived at the Sixt counter at New York’s JFK airport with her husband and four children last summer, and a car rental representative said it had no car for her. The reason: Her husband, Baruch, was on Sixt’s Do Not Rent (DNR) list.
“We had no idea of this before the rental,” she says.
The Leifers, who had flown to New York from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., eventually found another rental car and asked for a refund from Expedia, the online agency through which they had rented from Sixt.
But Expedia had some terrible news for the family: Their prepaid reservation was nonrefundable.
So long, $1,749?
Maybe it’s time to add Leifer to my Do Not Worry list. After all, she had the good sense to contact my advocacy team, which does not tolerate a money grab.
Leifer’s case takes us down the road of car rental companies’ mysterious and often misunderstood Do Not Rent lists. It turns out it’s surprisingly easy to get on these blacklists, and it’s difficult — and sometimes even impossible — to get off. The worst part is that you might not even know you’re on a Do Not Rent list. Sometimes, car rental companies add you to the list without notification.
Along the way, we’ll answer a few questions:
- What is a car rental Do Not Rent list?
- How do you get on a Do Not Rent list?
- How long do you stay on a car rental DNR list?
- How do you get removed from the Do Not Rent list?
Leifer’s story is filled with twists and turns and a few unexpected detours. I’ll also find out why Sixt blacklisted her husband. But before we try to straighten things out, let’s define a few important terms.
What does DNR mean in a car rental?
Being on the Do Not Rent list means you may not rent from the car rental company.
Most people land on a company’s DNR list because of unpaid bills, although there can be other reasons. (In medical parlance, DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate, which kind of applies to car rentals, too, because you are dead to the company.)
When a car rental employee sees your name on the DNR, they can’t give you the keys to a car under any circumstances. A DNR rental problem can’t be fixed on the spot, either. Generally, you won’t be able to settle an unpaid bill and then be on your way. The process takes time.
You’ll need to rent a car from a different company — if you can find a company with available cars.
One thing to know about DNR lists is that they often apply to many car rental companies or locations. For example, Sixt’s ban would be in effect at all of its locations, including its franchisees in the United States. If Avis blacklists you, the ban would extend to Budget and Payless. The Hertz DNR list usually also applies to Dollar and Thrifty.
In other words, being on the DNR of one car rental company can seriously affect your ability to rent a car anywhere. Leifer was about to discover that for herself.
“Expedia promised me a refund”
Leifer’s misadventure started last July after she prepaid for her two-week rental through Expedia.
Remember the summer of 2022? Car rental prices were at record highs, a result of a prolonged car rental shortage. Leifer locked in the lowest rate she could by prepaying the entire rental through Expedia. Prepaid means that you pay in advance for the car, and the rental is completely nonrefundable.
“When we got to the Sixt counter, they refused us a car, saying that my husband was on a blacklist,” she says.
Leifer asked for her money back.
“Sixt could not issue a refund and said we needed to go through Expedia,” she says.
So Leifer contacted Expedia.
“Expedia promised me a refund, but only after confirming with Sixt that they refused to give us a car,” she says.
Expedia could not reach anyone at Sixt. So instead of giving Leifer a refund, it sent her husband this message:
We’ve attempted to contact Sixt to request a waiver of the no show penalty fee for your itinerary [redacted].
After reviewing your case details and information provided, we are unable to provide you with a refund on this occasion.
As shown on the car rental rules and restrictions during your booking and send with your confirmation, it is required to inform the car rental company of your no-show. For that reason, a refund is not applicable.
Thanks for choosing Expedia.
Expedia Customer Support
Whoa, wait a minute! Did they just claim Aliza, Baruch and their four children were no-shows?
“Lies!” she says. “If they would go back and listen to the recordings from when we were stranded at the airport they would see clearly that we did not cancel. We showed up for the car and were refused a car.”
Leifer felt the situation was absurd. First, Sixt denies them a car, then Expedia promises them a refund, then it reneges. How did it come to this?
How do you get on a Do Not Rent list?
An unpaid bill is the most common reason for being on a Do Not Rent list.
For example, I recently mediated a bizarre case involving a reader who discovered he had a Hertz bill dating back to 2012. The car rental company refused to rent him another vehicle until he paid.
Another reason for being on the Do Not Rent list is doing something illegal or unsafe while in the possession of a rental car. Here’s a story about a customer who left a loaded handgun in the glove compartment of his rental car.
That’s a big no-no.
Here’s a list of reasons we’ve seen for drivers getting placed on the Do Not Rent list
- Committing a crime with a rental car. Car rental companies take a dim view of customers who break the law in their vehicles. Don’t use a rental car as a getaway vehicle in a bank heist. (But if you do, avoid giving the company your real name, for obvious reasons.)
- Filing a credit card dispute. If you file a chargeback on your car rental bill, whether justified or not, you should assume you’ll be on the Do Not Rent list. Car rental companies don’t like losing, and they will make you pay.
- Crossing the border. Car rental companies track your vehicle. If you go outside of the area permitted in your contract, you might face extra charges and a lifetime ban. Always, always read the contract carefully and ask before you cross the border into another country.
- Threatening a car rental employee. If you yell at, berate or browbeat a car rental employee, you could end up on the DNR list. We’ve had several cases where we believed the customer’s behavior landed them on the blacklist.
- Having unpaid toll bills. It’s not just unpaid car rental bills. Toll bills, which sometimes show up late, can also cause you to be added to the Do Not Rent List. Some car rental companies will add you to the list even if you owe only a few dollars. (We’ve seen it.)
- Violating your contract. If you drive on a dirt road, allow an unlicensed driver behind the wheel, or get pulled over for speeding or drunk driving — all those could get you blacklisted. It depends on the car rental company and the seriousness of the infraction.
Bottom line: There are lots of ways to get on a car rental company’s Do Not Rent list. But as you’ll see in a moment, there are only a few ways to get off the list.
How do you find out if you are on a car rental company’s DNR list?
Normally, a car rental company will notify you in writing of your Do Not Rent status. But you can also call the company to find out or try to make a reservation. The system will flag your name and refuse to accept the booking.
It appears the DNR list does not transfer to third parties like Expedia or Booking.com, so it’s possible to make a nonrefundable reservation through an online agency and be on the DNR list.
If you suspect you may be blacklisted, avoid making prepaid car rental reservations through a third party.
How long do you stay on a car rental Do Not Rent list?
Once you are on a car rental company’s Do Not Rent list, you’re stuck. Our team is not familiar with anyone whose name was removed even after a few years. Car rental companies do not mess around when it comes to their Do Not Rent lists.
However, there is a silver lining to this issue: Car rental companies get acquired or merge with some frequency. When they do, an old DNR list may be lost or overwritten. An acquiring company might also compare its list with a list of current customers and decide you are worth another chance. Certainly, it’s worth appealing your case again if you want to return as a customer.
But if you’ve been wrongly added to a company’s Do Not Rent List and have a chance to get off because of a merger or acquisition, you have to ask yourself: Why would I want to give them my business again? Who knows what other kind of mischief and incompetence the car rental company is capable of? Maybe it’s best that you break up for good.
But for Leifer, the problem wasn’t getting back into Sixt’s good graces. It was getting Expedia to listen to her. And unfortunately, she made a few mistakes that made it less likely to take her seriously.
How do you get removed from the Do Not Rent list?
There are several ways to get off a car rental company’s Do Not Rent list.
For the most common reason for blacklisting — unpaid bills — simply paying the bill is usually enough to clear your name. But it can take time. Most DNR lists are administered centrally at a car rental company’s headquarters. Getting your name taken off the list can take weeks or months, although our advocacy team has seen it take less time when the company is motivated.
For other reasons, such as illegal activity or contract violations, there’s an informal appeals process. As with other types of consumer complaints, you’ll want to send a brief, polite email to the car rental company through its website. Include all relevant details and ask it to take your name off the Do Not Rent list.
If the answer is “no,” then appeal your case to one of the executive contacts we list on our consumer advocacy site. The process can take time, and you may have to appeal to the CEO, but we’ve seen it work in certain cases.
Realistically, it’s easy to fix a blacklisting for billing reasons. But for anything else, it’s almost impossible to get your name off a DNR list. We’ve tried to appeal a blacklisting on behalf of consumers, and we’ve gotten turned down almost every time. Simply put, car rental companies don’t want anyone driving a car who might be a risk.
Excerpts from the online chat between Leifer and Expedia.
Mistakes to avoid when you’re trying to get off the Do Not Rent list
Leifer kept her cool with Expedia and Sixt — until she couldn’t. Unfortunately, that made her problem more difficult to fix.
First, she tried to resolve the problem with a series of phone calls. Calling a travel company can work when you have an immediate problem, like a missing reservation or a flat tire. But for a complicated refund case like this, calling was counterproductive.
As I note in my guide to fixing a consumer problem, it’s often far better to create a paper trail by sending a brief, polite email to the company and asking it to address your problem.
Leifer’s next stop was social media, which is also a more immediate way of communicating with a company. The problem with chat is that you don’t have a lot of time to collect your thoughts and write a considered response. (It’s kind of like texting your ex — it almost never ends well.)
Let me play an excerpt:
Leifer: I’ve spent HOURS on the phone trying to resolve this and you are literally stealing my money.
Expedia: Hi, We regret to hear that. We’d be willing to check the refund of your car. May we have your email address for verification? Thanks.
Leifer: That’s not helpful!! Your customer service also told me they would “check on the refund”
and then told me they can’t refund!! I showed up for the car. I was refused a car. And I can not get a refund. This is crazy!
Expedia: We do regret to hear that, allow us a moment first to check your reservation and we’ll get back to you shortly.
Thank you for waiting. As we have checked this is a past dated car rental with Sixt last July 12, 2022 for 16 days and an insurance. As we further checked last November 8, 2022, we received a response from the car rental that you were tagged as no show in their system therefore they will be charging any applicable no show fees according to the policy of your booking.
Leifer: I DID SHOW UP FOR THE CAR. GO LISTEN TO THE RECORDING BACK WHEN I CALLED FOR A REFUND AT THE AIRPORT. I called the car company and they said they never got paid from you! YOU ARE STEALING MY MONEY.
OK, you can see where this is going: It’s going nowhere.
Leifer would have been much better off drafting a brief, polite email to one of the Sixt executives I list on this site. She could have also appealed to one of the Expedia customer service managers on this site. By following the Elliott Method of being patient, persistent and polite, she might have overcome the roadblock of refusals that the company was putting in her way.
How do you avoid a car rental company Do Not Rent list?
The best way to avoid a problem like this is to stay off a car rental company’s DNR list.
- Pay all your bills. If you have a problem with a charge, take it up directly with the car rental company instead of disputing it on your credit card. That includes fuel charges and any other fees that might annoy you.
- Obey the rules. Don’t let your 14-year-old daughter drive that shiny new Tesla you rented from Hertz. Don’t go drag racing with that Benz you rented from Enterprise. And please, no offroading, unless your vehicle is specifically approved for that activity.
- Settle your tolls, tickets and parking fines. Often car rental companies have to pay these tickets if you fail to do so. That can land you on the Do Not Rent list.
And never commit a crime in a rental car. That’ll land you on a Do Not Rent list faster than you can say, “I’m innocent.”
Can she get a refund for her nonrefundable rental car?
The more I thought about this case, the more troubled I was about it.
It’s highly unusual for a car rental company to add customers to the Do Not Rent list without telling them, although I’ve seen it before. There’s also the issue of a multinational car rental company based in the suburbs of Munich secretly banning a Jewish customer from South Florida, which is bound to raise some eyebrows.
I asked Sixt on Friday if it could comment on Baruch Leifer’s ban, but it did not respond.
Separately, I also reached out to Expedia.
“Good news,” an Expedia representative told me a few days later. “We were able to get the car rental agency to refund the customer in full. We also added some Expedia points to their account since we know it was a stressful experience. Thanks for the opportunity to help get this resolved.”
I checked with Leifer the same day. She said she hadn’t heard from anyone.
Four days later, the case was finally resolved.
“I finally received a full refund,” Leifer said in an email. “I really don’t even know how to thank you for your help. I have no idea how you got this done, trust me I really tried! I was at a complete dead end before your help. You were also so responsive and easy to communicate with. I am so appreciative, thank you so so much! I am truly blown away.”
So why was Baruch blacklisted? It turns out he and Aliza had rented from Sixt in the past. It was a one-day rental in Florida and she says they returned the car undamaged. Sixt says they broke a light under the front bumper and sent them a bill. The couple refused to pay.
“When my husband did not pay that bill he was put on a blacklist,” she says.
About the art: The illustrations in this story were inspired by the great Sydney Jay Mead, the American industrial designer and neo-futurist concept artist. Mead was also a well-known painter of automotive art.