Banned by a car rental company for questioning a charge

When it comes to fees, are travel companies taking a page from the Transportation Security Administration’s playbook? You might be forgiven for thinking so after hearing Eric Hendrix’ story of being added to the equivalent of the “no-fly” list when he tried to rent a car from Alamo.

When Hendrix returned his car to Alamo earlier this month, a supervisor asked for his credit card because she claimed he owed the company another $10.

When I questioned what the charge was, the response was “I don’t know.” I explained that I was turning in the car on time so there is no reason for any extra charges.

I got our corporate travel agent on the phone and she talked to the supervisor. Our agent explained that there should be no extra fees, but if there were, that they should be applied to the business account and not me.

The supervisor was adamant that I owed the money and that it could not be charged to our company’s account. After some pressure, she explained it was a concession fee. When I asked what that meant, the supervisor could not explain it.

“You want me to pay extra for a rental but you can’t tell me why?” I asked her.

The supervisor was clearly frustrated and just said “forget it” and that she would take care of it. I assumed that was the end of it so I left.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Two weeks later, when Hendrix tried to rent from Alamo again, he was told that he’d been banned.

The comment section on my file was blank and that there was no reason listed, I was just flagged as “banned” by the booth supervisor at the Alamo location in Orlando. They removed the ban and asked that I speak to the manager of the Orlando location to see if he could explain why I was banned. But he was unable to offer any real insight on why I was banned, only that he would “look into it” and “talk” to the supervisor that flagged me. No apology.

Did a rogue employee flip a switch that banned Hendrix from ever renting another Alamo car? I asked Alamo, and here’s what I heard back from Laura Bryant, a company spokeswoman.

No one locally put Mr. Hendrix on the “Do Not Rent” list. There was a system error (because his method of payment did not cover part of his charge). The error has been corrected. We also have contacted Mr. Hendrix and personally apologized for the mistake and subsequent confusion.

As you know, we complete millions of car rental transactions every year, and sometimes things do go wrong. However, customer service is the cornerstone of our business — we use industry-leading tools like ASQi (Alamo Service Quality index) and our Quality Service Process program to ensure Alamo’s customers receive great value as well as great service. As a result, we’re very proud that Alamo vaulted to third place in the 2008 J.D. Power and Associates Rental Car Satisfaction Survey.

Interesting. So Alamo’s system couldn’t process a concession fee, which covers the company’s rent and facilities charges paid to the airport. And when it tried to charge one of its corporate customers, and he resisted, that driver was somehow added to the “do not rent” list.

Well, it doesn’t matter if his name was added locally or remotely. No one is disputing that he was on the “do not rent” list and then removed. Neither the Orlando Alamo office or Alamo corporate can explain why.

It may be going too far to say Alamo is using TSA-like tactics to silence dissidents. But next time a manager demands another ten bucks for a rental, you might consider quietly paying it and then disputing the bogus charge with your credit card company.

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