Case dismissed: Charged $183 for four hours on my rental car

Phillip Barszczowski’s Hertz car, which he booked through Priceline, cost $122. Not bad for a four-day rental in Wyoming, considering what rates have been doing lately.

But when Barszczowski told the agent he’d have the car back by noon on the fourth day, she had some bad news: His reservation lasted only until 8 a.m., and the four extra hours would more than double the price of his car, to $305.

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Priceline’s reservation said he had until 1:30 p.m. The Hertz agent didn’t care. “She told me Priceline does this all the time and they get you a great deal and then make up for it later,” he says.

Charging $183 for four hours, which works out to $45 an hour, seems a little pricey.

Barszczowski’s first stop was sending a brief, polite email to Priceline customer service. It seemed to confirm Hertz’ decision. Although it verified his reservation was supposed to be until 1:30 p.m., a subsequent paragraph left him with the impression that it was standing behind the car rental company.

You received your rental car as a result of the original requested pick-up date, drop-off date, car type, and location. As a result, your price reflects savings that may not have been offered to you with any other combination. In order to ensure our on-going ability to provide you and all our customers with significant savings for future rental car needs, our reservations are non-changeable and non-refundable.

That left Barszczowski feeling as if he was out of options. Hertz was charging him for a full extra day, even though Priceline said he had the car until 1:30 p.m.

“What can I do?” he said. “Anything would help right now. Even if they prorate me for the four hours I had it for on Monday.”

Before I contact Priceline and give you the improbable resolution to this case, I want to make a few observations. A $122 rate for four days — heck, even 3 1/2 days — is incredible. Priceline gave him quite a bargain.

Also, car rental companies routinely have an unpublished grace period for rental returns, and had he made it back to the airport within an hour of his return, he might have been able to avoid any extra charges. (Or here’s an idea: Why not get up a little early and return the car by 8 a.m.? If it saves you $183, it might be worth it.)

I asked Priceline about this case. A representative contacted me immediately and verified Barszczowski reservation was until 1:30 p.m. Priceline also contacted Hertz.

“It appears the Hertz representative was talking about 8 a.m. the next day,” the Priceline spokesman said. “Mr. Barszczowski shouldn’t have been charged.”

And so I asked Barszczowski to do what he probably should have done before he contacted me: to check his credit card bill and tell me if Hertz had charged him anything.

I just checked my statement and there was no charge on my card. Also, I had a voicemail from Priceline on my office phone that Hertz did not charge my card.

If they didn’t charge my card, why did I have to give them my card at the time and get a receipt for $183? Anyways as long as there is no charge on my card I’m good.

So am I.

(Photo: michelle par ker52/Flickr Creative Commons)