My father died — please refund my rental car

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By Christopher Elliott

Sometimes, even death isn’t a good enough reason for a refund.

Consider what happened to John Graham when his father died unexpectedly the day before he was scheduled to pick up a rental car he’d booked through Priceline. It’s true that Priceline’s rentals are non-refundable, but travel companies routinely make an exception when someone flashes a death certificate.

Not this time.

When Graham asked for a refund, Priceline turned him down. And there was no negotiating with it.

Here’s its cookie-cutter response to his request.

We understand that you would like to receive a refund for your rental car reservation in Phoenix.

Prior to submitting your request, you were asked to review and initial a contract. This contract contained the travel information you entered during the request process and outlined the terms of the offer, including the restriction that your reservation would not be canceled.

We really wish we could give you the resolution you’re looking for; however, your reservations are truly non-refundable. For your reference, a copy of your contract page has been sent in a separate e-mail.

Allianz Travel Insurance has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

I wasn’t happy with that response, and neither was Graham. He responded,

I understand your policy. However, death is not something one can predetermine. Allowances are
made in most every circumstance for travel,that I have encountered, thus far for this particular reason.

I have used Priceline many times previously and feel this is a valid reason for a full refund.

Please advise me of your final determination, as this will surely impact on my future use of your services. Thank you for your kind understanding during this most difficult time.

Unfortunately, Priceline’s answer didn’t change. So my advocacy team and I contacted the company on his behalf. Surely, there must be a misunderstanding. (Here’s our guide to renting an car.)

“The rental car companies will allow for a cancellation and refund in the case of death in the family provided notification is given prior to rental pickup,” a representative told me. “In this case, notification was after the fact. Sorry.”

That’s a tough pill to swallow. (Related: Is the clutch failure on my rental car my fault?)

I looped back with Graham to find out what he thought of Priceline’s final answer.

I was unable to deal with my dad’s death and those details until a few days past the pick-up date.

I understand their policy, however some instances, such as this, where my dad died early Thursday morning are quite nearly impossible to
address in one’s state of mind at the time.

I know their policy but maybe they should adjust a bit of leeway — the death certificate has a date on it. Maybe allow at least two days?

I’m disappointed with Priceline’s response. I can understand why they’d say “no” from a business perspective — they’d probably be on the hook for the entire amount of the rental. But every rule has exceptions, and surely this is one of those times when they’d want to work with the car rental partner to either offer a full refund or credit for a future rental.

But pocketing Graham’s money? I don’t know, that seems a little harsh to me.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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