Did we neglect to mention the $651 drop-off fee?

Jack Schneider thought the $430 rate for his European car rental from Hertz covered everything.

And it did. Except for one teensy surcharge: the $651 “drop off” fee that wasn’t included in the non-refundable, non-negotiable rate he’d paid Hotwire.

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That’s right, he booked the car through Hotwire, which means the sale is final. But should Hotwire have disclosed the drop-off fee, too?

Hotwire offers conflicting information on its site. On one hand, it says you’re allowed to drop off your car at a different location, although there’s no indication about a possible fee.

Its terms and conditions, however, say you have to pick up and drop off the cars at the same location, whether it’s a so-called “opaque” or “hot” rate, or a conventional booking.

“When I picked up the car, Hertz told me there was an additional drop-off fee of $651, plus tax,” he says. “My credit card was billed an additional $774, which I want back from Hotwire, as it was their mistake. So far, after a month, they are ignoring me.”

Well, I might get involved in this case just to get an answer from Hotwire — or Hertz. (And this case is worth covering if for no other reason than that it’s an important cautionary tale.)

But this raises a much bigger question: Are third parties like travel agents responsible for disclosing any potential fees? The only exclusion Hotwire mentions is that “The amount you are charged by Hotwire may not include mandatory tax and insurance charges required for certain international rentals, which you will pay directly to the rental car company.”

Otherwise, Hotwire’s opaque rates are supposed to include everything.

Last month, Expedia announced that it would start disclosing baggage fees for airlines — a good first step. Unfortunately, that’s all you can do. You still can’t pay for the fees online, which is referred to in the business as “transactability.” Great for airlines, not so great for online agencies.

Technically, and perhaps even legally, there’s nothing to prevent a company from asking for more money even after you’ve made a purchase.

The drop-off fee is known to frequent car renters, and it should have been disclosed to Schneider. There are ways around it, but it requires some advance planning, as we mention in our frequent questions about car rentals.

I’ve asked Schneider for details about his rental, including the correspondence between him, Hotwire and Hertz. If it turns out that he was, indeed, broadsided by a drop-off fee, I’m inclined to go get ’em.

Should I advocate for Jack Schneider?

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9 thoughts on “Did we neglect to mention the $651 drop-off fee?

  1. I think more information is needed, unless you already have it. Have you seen his booking confirmation from Hotwire? Did he book the car accurately, in other words, does his confirmation show the pick up and drop off locations accurately. If he booked it to pick up and return to the same location, then later decided to return someplace else, no way Hotwire could have or should be expected to notify him of a drop off charge. If however, he booked it showing his drop off accurately, then HOtwire should be on the hot seat.

  2. I’m going through various modes of reserving a car on Hotwire. My example is pickup at MIA, dropoff at DFW.

    In conventional mode, when showing the pickup and dropoff locations, the price appears to be roughly what one would expect – approximately $600 for the week, all in. It’s quite clear that I’m picking up at MIA and dropping off in DFW; it’s very clearly spelled out.

    In opaque (Hot Deals) mode, I can’t find any way to do a one-way rental. The site is extremely clear that the agency is a crap shoot – guaranteed to be one of seven companies – but that the pickup and drop-off are at the same place:

    Pick up

    Tuesday, December 01, 2015, 12:00PM

    Miami Intl. (MIA)

    Counter in airport; Shuttle to car

    Drop off

    Tuesday, December 08, 2015, 12:00PM

    Miami Intl. (MIA)

    Additionally, in the booking rules and regulations at the bottom, it says:

    Pick-up/drop-off must be the same location.

    So unless Hotwire changed its site since the OP experienced the issue – and of course that’s possible – I’m not sure that the one-way charge should have been a surprise.

  3. I voted yes to at least find out what’s going on. If it turns out that Hotwire and/or Hertz are charging Jack Schneider a drop-off fee that wasn’t adequately disclosed, then you should advocate for him further.

  4. If the reservation clearly states: Pick up at A, drop off at B, then HotWire should foot the bill.

    If the reservation states nothing of the sort, then I don’t see HotWire responsible. I doubt the confirmation also mentions there will be additional charges if you return it running on fumes, wreck the car, smoke like a chimney inside, or drop it off covered in mud inside and out from off-roading, yet nobody would consider those fees out of line.

  5. Going to Hotwire, first option is select round trip (default) or one way. Only with one way do you get a place to specify the pick up and a separate drop off location. Plus after selecting the price, the next screen shows the terms amongst other info:
    “Pick-up/drop-off must be the specified locations.”
    Which to me makes it sound as if there would NOT be any further fees. If that is how he booked the car, then yes advocate. If he used round trip without understanding he needed to choose one way then it was a very expensive lesson learned for a do-it-yourselfer sadly.

  6. I would say absolutely no way. I would be shocked if the OP didn’t know that dropping off at different location is generally associated with a charge or far less rental options. Ie, maybe the system allowed the OP to do it while quoting a rate, but I just don’t buy this…

  7. WRT the fifth paragraph where it says, “you’re allowed to drop off your car at a different location, although there’s no indication about a possible fee.”

    At the linked page it clearly states, “At this time, Hotwire does not offer international one-way car rentals.” This is also stated clearly in the answers to several other related FAQs.

  8. I have never dealt with companies such as Hotwire. I telephone the hotel, the exact location, where I will stay and make the reservation with a real, live person. I do the same for car rental. I call the local office from which I will be renting the car and, again speak with a real, live person. I have never had any problems making travel arrangements this way.

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