No “big deal”? Advantage raises rate, skips paperwork on car

Matthew Stephens is a humanitarian aid worker in Tbilisi, Georgia, but after renting a car from Advantage last Christmas, he found himself in need of assistance.

The car was a disaster from start to finish. Advantage charged him more than the price he’d been quoted and gave him a vehicle that was potentially unsafe, he says. Stephens thinks he’s entitled to a full refund for the car, which is an unusual request.

Let’s get the full story from Stephens. As he explains it, he was in Dallas with his family for the holidays, and wanted an inexpensive rental.

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After some research on car rental prices for Dallas, Advantage Rent a Car turned out to be the clear winner, coming in some $160 lower than other major competitors. I reserved a car from its Web site for $289 (including taxes and fees), with the notation “This rate is guaranteed.”

Upon arriving at DFW airport, I was presented with a contract totaling $415, and was told by the rental agent that the extra $125 in fees was unforeseen by Advantage at the time of my reservation and that there was nothing they could do. I told them that while disappointed (as the “low quote” was the only reason I chose Advantage in the first place), I understood and agreed to pay the fees.

However, our second issue arose as we returned the car from the airport, and my wife noticed that the safety inspection sticker for the rental car has expired in March 2009, over 8 months before I rented the car. I reported this issue to the Advantage counter at DFW, and spoke with the manager on duty.

He informed me that there must’ve been a “glitch in the system” as they were not allowed to rent vehicles without a valid safety inspection. He also stated that because I had not been involved in an accident or issued a ticket by the police, this was “no big deal.”

I asked for a refund of Advantage’s rental fee (not associated taxes and fees), and he told me that he had no authority to issue a refund and that I needed to take it up with the “corporate office.”

You can probably guess what happened next. Advantage stonewalled Stephens, sending him a form letter and then simply refusing to answer any subsequent emails.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know if Advantage owes him a full refund, but he’s certainly entitled to a) a full answer about the matter of the safety inspection; and b) at least an explanation of the extra $125 in fees and specifically what Advantage’s rate “guarantee” means in a situation like this.

The best I could do was to send this case back to Advantage and ask them to respond. But push for a full refund? That would have to be the company’s decision.

I asked Advantage to look into the matter of Stephens’ rental. Here’s what happened next:

Amazingly, I received a response from Advantage not 10 minutes after your email. They noted that they didn’t understand why I hadn’t received their last two replies (perhaps they got lost in cyberspace?), but in the end they said they would credit the amount to my card on the next billing cycle. Thanks a million for your help!

Wow, that was fast.

It’s nice of Advantage to give this customer a full refund. If he ever rents from them again, my advice would be to check the sticker before leaving the lot and to dispute the surprise extra charges instead of agreeing to them.

Once you sign on the dotted line, your options are limited.

(Photo: ohad*/Flickr Creative Commons)