Here’s why you should always, always, always read your car rental confirmation

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By Christopher Elliott

I wish I could help David Campbell. He says he has a “sticky” situation with Avis which “may be unresolvable.” And I think he’s right.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened to him. If nothing else, there’s a lesson for the rest of us who might be renting cars during the holidays.

Campbell’s wife made a car rental reservation in Boston through Costco Travel. But they didn’t pay attention to the pick-up location, which was at the Boston Backbay Station Parking Garage on Clarendon Street — not the airport.

The Campbells went to the airport Avis location

“I picked up the car and signed the documents,” he says. “I wasn’t informed that I was at the wrong place, and proceeded with the transaction, which was revised from the reservation terms to new terms, without any notification or discussion.”

Neither did he check the receipt, which would have shown the bill had been arbitrarily raised from $1,008 to $2,760. Campbell decided to take up the matter with Avis when he returned.

“It seems outrageous that Avis could present us with a rental amount so substantially higher than the reserved amount without pointing out the change,” he says. “Our problem is that I didn’t know what the Costco reservation amount was, and signed the documentation.”

Always read before signing, of course

“I know I signed the papers,” he adds. “But this feels morally wrong, even if it is legal. I’m amazed that this is how they choose to manage their brand.”

Neither Costco nor Avis would help him recover the extra $1,752 he had to pay. He wanted to know if I would lend a hand.

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I would if I could, even if it meant the commenters on this site would go berserk, unleashing screeds about the lack of personal responsibility.

I can handle it.

But not today. Campbell made at least three errors

• He booked the wrong Boston location.
• He failed to review his confirmation.
• He didn’t read the receipt when he picked up the rental.

These are easy mistakes to make, and if he’d just made one, he wouldn’t be in this mess. But it’s too many for even me to bring this to Costco or Avis. Go on, say it: three strikes and you’re out. (Here is our guide on renting a car).

Could Costco have done a better job of notifying the Campbells of their rental location? Absolutely. Could Avis have said something about the new price, you know, verbally? Yes, absolutely. (Related: Help! My Jeep Wrangler 4xe hybrid doesn’t work in electric mode. Can I end my lease?)

But in the end, this was his responsibility, and his alone. And I feel bad for him. But his pain is your gain. If you’re traveling somewhere in the coming weeks, and planning to rent a car, please do yourself a favor: Check your confirmation. Now.

My advocacy team and I don’t think Costco was intentionally concealing anything from Campbell’s wife. But Avis didn’t make this situation any better by remaining silent on the issue of the added expense. (Incidentally, knocking a grand off his bill isn’t an option, since a lot of that is mandatory taxes and fees that have nothing to do with Avis — but that’s a discussion for another day.)

The point is, travel companies aren’t always going to volunteer information like, “Oh, your price just doubled.” That’s why you have to study the fine print. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s the world we live in.

I’m with Campbell on that one. Something doesn’t feel right about the way this one went down. But it is what it is.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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