When Hertz tells a customer he is “too old” to rent, is age discrimination at work?

When Gerald Dackert planned his trip to Ireland, he took all reasonable measures to make sure nothing went wrong. He booked his flights and hotel on his own, but reserved his rental car through AutoEurope.

Dackert shouldn’t have had any trouble, but when he got to the Hertz rental counter in Shannon, Ireland, the company had bad news for him: At 84 years old, he was too old to rent.

While U.S. rental car agencies don’t have upper age limits, some international rental locations, including Hertz, do. Hertz’s refusal to rent a car to Dackert leaves us wondering: Was the decision fair?

Dackert did everything he could to ensure his Hertz rental would go off without a hitch. He booked it through AutoEurope, one of the specialists in European rentals, and he called the Shannon Hertz location in advance of his trip. The purpose of his call was to find out if Hertz had an upper age limit for rentals.

At the time, Hertz told him he would have to fulfill certain requirements in order to rent. At the company’s request, Dackert, 84, who retired just five years ago as an executive of a manufacturing company, obtained a letter from his physician stating that he is in good health and capable of driving a car. He also secured a letter from his auto insurance company, explaining that he has had no accidents in the last five years and is fully insured.

Those letters accompanied him on his transatlantic journey, because the Hertz agents in Shannon told him that if he produced that paperwork, they’d rent him a car.

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Only they didn’t.

When Dackert arrived at the rental counter, those same agents told him a different story: that the company has a strict maximum age cutoff of 79. And when I contacted Hertz, it told me something else: that its agents “weren’t entirely satisfied that it was safe to release the vehicle” to Dackert.

Dackert was shocked, and didn’t know what to do. Other rental companies at the airport without an upper age limit would rent to him, but none had vehicles available. Realizing he was stuck, Dackert began to make plans to return home on the next flight to the U.S. He cancelled three hotel reservations and changed his airline ticket, incurring about $200 in fees.

But Dackert didn’t actually cancel his trip. “When I went to the airport information kiosk to see about nearby hotels, taxis with long term rentals, buses, or other travel options, an agent told me of an off-site car rental firm that might rent me a car. Fortunately it did, and had a car available. I then made new hotel arrangements and returned to the States one day earlier than originally planned.”

Dackert says the situation created by Hertz’s misinformation and interpretation of its own rules absorbed his entire morning and left him frustrated and inconvenienced. He feels this entire situation could have been avoided, and he feels justified in seeking reimbursement from Hertz for his hotel and airline fees which he would not have incurred had Hertz honored his reservation, or been forthcoming about its policy.

I contacted both AutoEurope and Hertz on Dackert’s behalf. AutoEurope said it would have been able to assist if Dackert had reached out to them from Shannon. However, since his rental was canceled and his deposit to Hertz was returned, AutoEurope says it is no longer in a position to help.

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Hertz told me it would look into his case, but questioned why Dackert had incurred fees when he ultimately rented from another company. You can see where this is going — Hertz doesn’t want to compensate a customer who quickly decided canceling his trip was his only option.

I have never met Dackert, so I can’t say whether I would agree with the Hertz agent who exercised his discretion in declining to rent to him. The agent told Dackert the company has a strict maximum age policy of 79, while the company told me that a judgment call was made, resulting in its refusal to turn over the keys. Of course, had Hertz told Dackert it wouldn’t rent to an 84-year-old, he would have made other plans.

For his part, Dackert remains frustrated, and sounds perfectly capable of operating a vehicle. “I volunteered my age to the AutoEurope agent at the time of booking to avoid any problem, and furnished the requested letters from my doctor and insurance company. I happen to enjoy excellent health, playing golf usually four days a week during the season, walking, carrying my bag, sometimes playing 36 holes in a day. I retired at age 79 from a position that required frequent air travel both domestically and abroad.”

Is age just a number, which in Dackert’s case, was used against him? And was Hertz within its right to refuse to honor his reservation, despite that he went out of his way to meet the company’s conditions?

I know that when a customer does the right thing — calls ahead, volunteers information, goes out of his way to fulfill requirements, and pays a deposit — yet is turned away at the rental counter, it doesn’t feel right.

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There are no certainties in travel, but if there’s one, it’s that age matters, even when it shouldn’t.

Update: After I questioned Hertz on its age policy and the basis for refusing to rent to Dackert, the company didn’t respond. It did, however, send Dackert a check for $206.

Should car rental companies be allowed to discriminate on the basis of age?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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