Charged an extra $134 for my car because I’m an hour late


Dan Sondhelm returns his Hertz rental car an hour late and is billed an extra $134 for it. Is this a misunderstanding between Hotwire, his online agency, and Hertz?

Question: I have a complaint about my recent car rental experience at the Indianapolis International Airport. I’ve called Hertz and Hotwire, the online travel agency I booked this through, and didn’t get answers that make sense.

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I reserved a car for four days, even though I planned to use it for slightly more than three. The times associated with this rental were estimates. I picked up the car on July 3 at 4:48 p.m. and dropped it off on July 6 at 6:24 p.m., so I had the car for three days and one hour. The Hotwire reservation, however, was for four days, from July 3 to 7.

Hertz charged me an additional $134 because I was an hour late, even though I should have had access to the car for four days, until 4:47 p.m. on July 7. Even the Hertz website says reservations are based on 24 hours from the time of pickup.

I called Hertz, and it waived only $34. I called Hotwire and was told that someone would look into it. Then I received an email from Hotwire that said I still had to pay the extra $100.

So what is the policy for returning rental cars? Is it 24 hours from the time of pickup or the time on your reservation? Any help is appreciated. — Dan Sondhelm, Alexandria, Va.

Answer: I can see your confusion. Your Hotwire confirmation said you have the car for four days. By the way, on Hotwire you don’t find out which car rental company you’re dealing with until you’ve made a nonrefundable reservation. Hotwire also says it uses a “24-hour billing cycle” to define a single rental day, according to its site.

You consulted the Hertz site, and it more or less agreed. It defines rental days as “based on 24 hour periods commencing at time of pickup.” Additional days apply if the rental is kept longer than specified, with additional days beginning after a 29-minute grace period.

As far as I can tell, the problem was the “specified” time period of your rental. While you were entitled to keep the car four full days, you shortened your rental period when you finalized the reservation and indicated that your return time would be earlier than the fourth day.

So should you tell your car rental company you’ll be arriving later than you actually will be? No. It’s best to give it the most accurate time you can — in other words, your flight arrival and departure time, if you’re using an airport location — so that it can better manage its inventory.

Car rental companies are getting stricter about late fees, which is understandable. When a vehicle isn’t on the lot, it can’t be serviced and rented to the next customer, and that costs the company real money. But charging $134 for an extra hour seems a bit unreasonable. After all, you paid Hotwire only $113 for a four-day rental and received a midsize SUV, which is an unbelievably good deal.

I notice that you made several calls to both companies to try to get this fixed. The best way to address this problem is in real time. After you see a surprise charge on your rental receipt, find a manager and voice your concern. A supervisor often can zero out your invoice. Failing that, I would send Hotwire a brief, polite email, as opposed to phoning. When you finally sent a note to Hotwire, it acknowledged that this was a “billing error” and refunded $34. It isn’t immediately clear why it didn’t reverse the entire charge.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. A representative said that Hotwire guarantees the quoted rate only for the prearranged length of the reservation — until 5 p.m., in this case. The agency decides if, or what, it wants to charge for any extension on the rental. Hotwire details how to handle rental extensions on its website.

Hotwire negotiated a refund of the remaining $100 on your behalf.

Who was responsible for this car rental misunderstanding?

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115 thoughts on “Charged an extra $134 for my car because I’m an hour late

  1. Why would the LW tell the Hertz agent that he is keeping the car for less than the four days. I see no benefit to the LW by doing so. Did he receive a partial refund on the prepayment? I doubt it.

    The LW also hurt himself by using Hotwire. Had it been a regular, post paid Hertz rate, the LW would have been much happier. He appears to have a weekend rate ending on Sunday. Hertz regular, post paid rules are relatively generous. It charges you for actual usage (assuming a change doesn’t invalidate the rate).

    The LW appears to have received a weekend rate for his Thursday to Monday reservation. Had he made a regular rental the rate would have gone down by 1/4 (probably to $84.75) when he stated he as returning the car a day early and back to $113.00 by returning more than three days later.

    Hertz however is pure evil when you reserve through alternative means. Say, you use points. Lengthening a stay means the additional days are charged as a single day new reservation unconnected to the current reservation. I suspect that consolidator reservations work the same.

    If my suspicion is right, the extra 1 1/2 hours were charged as if the OP had rented a mid-sized SUV for one day, instead of extending the weekend rate by a day.

    1. “Hertz however is pure evil when you reserve through alternative means. Say, you use points.”

      You could be staying at a hotel for a convention where the convention rate is $ 100 a night. You want to extend your stay after the convention rate expires, you are going not to get the convention rate of $ 100…you need to make another reservation…you might have a single statementinvoice but you will have two different room rates and maybe two different reservation numbers in their systems since it is common for hotels to report the number of rooms used by the organization putting on the convention for the negotiations for the next convention.

      Then hotels are evil if you book a convention rate, a weekend rate or a special rate and then you want to extend your reservation after this rate expires by using your logic about getting a special rate (i.e. points, Hotwire, etc.) to rent a car from Hertz for a specific period of time and needing to have a new reservation.

      1. The comparison is not accurate. Consider. If you book a weekend rate with a hotel, say arriving Friday, leaving Sunday. If you extend your stay to Monday, the hotels that I frequent will continue the weekend rate for Sunday if available. That is true even if Friday – Sunday were paid with points. They don’t make a distinction.

        Plus, if you get an upgraded room, the new, Sunday night rate will be based on the room that you reserved, not the upgraded room.

        By contrast, a car rental company will do the same with cash rentals. It will extend the rate based on the original reservation and rate (and applicable upgrade charges).

        However, unlike a hotel, if you book a full-sized car on points for the weekend, and upgrade to an SUV (with an upgrade fee), if you want to extend your rental by one day, Hertz will charge you the one day weekday walk-up rate for an SUV. I know because it happened to me.

        In other words, car rental companies, and Hertz in particular, make a distinction between points and cash reservations that hotels do not.

        1. Sure if your paying the walk up daily rate. This guy got a midsize SUV for 4 days what you’d pay for a day at the walk up rate (about $104)

      2. Not necessarily. I recently attended a convention, and Hilton Seattle let me extend my stay for two days at the convention rate. Sometimes all you gotta do is ask, nicely. But I doget your point.

    2. Except he wouldn’t have got the rate he did get going though Hertz. He rented a midsize SUV for 4 days at what would essentially be the one day rate. If he’d gone through hertz directly that rental would have cost him over $300.

  2. “…4:48 p.m. and dropped it off on July 6 at 6:24 p.m., so I had the car for three days and one hour.”

    The OP had the car for three days and one hour and 36 minutes…I don’t see how he came up with one hour since 4:48 PM to 5:48 PM is one hour and 12 minutes to 6:00 PM then another 24 minutes to 6:24 PM. You don’t subtract off the grace periodwindow…this isn’t governmental accounting where an increase in spending is actually a reduction if a 6% increase was planned but only a 5% increase was implemented…if you spent $ 1.00 in the previous year and going to spend $ 1.05 the next year…that is an increase in my books!

    The OP is at fault in this situation because he didn’t know that the rental term is 24 hours from the time of pick-up. It is totally immaterial that the fee for the extra 96 minutes was $ 134. This ridiculous rate is there to insure that the driver returns the vehicle on time so that the car rental company can get it ready for the next customer. Please remember that renters come in spurts when planes arrive and departs…it is not nice even flow throughout the day…therefore, it is important for the car rental companies to get their cars back in time to be ready for the next spurt.

    I have rented cars for several years and Hertz is my preferred company (98% of my rentals over 20 years). I have seen this high fee for being a hour late on my rental agreements for years. Hertz used to have a 2-hr window then 1-hr window now a 29 minute window. It is common for me given my status with Hertz that my paperwork is already printed out and sometimes I don’t even speak with a person (depending upon the airport, etc.). When my flight is late, I will ask for my paperwork to be reprinted with the current time. I don’t use the arrival time of my flight…I will usually use a time of 30 minutes to 60 minutes later depending upon if I have checked luggage or not…there is a risk of doing this if my flight arrives early and it takes no time to get to the car rental pickup…I have waited a few times for my rental.

    1. You’re missing the fact that the reservation confirmation was for FOUR days, not for three days.

      The way I read the article, he was charged for more than the originally confirmed total, even though he returned the car 22 hours and 24 minutes EARLIER than confirmed.

      His mistake appears to be that he told the Hertz agent at pick up that he expected to return the vehicle early, and the agent changed the finalized rental agreement to reflect a shortened 3-day rental, and he either didn’t notice or didn’t foresee the problem with that.

      1. Your assumption is that there is no penalty for early return. If this was the walk up rate you’d be right, but the LW got a package rate through hotwire. He paid the equivalent of a days rental for 4 days.

        1. I rely on what is plainly stated in the article. Seems to me your assumption is that the article is wrong.

          “you shortened your rental period when you finalized the reservation and indicated that your return time would be earlier than the fourth day.”
          “A representative said that Hotwire guarantees the quoted rate only for the prearranged length of the reservation — until 5 p.m., in this case. The agency decides if, or what, it wants to charge for any extension on the rental.”

          It’s true that Hotwire car rentals are usually opaque and non-changeable by the customer. That doesn’t mean that Hertz couldn’t have changed the finalized rental agreement so it could free up inventory and re-sell the car for the fourth day.

          Also, Hotwire’s Rules and Restrictions do not disclose any early return penalties.

          1. Hotwire guaranteed the rate for 4 days, the LW had it for 3 days plus 90 minutes, that’s no longer the prearranged 4 day rental. He’s only entitled to the price he was quoted for exactly what was negotiated, not anything more, and from Hertz perspective not anything less either. When he returned the vehicle early, he was modifying the original reservation, and the price guarantee was no longer applicable.

            Sure they could of, but why the LW got a 4 day rental for the price of a single day at walk up rates.

          2. that’s no longer the prearranged 4 day rental

            Where did you get that idea? If you claim there is an early return cutoff time, what is that cutoff time precisely?

            Let me help you out, here are Hotwire’s disclosed policies and restrictions:

            And why would the representative Chris contacted refer to this as an “extension”, if it was not an extension….

          3. Because he purchased the reservation through hotwire as an opaque purchase. That’s how hotwire works when it comes to car rentals. You input what you want and for how long, Hotwire then finds you the lowest PACKAGE rate for what you requested. Hotwire doesn’t find you the lowest DAILY rate, it finds you the lowest rate for the SPECIFIC package you requested.

            When the LW returned the vehicle it was rerated as a 3 day rental, but it was 90 minutes late passed the return time for a 3 day rental, the extension was the extra 90 minutes.

          4. Because he purchased the reservation through hotwire as an opaque purchase.

            Pure assumption.

            That’s how hotwire works when it comes to car rentals.

            False. The choices displayed in red are opaque, and the choices displayed in gray are not opaque. Try to make a reservation at IND, and you could select either type.

            When the LW returned the vehicle it was rerated as a 3 day rental

            Pure speculation that contradicts the sources Chris refers to in the article.

            Also completely unsupported by Hotwire’s own rules, even the rules for opaque reservations.

            If you claim there is a minimum early return time for returns, what is that cutoff time and where is it disclosed? Or do you claim that returning at either 4:59:59pm or 5:01:00pm incurs a “re-pricing?”

          5. There is no assumption, he purchased the rental through Hotwire. He didn’t make a transparent purchase, it was opaque. It doesn’t contradict the outcome of the rental. Hotwire didn’t rent the vehicle, Hertz, did, Hotwire, simply executed the transaction.

          6. You keep asserting things about how Hotwire works which only demonstrate that you don’t understand how Hotwire works.

          7. Having rented at Hertz for the past ten years, I have only encountered early return issues when the early return nullifies a weekend or weekly rate. A four day rate terminating on Monday which converts to a three day rate terminating on Sunday, is unlikely to violate any of Hertz discount rules.

  3. “…But charging $134 for an extra hour seems a bit unreasonable.”

    Chris, first, the OP had a car for an extra 96 minutes.

    If he returned the car within 29 minutes of the due time, a person isn’t charged for the hour. You don’t subtract out the 29 minutes and even if you did it is 65 minutes (more than an hour). For example, when concrete is delivered, most ready-mix companies will allow a fixed time (i.e. 15 minutes) for the wait time before unloading the concrete…if it is more than 15 minutes, the total time is listed on the invoice and an additional fee is charged based upon the total time. It is the same for the aggregate companies who deliver sand, rock, dirt, etc. Other companies in other industries do the same with their deliveries if their driver has to wait upon a customer to take the delivery.

    Second, the price of $ 134 is immaterial as well as what he paid for the rental. I have seen this high hour late charge for years on my rental agreements from Hertz and other companies. The reason for this high fee is simple…to get the rental car back on time.

    If a location rented 100 cars in a 10-hour time frame, most people will say that they rented 10 cars a hour or one every six minutes. In reality, cars are rented in spurts…when flights arrive and when flights depart. I have been in the new Indianapolis Airport at least 20 times and I have seen one rental counter with a long line and the other five or so with no renters or no lines.

    It is all about managing their inventory…they don’t want their next bunch of renters waiting for their rentals because the cars were returned late especially at smaller airports where there is no float or cushion in the inventories of the car rental companies where if they have 20 cars for example, they will rent out all 20 cars. I have picked up cars at some small airports on a Sunday night or Monday morning and when I returned the car on a Thursday night or Friday, the rental lot was completely empty…my rental car was driven off within seconds to get ready for the next customer. Of course, at larger airports, a rental company could have a float or an excess of 50 or 100 vehicles to take care of the walk-up traffic, people picking up early, etc.

    1. I agree except for one part. The high fee is not to discourage people from keeping the car late. I too rent from Hertz. 100% percent of my rentals have been with Hertz for the past several years. The fee is purely based on the rental rate for the car. It’s not punitive like say an airline change fee.

      If you rent a car for the weekend, say Thursday – Sunday. If you return the car on Monday, the extra day fee will be identical to the daily fee that you were paying, i.e. the weekend rate.

      Where it gets high is say you rent Saturday – Tuesday. You get the weekend rate. But if you keep the car late, the extra day fee is the much higher weekday rate.

      1. The fee that I am referring to is the hourly fee…without pulling out all of the rental agreements…the daily rate after the initial rental period has been the same but I rented during the week (pick up on Mondays and return by Fridays).

        I made a personal rental over the 2014 Memorial Day weekend but my electronic copy of the receipt had nothing about the rates for returning late; therefore, I don’t know if the daily rates are higher for the new period.

  4. If you rent the car for four days then give the return time on the 4th day. I do that even if I am turning the car in the night prior to a very early flight or ending in a city where I do not need a car. It eliminates most of these late charges. I do not care if it is an inconvenience to the car company. I am protecting myself financially rather than making things efficient for the car company. After all they will not protect me at all–with late fees, charges for damage, etc. So why should I make things convenient for them? Sounds ornery, but I got burned once on a late fee when I was less than five minutes late after the grace period. So I think of myself and my wallet first.

    1. But then if you return the car too early, they recalculate your rate as well. Happened to me a few weeks ago. My flight was late getting there so I picked up the car a few hours later than I had reserved it. When I returned it, I had not kept it enough hours to qualify for the full 3 days I reserved. The rate went up $85 for returning it too soon.

        1. That’s not really practical, you cant hand of f the keys at the gate. You have to get to the terminal from the rental location, go through security etc.

      1. That sounds like you had a weekend day included in your rate and when returning the car early, you then didn’t qualify for the weekend rate and it disqualified you from the better rate and recalculated.

        1. It’s more like the LW bought a specific rental package though hotwire and the rate he paid was only for that specific rental package.

        2. AAA discount for a 3 day rental. Did not apply for a rental of any other time frame. Removed it and then charged me walk-up rate for 2 days.

      2. If I am paying for 4 day rental and return it after the 3-day mark has passed then I am not charged additional as I have kept the car for the rental period booked. It is not as if I have booked a weekly rate and return it after 2 days. If I book a four day rate I keep it long enough to get the rate and then return it.
        In your case the car company should have honored the rate as the change in pickup time was not your fault. And they should have told you this a the time you picked up the car.

        1. Agreed. That was the argument I had when I returned the car — if I no longer qualified for the rate, why did you not change the rental agreement before I left with the car.

  5. Huge missing piece of information here! “The times associated with this rental were estimates.” What are the exact days and times of the original reservation?

    Something is fishy here if the poster says they rented for 4 days and then returned the car after 3 days and 1-2hours and was charged. If they entered 3 days and 1 hour for the rental, then that is what they paid for and any additional time is extra.

    A savy consumer would make their reservation for 3 days and 23 hours, even if they only thought they needed it for 3 days and 1 hour.

    1. Its a hotwire package rate, he changed the package, so Hertz re rated the rental. The issue is that the renter believed there would be no penalty for early return, and that assumption was wrong.

      1. I think you guys are missing what happened here, but we really don’t have the facts without the exact times. I suspect he made a reservation for July 3rd at say 2pm until July 6th at 5pm. That is 39 hours and the rate was calculated as a 4 day rate (since it was more than 3 days). Even though the rate is based on 4 full days, he only requested 3 days and 3 hours so that is what he got. I suspect the terms do not allow you to extend your reservation from 38 hours to 48 hours based on the number of days if you change your mind later. He returned the car 3 days 4 hours and 24minutes later (1h 24 minutes late), so he was charged extra for an extra hour. He should have booked a rental until July 7th at 3pm and then he would have gotten 47 hours and the early return would not have been a problem. Make sense? Again, we need to know the exact times that were on the original reservation.

        Another way to think of this is that apparently with Hotwire and Hertz, the clock doesn’t start when you pick up the car. All that matters is the end time of the rental that was originally requested.

        1. I think what happened in this case was what he purchased and how. The LW didn’t make a reservation for a car at a daily rate, the LW bought a package of 4 days in an SUV. He’wasn’t entitled to pro-rate that package as any portion of a daily rate.

          You go into the candy shop to buy jelly beans. They have 1 lb pre-packaged bags of mixed jelly beans for $3.00 They also have bins where you can mix and match and for $10.00/lb. You want half a pound of jelly beans. You can either buy a $3.00 1lb bag (and get twice as many jelly beans) or you can buy half a pound of what you want for $5.00 (at $10 per pound). That’s it. Your not entitled to be able to buy half a pound of the mix and match for anything less, you cant dictate that the merchant sell you that half of pound at the pre packaged rate ($3.00) or insist that the merchant open one of the pre-packaged bags and sell you half of it ($1.50).

          The LW bought a package consisting of an SUV for 4 days, the LW used it for 3 days + 2 hours. So the merchant re-rated the transaction. Charging the daily rate (the $10/lb rate). This is no different then buying the prepackaged $3.00, 1lb bag of jelly beans, eating a 3/4 of them and then attempting to return the remainder of the uneaten jellybeans.

  6. Had something similar with Hertz several years ago. Rented a car in Dallas for three days and then, after picking up, plans changed and we needed to leave Dallas the next day. (This was a rental for work.) This was midweek and we were paying our contracted daily rate with Hertz. Upon returning the car, we were told that there was a three day minimum and we would have to pay a penalty to return early. It turns out we had to pay for the three days PLUS pay a early return penalty of over $100!

    This was booked directly with Hertz’ website. If the three day minimum was in effect, I can understand paying that..the ADDITIONAL early drop off penalty is what bugged me.

    After that, we were able to find a smaller, independent car rental company for future Dallas trips. They picked us up curbside (always were waiting when we got there), car selection and condition was fine, rates were better and they always seemed to have availability with no minimum number of days requirement.

      1. Yes, the free market spoke. 😉

        We had to go again the following week, but only planned on a one night stay that trip. I could not get availability for a Hertz car for one day because again they had a three night minimum, and no major car companies had cars available. We found this other company that had cars and a fair rate for a one day rental. We used him repeatedly for anyone in the company going to DFW after that. This was several years ago.

        I can’t recall the name and just did a search around DFW for car rental companies and nothing rings a bell…otherwise I’d give them a plug.

  7. If I am the guy at the airport waiting for a car because the previous renter returned it late, then $134 seems a low penalty.

    1. He didn’t return it late … unless I am totally misinterpreting the situation, the LW returned the rental car almost 22 hours EARLY.

      1. It appears he did return it late. In Chris’s answer, wherein he wrote:

        “you shortened your rental period when you finalized the reservation and indicated that your return time would be earlier than the fourth day.”

        So it seems the LW changed the actual reservation from 4 to just 3 days.

        1. Moral of the story: Keep quiet, and don’t try to be a nice guy. The rental company certainly won’t be a nice guy to YOU!

        2. He booked a rental for a fraction of a day (say 3.2 days), but rates are based on full days so he paid for 4 days. He didn’t return the car within the original 3.2 days he booked, so he was charged a late fee. How the rate is determined is not the same as the length of the reservation period.
          Savy consumers know this and book their rentals so they are as close as possible to a full day. If my flight leaves at 2pm, I’ll book the rental until 11pm just in case something happens (major flight delays etc.) so I’m not held to the 2pm time later.

          1. If Chris gives us the times that were listed on the original reservation, I guarantee he rented for a fractional day and then returned late based on that fractional day. It doesn’t matter that the rate was calculated based on 4 days. He said he would bring it back at 5pm and brought it back after that. If he had said he would bring it back at 7pm, his rate would have been the same and he wouldn’t have been charged extra. Simple solution. On Hotwire, you get exactly what you pay for, no more.

            @Chris, tell us the exact times of the original reservation!!!

      2. Right he returned it early, but his rate since it was hotwire was for an exact period of 4 days, so it was re rated as a 3 day rental, and he was 90 minutes passed the point for a 3 day rental.

  8. I’m really missing something…

    If LW had reserved the car for four days (96hs) and used the car for a little more than three days (74hs), why Hertz is charging him for and extra day/hour/whatever?!? He didn’t have the car for 5 days….

    1. I wondered too, until I re-read Chris’s answer, wherein he wrote:

      “you shortened your rental period when you finalized the reservation and
      indicated that your return time would be earlier than the fourth day.”

      So it seems the LW changed the actual reservation from 4 to just 3 days.

      1. What exactly does “finalized the reservation” mean? I thought when you rented from Hotwire the reservation was finalized.

        1. Agreed. The most likely meaning IMO would be that he changed it at check out time and the $134 was added at check in because he was late.

          Chris will hopefully clarify …

          1. I’m thinking that when he changed his rental to 3 days (if that is what happened) Hertz repriced the entire rental. The LW just didn’t bother to look at his rental agreement at that time and notice it.

          2. Perhaps, but the LW claims that Hertz charged the $134 because he was late (if that’s true).

            I also suspect that Hertz would not have refunded for a legitimate rate change. And then there is Chris’s resolution dialogue with Hotwire:

            “I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. A representative said that Hotwire guarantees the quoted rate only for the prearranged length of the reservation — until 5 p.m., in this case. The agency decides if, or what, it wants to charge for any extension on the rental.”

            All in all, it adds up to being late (IMO) …

          3. $134 is pretty much the daily rate for a mid size SUV. He was late (90 minutes) which is well passed the 30 minute grace period, so an extra day is appropriate.

          4. I agree, he rented a vehicle for an exact number of days etc, and when he returned it early they repriced the rental at their daily rate and not the Hotwire packaged rate.

          5. I’m sorry for the later reply. Here’s the original letter. We edited it with the LW’s permission. It’s possible that we overreached.

            I reserved a car through hotwire Jul 3 at 4pm to July 6 at 5pm. The times associated with this rental were estimates. My reservation shows I have access to the car for 4 days, even though the reservation was reserved for 3 days and 1 hour.

            I picked up the car from Hertz Jul 7 at 4:48pm and returned it at 6:24pm – basically for 3 days and 1 hour.

            Hertz charged me an additional $134.31 because I was 1 hour late versus my estimate even though I should of had access to the car for 4 days until 4:47pm on the 8th. Even the Hertz website says reservations are based on 24 hours from time of pickup.

            I called hertz who waived only $34. I called Hotwire who said they would look into it. Then I received an email that said I still had to pay the extra $100.

            So what is the policy for rental cars? 24 hours from time of pickup or the time you reserve on your reservation even if you paid for full 24 hour periods? Is it possible Hotwire only paid for 3 days and 1 hour, so Hertz thought I only paid for that amount of time, even though my understanding is cars are rented in 24 hour increments?

          6. So yeah basically the LW rented the car for 3 days + his late return, despite his reservation for 4 days. At the end of the day he rented the car for 3 days and it was late. This is a classic, textbook example of a renter/traveler who didn’t understand the terms of his rental.

          7. Thanks Chris. I suggest two things: 1) circle back with the LW for clarification and 2) post the results as a separate comment.

            This original letter makes no sense. The dates are impossible to sort out. Reserved from Jul 3-6 but picked up and returned on the 7th (same day)? Then he should have had it until the 8th?

            So the dates need to be sorted out I think in order for us to understand and comment knowledgeably. It sounds like he never “changed” the actual reservation (as stated in your answer to him) – just that he returned it early.

            And, did Hertz/Hotwire actually state that he was being charged for an extra day (i.e., the 4th day)? Did Hotwire state that to you as well?

            What’s being asked/posited here is that he may have been charged a different rate, so the details/clarification would be helpful. And I’m not sure you overeached. If the LW was indeed charged for a whole day, asking Hotwire/Hertz to waive the charge was a good thing.

          8. the 7th must be a typo; he meant the 3rd. He rented a car until July 6th at 5pm and he returned it on July 6th at 6:24pm. It was late, so he got charged extra. This is completely his fault for not understanding the terms. He thought the times he indicated were estimates, but they actually formed the basis of the contract. He needs to pay more attention to the contract next time.
            If he had put his return time as July 6th at 7pm, or 11pm or July 7th at 4pm he probably would have been charged the same 4 day rate, but would have had the ability to return the car at 6:24pm without penalty. He asked for a 37 hour rental with a fixed end time, paid for a 48 hour rental and then returned the car after the end time.

    2. The rate he got was for a four day rental. Its very likely that the specific rate he got was only valid for that exact period of time. When he returned the car early it was rerated for 3 days at whatever the daily rate was plus 1 hour.

  9. I’m Hertz Presidents Club (although as you see I do wonder why I bother)… if I arrive late for a reservation (like a plane gets in late by ohhh 20 minutes)), hertz bill me. If I arrive back (too) early hertz bill me. If I arrive late, I have a couple of hours waiver via Amex… the arriving late thing is the most asinine charge that Hertz inflict… wondering if anyone else sees the same

    1. I have arrived for a Hertz rental 12 hours late and, as long as the hours I keep the car equal the number of days I rented it for in Hertz’s weird math, I have never been charged anything extra. Also returning the car as long as I am not several hours early there is no charge. I have not turned on in late so not sure how that would go.

    2. That’s weird; I’m National Exec Elite & Hertz 5-Star Gold. I accidentally booked a Hertz rental last month, forgot I reserved with Hertz, went to the National location and picked up a car. Hertz didn’t charge me for arriving late (or charge me at all). In fact, one time I arrived after the Hertz counter was closed (midnight) and I used that videoconferencing thing to get my car after hours without a penalty.

    1. No, he was into the 3rd day of a four day rental when he returned it. This caused Hertz to reprice the rental for a 3 day period instead of the 4.

      1. I believe BillCCC is correct. Chris’s answer, wherein he wrote:

        “you shortened your rental period when you finalized the reservation and indicated that your return time would be earlier than the fourth day.”

        So it seems the LW changed the actual reservation from 4 to just 3 days. Then he kept it an extra 1.5 hours resulting in the additional charge.

        1. Did he? Yes, he returned the car earlier than 4 days, but it was not mentioned in that part of the article that the rental period was changed, only Chis mentioned that. So when was it actually changed? When he picked it up, or when he returned it?

          1. I interpret “when he finalized” to mean either online or at check out time. I don’t see someone “finalizing” a reservation at check in. Maybe Chris should clarify for us.

    2. Where was that in writing. HIS writing? Oh, he said to the clerk one day less, the clerk changed the invoice, he failed to read it. Did he sign that? If so, or if not, then who messed up?

  10. Many times the rate per day you get at Hertz (and probably most other rental companies) is based on how long you want the car where specific number of days for longer rentals can cost significantly less per day than shorter rentals. This is especially true when renting weekends and holidays with the weekend rate applying to the surrounding days only if you keep the vehicle for the complete weekend. Discounts are available but only if you keep the car for the specified length of time related to that discount.

    It is very possible that the original 4 day rental had some sort of discount applied to it that was only valid if you kept the car for a period of time that Hertz considered to be a full 4 days. Returning it after only 3 days and a couple hours meant the discount was no longer applicable and Hertz will not find a different discount to give to you when this happens.

    If the LW had told Hertz at pickup he would be returning the car a day early, the rental agreement would have been reprinted with the new rate on it preventing the surprise. Since this was a Hotwire price, it probably means it was prepaid and the LW would have been stuck with the car anyway unless he wanted to lose his prepaid amount.

    1. As an FYI, I searched for Hotwire rates in Indianapolis for 3 different dates, using both a 3 and 4 day rental. In every case, the per day rate either went down or stayed the same.

  11. Chris states….”By the way, on Hotwire you don’t find out which car rental company you’re dealing with until you’ve made a nonrefundable reservation.”

    Are all of they’re bookings like that? I just checked rates on Hotwire for a car rental and get a list of car rental companies and the different rates associated with them. I realize they also have opaque options (Their “hot rates”), but I thought one could book using either option.

    1. I looked at Hot Wire, and what sticks out is that it specifies that the time period can not be changed. It doesn’t say what happens if it is, but I assume it means its void, and you now have to pay the then current rate.

      Some of these rental lots have more cars then spots, so they push the low weekend rates because they don’t have a place for the car. If the car comes back early, they may not have a renter lined up, and now have to pay to park it somewhere, but if it comes back as promised, they have a renter ready to drive it off the lot.

      1. Exactly with hotwire’s opaque rates you’re buying a reservation for an exact car, time period, etc. That’s how the LW got such an amazing rate. Basically he got 4 days for his vehicle class for the price of a daily rental.

  12. I don’t understand. He paid $113 for four days and returned it 23 hours early, right? Why should he have to pay anything?

    1. That is rental car math. You return early, they recalculate your entire rental cost at the then current per-day rate.

      The reasons for this are that when you take the car out they expect it to be gone for that entire number of days. If you bring it back early, there has to be someone there to process your return, wash the car, refuel it, etc. and they have to have a spot to park it. At many of the rental locations, their space is so tight they simply don’t have room for extra cars on the lots and have to juggle to find space for it if too many are returned early.

      1. One would think that the revenues earned for the unused day would more than compensate for these costs. Plus, it’s one less day of wear and tear on the vehicle.

        1. Not really, if that cars going out the next day when its supposed to be returned, its going to sit on the lot for a day until its next reservation.

    2. You change the rental period and you change the rate. You rent a car for a weekend (3 days) at a $10 a day rate , you pick it up on friday, but you really only want the car for friday/ and friday night, so you return it on saturday morning. When the daily rate for that car is $39. You owe them $39, not $30 (3 days at $10 a day).

  13. I’m surprised nobody mentioned the obvious which is that when playing rental car roulette, try to keep the variables low: If you pick up at 3:33PM, return it before 3:33PM and if you can’t do that, then call the manager and clear the late fee, if any, with him.

    As CCF points out, with normal reservations, they have a set policy in place to deal with a few hours more returns (I read the contract and it specified something like a $10 per hour or something like that.) Even then, IMO, it was worth it to return on time because $20 pays for a nice drink at the airport and kill two hours. 🙂

  14. Late charge or rate change? Connecting the dots:

    – LW states that this was a late charge (“Hertz charged me an additional $134 because I was an hour late”)
    – Hotwire stated to Chris that this was a late charge (“A representative said that Hotwire guarantees the quoted rate only for the prearranged length of the reservation — until 5 p.m., in this case. The agency decides if, or what, it wants to charge for any extension on the rental.”)
    – A search of rates for 3 vs 4 days at Indianapolis for three separate dates showed no increase in per day Hotwire rates (and a decrease for some dates)
    – It seems unlikely to me that Hertz/Hotwire would refund a legitimate rate change, but would for a short grace period like 1.5 hours

    Whether or not a refund was warranted, it seems clear to me that said refund was not for a rate change …

  15. Even if he thought he’d get the car for 96 hours, he only indicated about 73 hours on his reservation and the system logs that information. Had he actually booked the car for 4:47pm pickup on July 3rd and a return of 4:46pm on July 7th but returned the car at 6:24pm on July 6th, there would have been no problem with the billing. Chris is correct that car companies only give a 30 minute grace period (it used to be 60 minutes until recently) and after the grace period expires, they charge an extra day. I’ve rented over 300 cars in the past 7 years so I’m pretty familiar with this.

    Except for the corporate travel agency I’m forced to use now, I typically max my rental car period to full 24-hour periods just in case my return flight runs late and I decide to do something else rather than sit in an airport for a couple additional hours. There’s no disadvantage to doing this.

    Also, if he didn’t use Hotwire, and was a member of the Hertz #1 program, he probably could have contacted them in advance to extend the reservation to the full 96 hours and avoided this problem. Hertz and National usually have no problem doing this for renters in their loyalty programs and depending on what credit cards you own, Hertz and National loyalty programs are usually thrown in for free.

    1. Just checked the Hotwire site to check something, and it does ask for time of pickup and time of return on the website. Chris doesn’t specify what times Dan wrote but he did indicate that Dan did shorten the 4th day to a partial. With the 30 minute grace period, I’d have to assume that it was a 73-hour rental period since the rental period was 73 hours and 36 minutes.

    2. Yeah he could off but he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near that deal. He paid $113 for a FOUR day rental of an SUV, the daily walkup rate for that rental class is about $100 per day. Sure Hertz direct would have been much more flexible but he’d have paid a lot more for that flexibility.

      1. That’s true and one of the reasons why I use National more than Hertz. Choosing whatever car is in the Executive row (could be a SUV, minivan, Volvo, etc) and paying the same standard rate is a huge bonus. I did a weekly rental for a convention in Orlando last year; reserved a Standard and found a Yukon XL in the Executive area (so I got it for the Standard rate). Saved probably $400.

        I rented a standard car for 24 hours from Hertz, showed up at SEA and they had a 15-passenger van in my spot. When I asked them for something else, they offered me the only other car they had available – a Smart ForTwo. So I was offered probably the smallest and largest vehicles in the facility (I chose the Smart because I’ve driven a 15-passenger before but never the Smart).

        1. Fair enough, I use Enterprise, but this guy wanted a reservation for a specific vehicle. he didn’t want to take his chances on what might be available in a particular class and the rate he got though hotwire for the vehicle he wanted and the period he wanted was VERY good. He basically got it for 75% off the walk up rate, or buy one day get 3 days free.

  16. Rental car math makes my head spin. Time of rental. Late pickup messes up their inventory control. Early return also messes up their inventory and personnel control. Late return of course interferes with availability. There’s probably a minefield of gotchas designed to penalize the renter for messing up logistics goals like having enough cars available to meet demand or personnel requirements.

    Once I was checking out rates and was seeing how it all worked out if I reserved with a drop-off a day later than I actually planned to leave. The total rate went way, way down even though it would have been one more day. I was thinking maybe I could just reserve it like this, but then again I know there’s rental car math, including the possibility of early return fees or even the entire rate structure reverting to a higher rate that I wouldn’t know until I drop off.

  17. The rates are set up for an absolute time! A weekley rate may be far cheaper than 4 days, so lets purchase the weekley rate and turn the car in early. Wrong! Sondheim dod not live up to the contract that he and he alone initiated with Hotwire. He was not told that he had permission to return the car a day early and maintain the rate. There are daily, multi-day, weekend, weekley, etc rates available, but Sondheim assumed that he had rights to change the contract on his own. It was nice of Hotwire to go the extra distance. they did not have too.

  18. This is one screwy story. If you change details of your res, you’d best ask what that will mean in money. The Hotwire rate was ridiculously low, but the $134 was ridiculously high. But because he hadn’t confirmed the details of his changed arrangement, he really is out of luck. Read the contract … be sure you understand what all those numbers mean. My daily rate might be $40, but the hourly rate might be $35. It’s their car and they charge what they want. Figure it out before you take posession of the vehicle.

    1. I see the rates in my last rental agreement charge up to an additional $44 for an additional day. I’m guessing an additional hourly or daily rate was noted on the agreement. However, there was one part that said the rate was no longer valid if I returned it after midnight on the day I was supposed to return it. I’m not sure what that becomes and if this is even adequate disclosure of their rates.

  19. I started thinking about this some more and I suppose if the terms are changed due to a different pickup time, they will adjust the rate chart to reflect that. Granted, I have been told that there would be a two hour grace period noted in my reservation w/ respect to the daily rate, and that was indeed the case when I dropped off.

    I happen to have a rental agreement with me. I got a ridiculously low $14/day rate for a one-day rental on a Sunday morning. However, I made darn sure that I returned it in less than 24 hours. I’m guessing the LW had some convoluted terms where they modified it to a 3 day rental because of the later pickup time.

    Here’s what mine says:

    HRLY: 10.51
    DLY: 14.00
    AD DLY: 44.00
    MNTHLY: 420.00

    Actually not bad if I kept it for a month. There was no weekly rate listed. However, it also says “Rate not valid after MON 23:59”. So if I didn’t return it by Midnight the next day, I have no idea what the rate becomes. If I returned it just before that time, it sounds like I’m on the hook for my $14 rate and a $44 additional day rate. Not what I wanted to pay, but not exactly punitive. Beyond that I wonder if they could simply charge whatever they wanted.

  20. I’m sorry for my absence from today’s discussion. Some of you may have seen the heated discussion on another site, well known for making frequent personal attacks on me. I though I could make them see that attacking people is counter-productive, but unfortunately, I was wrong.

    1. By the time most individuals resort to personal attacks, they have already recognized that their position is too weak too withstand debate. You should consider it a compliment.

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