Dollar said I was a ‘no-show’ and took my money

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By Christopher Elliott

Ed Samson is a “no-show” for his Hotwire rental in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Why won’t Dollar Rent a Car refund his money?

Question

I recently paid Hotwire $530 to rent a car for a month through Dollar Rent a Car in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was scheduled to pick up the car at noon, but I arrived at the counter at 3:15 p.m. with a prepaid voucher.

Part of that delay was caused by a missing suitcase, and part to the lack of transportation by Dollar to the rental location. These were situations over which I had no control.

A Dollar representative told me the agency had no car for me. I attempted to call the telephone numbers on my invoice, but was unable to make a connection with either. It was apparent that the rental agency had booked more cars than it had available, since I wasn’t the only person turned away.

In my retirement, I live to travel and experience new places. I’ve never once encountered a situation such as this one. Dollar is offering only a partial refund, which seems absurd. Can you help? — Ed Samson, East Quogue, New York

Answer

You shouldn’t have to pay for a rental you didn’t use. But your case is problematic on several levels. You prepaid for your rental through Hotwire. The site sells discounted rental cars, but you don’t learn the name of the agency until you pay for a rental in full. There are no refunds.

Car-rental companies typically will honor a reservation when you’re late, but you shouldn’t expect them to wait that long. Dollar’s policy is to hold a car for two hours, which is pretty reasonable. And since your voucher is nonrefundable — well, there goes your money. (Related: Here’s why you should always take a picture of your car after you get a parking ticket.)

Fair? I don’t think so. But totally preventable.

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You could have phoned Dollar directly and let it know you were late. Sometimes, as a courtesy, a rental company will hold your reservation. According to Dollar, you didn’t call.

“There is no record that Mr. Samson called Dollar to notify of his delay,” a Dollar spokesman said.

Believe it or not, once your reservation was canceled, the $530 was Dollar’s to keep. And at the risk of stating the obvious, let me add this: Booking a car through a company like Hotwire has its risks, and this is one of them. It doesn’t matter who is to blame for the delay; the agency still gets to keep your money. (Related: Your consumer rights are disappearing. Here’s how to protect yourself now.)

Again, I’m in no way condoning this arrangement. But if you agree to the terms, you’re bound by them.

You could have appealed this to an executive at Dollar. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the rental agency’s customer-service executives on my consumer-advocacy site. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

I contacted Dollar on your behalf, and it refused to refund your $530. But you decided to try Hotwire one last time, and Hotwire refunded your voucher.

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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.

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