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

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.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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.


24 thoughts on “Dollar said I was a ‘no-show’ and took my money

  1. Assuming this was an airport rental, HotWire should not be selling airport rentals that do not offer transportation to the rental agency.

  2. I disagree. For an un-paid reservation, a two-hour hold is fair. Many customers don’t show up and Dollar shouldn’t lose a rental opportunity in that case.

    But he pre-paid. They should keep his car on the lot until he picks it up, even if that’s hours late. Dollar’s been paid for the car, there is no risk or lost opportunity to Dollar for holding it. In fact, I would argue that they’re obligated to do so, at least for the rest of the day. A consumer who has pre-paid should be confident that their booking will be available to them regardless of any delays or extenuating circumstances which may arise.

    1. Agreed, Dollar should have held it all day or until he called and said he wasn’t going to need it.

      The writer is correct in that the renter should have called. Assuming the flight is on time, 3+ hours is a lot of time to spend on a missing suitcase and traveling to the rental center. Once the OP realized he was well past his noon pickup time, a quick call would have held his vehicle.

    2. I think it’s more complicated than simply holding a car because it’s somehow prepaid. That’s not really how it works. Most don’t assign a particular car and often there’s a choice from one of several in a class. There are also cases where nothing in a class is available until another car completes its prep and is driven to the pickup area. I’ve been there when I had to wait, so often they can be close to not having enough available, in part because overbooking is part of the reservation model given that most reservations aren’t prepaid and aren’t held like a hotel reservation. If one customer is there and needs a car, they’re not going to hold it back for a prepaid customer who may or may not show up. I don’t think they should cancel either. Showing up late may mean having to wait or perhaps having to accept a different class, but certainly don’t leave someone who already paid with nothing.

      I’ve had a prepaid two night hotel stay where I couldn’t make the first night. I called the hotel and they said I could show up late no problem. I couldn’t make the second night either, but that was another story.

    3. Since pricing can fluctuate by pickup time, staffing has to be adjusted, and hours of operation can be affected, not to mention car availability, it is not unreasonable for Dollar to hold you to a 2 hour window. Like other car rental companies, Dollar allows you to input flight details so the grace period can shift if your flight is delayed. Given that the OP had some unique challenges, I don’t think it is unreasonable to contact Dollar if you expect to be more than 3 hours late and hopefully get a friendly agent who is willing to work with him.

      Working through an OTA using an opaque booking where you don’t know the company you are dealing with sends a clear signal – you don’t care about loyalty or service, you care only about lowest price. This alone should give you a red flag to try to follow all rules and times as closely as possible and proactively deal with unusual circumstances. Next, the burden is on Hotwire, not Dollar, to rebook the reservation if things change as they are the merchant who sold the pre-paid voucher.

      This is a good warning story for others – book direct, anticipate unplanned challenges, proactively over-communicate.

  3. I’ve never had this issue, but:

    “You could have phoned Dollar directly and let it know you were late.
    Sometimes, as a courtesy, a rental company will hold your reservation.”

    (emphasis mine)

    Is it often a problem that an agency WON’T hold your car if you call them about a later arrival? Especially at airport locations, is there really a risk of losing your reservation if you call because the flight is late?

    1. Reputable car firms that you book directly with, such as Hertz, take your flight number so they know when you are late..

      1. I want to chime in on this one myself. Some years ago on a trip to Las Vegas I had a Hertz rental booked and I gave them all of my flight information ahead of time with the reservation, as their website allows you to do. Because of weather-related delays, I arrived four hours later than scheduled. But I didn’t call Hertz because I thought they had my flight information and knew I would be very late. Guess what? When I get there, no car. It was very late at night, not many people working at the lot by that point, and the employee I spoke to said, “well because you were vey late, we gave away your car.” I said, “but you had my flight information and knew I was delayed.” He had no response, but he acted as if people coming in to the rental agency much later than planned was something that never happens. It’s an airport – of course that will happen! Give me a break. I guess the information given on the website doesn’t always get transmitted to the line level employees.

        Oh, and I also agree that if the guy prepaid for his car, Dollar should have held onto it and not released it for sale until the next day. If they charge him then somebody else for the same car, and then he shows up and gets nothing, how is this fair? A hotel typically charges no-shows for one night, then the rest of the reservation is cancelled. Seems like there could be some kind of similar policy with car rental companies.

      2. ONLY if the company has the information they can do so — but we were looking at 4 hours here — just how long was the delay, as cars usually hold for 2 hours over time

      3. I agree that when you make your reservation, provide the airline and flight number so the rental agency knows your status.

        I think a complication arose because he needed to deal with missing luggage. As for the shuttle, there probably was one somewhere. Only been there once — didn’t rent a vehicle, but all I remembered was chaos once you got out of the secured area.

      4. did you know Enterprise owns alamo and national? Avis owns budget and payless?Hertz owns dollar and thrifty?

    2. yes – you need to provide the flight info so they can track delayed/cancelled flights – but they cannot be expected to just sit on inventory because you do not show

  4. I believe it should be like a hotel room. Once paid for, it is yours for the night, whether you arrive at 3pm or midnight. They were wrong to give his car away and take his money since it was a “reserved” car.

    1. Exactly right. That was what I was going to say also…..the hotel analogy completely applies.

      And maybe take it one step further. If somehow when one arrives w/a prepaid reservation and no car is available, they should do what hotels do….”walk” them to another rental counter and cover the rental there.

  5. Never heard of the 2 hour rule. I never pre-pay for a rental. I rent mostly from Hertz (directly, not through a third party) and have never not had a car when I arrived to pick it up. I have been up to 12 hours late and always had a car.

    If I had pre paid for a rental, I would expect it to be waiting for me even if I showed up an hour before I was supposed to return it. In the case where the rental place has already rerented your car before you arrive, they should immediately give a full refund no questions asked. They are obviously not out anything (they probably made more money off the last minute rental than they would have from the pre paid advance rental) and they are not able to provide the service you paid for.

  6. Experienced travelers know never to rent from Dollar, but LW’s problem was to rent through an opaque OTA which didn’t tell him that Dollar was under the walnut shell he picked.

  7. I agree with many of the posters here. One thing that stuck out for me, was his mention of Dollars lack of transport to the rental location. It happened to me once, and I’m sure it’s happened to others, but once at an Airport wait stand for the shuttle, the group’s waiting for shuttles waited and waited, ours for over an hour. It was some traffic snafu at the entrance and really no one’s fault. But, many of us finally arrived at the rental lot, over 2 hours late. (The weather was also bad, thus flight delays). I can’t speak for everyone, but there wasn’t an issue and I wouldn’t dream of thinking I should be calling for the delay.

    The only time I do call on delays, is when it’s significant, like a night arrival vs morning. In my opinion Dollar HAPPILY double dipped

    1. I looked it up, and they have an off-airport location with a shuttle. Other rental car agencies have a presence at the airport.

  8. I personally would never prepay for a car rental. I’ve been late before for any number of reasons, including the rest of my family arriving on delayed flight. Most traditional car rental reservations can be walked away from without a penalty.

    And I’ve booked with Dollar before, including that one where my family was on a severely delayed flight. I had arrived earlier on a flight from an airport closer to work. I was also worried about the possibility of a delay and picked Dollar because they were open 24 hours at that airport but another agency was closed at midnight. My flight was already late. My family’s flight was WAY late. I think I called in to the Dollar main phone to check on the status and was told that I was OK, even though by then I was already 4 hours late. OTOH I’d been two hours late before (arriving via ground transportation) and called in and was told it was too late to cancel, but of course I didn’t prepay and just booked another car at an even better rate.

    By not preparing, I’m not worried about being charged, but my main worry is that I won’t have a car at a reasonable rate.

  9. likely not. In general, the OTA is paid by customer upon reservation. After rental is completed, the rental company can then bill the OTA for the amount on the voucher less any commissions (usually big in the opaque, name-your-own price area) not to mention the low rate the customer gets. The OTA then gets time to pay the invoice (30 days, 60 days, or whatever their terms are, and the bigger OTAs likely get better terms). So the OTA sits on the customer’s money potentially for months and gets paid either way, while the rental company took a cheap booking with higher costs to service and poor cash flow. No wonder the OTAs have high stock values!

    from rental perspective, people who book like this have no loyalty – they want cheap. So not surprising to see service levels that cater to this preference. McDonald’s hamburgers don’t taste like Morton’s steak. That’s why they don’t cost the same.

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