Oh no, Budget had second thoughts about my discount

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By Christopher Elliott

Brandon Chase’s says Budget made a mistake on his bill, and reverses a discount long after his rental. Is it allowed to do that? And what are his rights?

Question

I’d like to share my recent Budget Car Rental experience with you that has me committed to never doing business with them again.

A couple weeks ago I received a voicemail saying the Budget at the Kansas City airport would be charging me an extra $104 because an “internal audit” found they gave me too much of a discount. My receipt shows the $85 discount, which seemed right since there was an advertised discount.

So, they billed my credit card without my authorization, and then added in all the additional taxes and fees to bring the amount up to $104. I called Budget corporate and the franchise, but nobody would help fix the issue, even though I had a receipt to prove we “agreed” on the lesser amount.

I rent from Budget weekly, easily spending anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a month on their cars. The franchise doesn’t share information with the corporate office, so corporate is pretty much useless on the issue. Since there does not appear to be anything stopping them from charging customer credit cards at will, I refuse to ever do business with them again. Any advice? — Brandon Chase, Columbus, Ohio

Answer

Some of the most hotly-debated cases I mediate are pricing errors — a fare or rate where a decimal point went astray — but I’d never come across a complaint where a discount had been withdrawn after a trip. (Although we had something similar to this yesterday.)

The Budget franchise in Kansas City should have caught any discounting error before your transaction, or at the very least, when you checked out. But leaving a voicemail weeks after your rental is highly unusual. It’s probably also illegal: Budget had a contract with you, which its retroactive re-billing breached, the way I see it. (Here’s what you need to know about renting a car.)

I don’t understand why Budget corporate couldn’t help you. Isn’t that what the corporate office is for? By the way, who cares if Kansas City is a franchise location? Budget’s corporate structure is irrelevant to a customer, and the company shouldn’t use it as an excuse. Cheap hotel chains often do this, too, and you can’t let them get away with it. (Related: The rate error story that got away.)

Fortunately, you kept excellent records. You had proof of your final payment and of the discount. Had you tossed your receipt (which some customers do) this might have been a more difficult negotiation. (Read here about a reader who was charged extra when an Avis representative accused him of ‘fraudulently’ using a discount code.)

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Your appeal to Budget (no need to contact my advocacy team on this one) corporate yielded a $50 voucher, which was a good start. I followed up with the company, asking why it revised your bill. It responded by reversing the charge.

Should Budget be allowed to change its rate after your rental?

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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 São Paulo.

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