Oh no! Thrifty charged me an extra $250 for a car rental upgrade. Can I get a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Leah Page picks up her rental car from Thrifty, it charges her a $250 upgrade fee. Can it do that without her permission? And how can she get a refund?


I recently rented a car from Thrifty in Los Angeles. The car I had reserved was not available when I arrived, which I only learned after waiting over an hour in line!

Thankfully, a kind agent found a car for me that was available, and I was able to get on my way. Unfortunately, it looks like Thrifty also increased the price of my rental by $250. 

Each time I ask about the charge, I get a different response. When I originally signed the rental contract, the agent advised me to contact Thrifty’s main office during my rental to correct the overcharge. When I contacted Thrifty during my rental, they told me to wait until after the contract was complete. Now, I’m being told that I should have ensured this issue was addressed at the time of signing the contract.

I never asked for an upgrade. The Thrifty agent was just attempting to honor the original reservation. I’ve written to Thrifty and have asked for a refund, but it refuses. Can you help me? — Leah Page, Portland, Oregon


Thrifty shouldn’t have made you wait more than an hour — and it shouldn’t have charged you an extra $250 without your consent. The industry standard practice when a location runs out of cars is to upgrade a customer to the next available class of car at no additional charge. The kind agent should have been clearer about the additional expense of an upgrade or urged you to wait until the Thrifty location had a car in your class (which might have been a long wait).

Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing a lot of these car rental shenanigans. The location runs out of cars, and then a “helpful” agent slides a contract under your nose that includes a hefty upgrade charge. (Related: Banned by Hertz because of a 10-year-old toll charge.)

If an agent ever tells you to call the 800 number to correct the overcharge, walk away from the rental. The moment you accept the keys to the vehicle, you’re on the hook for the full amount, no matter what an employee says.

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How to contest an unwanted upgrade charge on your car rental

Car rental upgrades are great — as long as you ask for them and agree to pay them. Here are some steps you can take to fight back and get your money back:

  • Check your rental agreement. Make sure you understand what you agreed to and what you declined. If you see any discrepancies, contact the car rental company and ask for an explanation.
  • Collect evidence. If you took photos of the car before and after you rented it, or if you have any receipts or documents that prove you didn’t accept or use the services you were charged for, keep them handy. They will help you support your claim.
  • Keep your paperwork. Send a copy of the original reservation and a copy of the confirmation along with the new invoice to the car rental company, politely asking it to adjust your rate. 
  • Appeal. If that doesn’t work, you can appeal to one of the executive contacts for the rental company — Thrifty’s parent company,  Hertz, in this case. (I list them on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org).
  • File a dispute with your car rental company. You have the right to dispute any unfair or unauthorized charges on your car rental bill. Your bank has an online form or a customer service number where you can submit your complaint. Explain the situation clearly and provide any evidence you have. Ask for a refund or a correction of your bill.

Don’t forget to use the Elliott Method for fixing a consumer dispute. You can also reach out to my advocacy team for direct help.

Here’s how Thrifty resolved your case

You kept a great paper trail of correspondence between yourself and Thrifty. But the responses were predictable. You signed the contract, you have to pay. There were “sincere” apologies for the way you felt about your rental, but Thrifty would not move. 

That’s troubling. You trusted the Thrifty agent to do the right thing, and instead, the company stuck you with a $250 bill. Maybe you’re renting from the wrong company.

You told me that you were so exasperated that you felt like dropping the matter. But I had a better idea. I contacted Thrifty on your behalf. The company refunded your $250. 

About this story

I believe car rental companies often exploit customers when they are at their most vulnerable. Either they’ve just landed, and they need to make a long drive to their next appointment. Or they’re dropping off their vehicle and need to catch a flight. Either way, time is on the car rental company’s side. An unscrupulous car rental firm can push almost any contract under a customer’s nose — or no contract at all — and they’ll probably agree to it. My advocacy team and I are happy we could help Page, but we know there are many others like her out there. I’d like to thank my entire team for the help with this one: Andy Smith and his editors, Will Leeper in our Facebook group, Dwayne Coward and Mel Smith in advocacy, and my brother Dustin Elliott for the terrific illustration. It’s an honor to work with the best advocacy team in the world.

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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 Panamá City.

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