Too many dollars for my rental

Q: My husband and I reserved a Dollar Rent-a-Car for a trip from Orlando to New York. I made the booking online to pick up the car at Orlando International Airport and return it to LaGuardia Airport.

When we got to the counter, the Dollar employee who helped us had great difficulty with the reservation, and told us – as an apology for it taking nearly 45 minutes to process the reservation – that he’d never before attempted a one-way, out-of-state rental.

The agent presented us with the contract and quickly snatched it up after we’d signed it. I was able to read that we were not being charged for additional insurance, but not that the agent had mistakenly inputted that we would be returning the car to Orlando.

I feel fairly certain that it was his first day on the job, as the car was also “lost,” once the transaction was finally completed. My husband and I had to wander the Orlando parking lot looking for the car. When we finally located it, I went back to the parking lot booth and let an attendant know we’d found it.

I asked what we should do, and she told us, “If the key fits, just take it.”

About a month later, my credit card statement came with a hefty additional fee of $350 for returning the car to LaGuardia. I disputed this with my credit card company. But it denied my claim when Dollar sent it a smudged copy of my contract.

I have tried repeatedly to contact Dollar, but its Florida customer service department will not return my calls. Can you help me?

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— Chelsea Grogan

A: It sounds as if your visit to Orlando coincided with the first day of work for more than one car rental agent. Employees taking 45 minutes to complete a reservation? Quoting from the O.J. Simpson trial (“if the key fits”)? If they’re looking for extras on the next Airplane! movie, they should just start here.

I contacted Dollar to find out what happened. It confirmed that you planned to pick up your car in Orlando and return to LaGuardia airport. As such, you were given a rental rate that included a drop charge and shouldn’t have been billed for anything more.

What puzzles me is that you lost your credit-card dispute. That’s absurd. Your credit-card company should have sided with you on this, but once Dollar showed it a contract, it rolled over and played dead.

Here’s where keeping good paperwork can really pay off. When you made your reservation, you should have printed the terms of your rental and kept it in a safe place until your credit-card charges were processed. The printout would have contradicted the smudged receipt, which might have persuaded your credit-card company to see things your way.

The second, and more important issue, is the contract. If the rental agent took 45 minutes, what was the rush in snatching away the agreement? Hold on to the document. Take your time and read it. If there’s something wrong, this is your best opportunity to clear things up.

Dollar could have – and should have – taken a look at your reservation record, which would have supported your story. Just because you hastily signed a contract doesn’t mean that you agreed to pay an additional drop-off charge.

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Needless to say, your credit card did a pitiful job of following up to your complaint. It took Dollar’s statements at face value, never bothering to listen to your side of the story. Do yourself a big favor and switch cards.

“It is apparent there was confusion on the part of our rental agent, and we are truly sorry for the delays and inefficiencies Ms. Grogan encountered,” Christine Sheeran, Dollar’s manager for international customer service, told me. She also assured me that the transaction you experience “is not at all typical of the excellent level of service we strive to provide.”

Dollar credited your card for $425.19, which represents the drop charge plus related taxes and fees. It also waived the additional driver fee “as a customer service gesture.” That’s $75 off the price of your rental, which I think is a perfectly adequate apology.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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