Case dismissed: Charged $183 for four hours on my rental car

By | June 16th, 2011

Phillip Barszczowski’s Hertz car, which he booked through Priceline, cost $122. Not bad for a four-day rental in Wyoming, considering what rates have been doing lately.

But when Barszczowski told the agent he’d have the car back by noon on the fourth day, she had some bad news: His reservation lasted only until 8 a.m., and the four extra hours would more than double the price of his car, to $305.

Priceline’s reservation said he had until 1:30 p.m. The Hertz agent didn’t care. “She told me Priceline does this all the time and they get you a great deal and then make up for it later,” he says.

Charging $183 for four hours, which works out to $45 an hour, seems a little pricey.

Barszczowski’s first stop was sending a brief, polite email to Priceline customer service. It seemed to confirm Hertz’ decision. Although it verified his reservation was supposed to be until 1:30 p.m., a subsequent paragraph left him with the impression that it was standing behind the car rental company.

You received your rental car as a result of the original requested pick-up date, drop-off date, car type, and location. As a result, your price reflects savings that may not have been offered to you with any other combination. In order to ensure our on-going ability to provide you and all our customers with significant savings for future rental car needs, our reservations are non-changeable and non-refundable.

That left Barszczowski feeling as if he was out of options. Hertz was charging him for a full extra day, even though Priceline said he had the car until 1:30 p.m.

“What can I do?” he said. “Anything would help right now. Even if they prorate me for the four hours I had it for on Monday.”

Before I contact Priceline and give you the improbable resolution to this case, I want to make a few observations. A $122 rate for four days — heck, even 3 1/2 days — is incredible. Priceline gave him quite a bargain.

Also, car rental companies routinely have an unpublished grace period for rental returns, and had he made it back to the airport within an hour of his return, he might have been able to avoid any extra charges. (Or here’s an idea: Why not get up a little early and return the car by 8 a.m.? If it saves you $183, it might be worth it.)

I asked Priceline about this case. A representative contacted me immediately and verified Barszczowski reservation was until 1:30 p.m. Priceline also contacted Hertz.

“It appears the Hertz representative was talking about 8 a.m. the next day,” the Priceline spokesman said. “Mr. Barszczowski shouldn’t have been charged.”

And so I asked Barszczowski to do what he probably should have done before he contacted me: to check his credit card bill and tell me if Hertz had charged him anything.

I just checked my statement and there was no charge on my card. Also, I had a voicemail from Priceline on my office phone that Hertz did not charge my card.

If they didn’t charge my card, why did I have to give them my card at the time and get a receipt for $183? Anyways as long as there is no charge on my card I’m good.

So am I.

(Photo: michelle par ker52/Flickr Creative Commons)

  • Carver

    A couple thoughts

    $122 isn’t a particularly great rate. I just checked. Without any advance notice, spending maybe 5 minutes online,  you could get a full sized car for $125.46 unlimited miles at Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I don’t think the $3.00 difference was worth using Priceline and the grief it entails

    My second thought is did Chris resolve this while the OP still had the car. Otherwise, when he returned the car, he would have gotten the receipt showing that he wasn’t charged the extra monies.

    Much ado about nothing.

  • Carver

    I did a little more checking.  This actually isn’t a priceline issue, its a business/leisure issue.

    The OP booked the car from from Thursday to Monday, i.e. 4 week-end days.  Hertz considers Monday to be a weekend day under these circumstances.  The charge is $30 a day.

    Had the OP returned the car on Tuesday, he would have incurred an additional week-day charge , of whatever the prevailing rate was, e.g. next week its $99.00 per day.

  • He received a bill and then contacted me. This was “resolved” (I use the term loosely) after the rental.

    Of course, it’s possible the car rental agency meant to bill him but had second thoughts after Priceline inquired.

  • cjr001

    There’s usually a partial day charge for something like this, which should AT WORST come out to like $25.

    However, beyond 4 days it seems to kick it to the weekly rate, rather than per-day rate. Either way, it’s an obscene charge.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Something doesn’t add up here. The story says that he was charged and got a receipt for $183.

    I have never heard of a situation where you run a charge slip, but the transaction does not post on your credit account. Excepting malfunctions of some sorts, of course.

    The closest would be the common situations of pre-authorizing a card when you check into a hotel, for posting any room charges and misc expenses, but the customer wouldn’t typically be provided the amount of the hold being placed on the customer card. But this is obviously not the case here.

    I could understand if there was some confusion with the rental clerk, and it was cleared up in this manner, but the fact that there was actually what sounds like a charge, processed, makes the whole thing sound bizarre.

    I would keep an eye out on my credit card statement for the next six months or so, in case that charge pops up again. Keep the paper trails and the emails, and use that to initiate a chargeback, if that happens.

  • AutoSlash

    “She told me Priceline does this all the time and they get you a great deal and then make up for it later,” he says.

    Don’t pre-pay.  Don’t get locked in.  But still get a great deal.

    With AutoSlash (and many other sites), when you book your rental, you see an exact break down of what it will cost you for an extra hour or an extra day.  Complete transparency and no surprises.  That’s the way business should be done:

    Plan Details

    USD 331.79  
    UNL Mileage

    XTRA DAY USD 97.99
    XTRA HR USD 13.10

  • emanon256

    Many, not all, but many point-of-sale systems will poll transactions.  i.e. they do a pre-auth, and print out a receipt and the transaction is stored.  They don’t upload the transaction usually until that evening or I have seen some places wait days.  It really depends on their business process.  If they refund the transaction after the customer leaves, but before they upload the transactions, they transaction will never get submitted to the credit card company at all.  This saves the merchant money as they have to pay the transaction fee on the charge and the refund.

    Back on topic, I have only had problems when using Priceline, and always find it cheaper and less problematic to book with the merchant directly.

  • Mark K

    Even in today’s world of instant electronic authorization, the merchant still has to close out business for the day in their system before the credit card items actually post, that is move the money.  Until this is done, the receipt you hold is nothing more than an authorization from the view of the credit card issuer.  The amount shown on the receipt is not the same thing as the hold that a business would place on your account.  Many companies don’t close out business every day and some can take up to 10 days from the time you do business with them until they close out and post the charge.  Until then the items can be deleted so they never appear on your statement.  Maybe someone at that Hertz location had second thoughts about the charge before they closed out and deleted it.

    I do agree that it would be a good idea to hold on to everything for at least 6 months just in case. 

  • Josh

    I’m a little confused about the facts and times — where did the 8:00AM time come from?  Did he originally make the reservation with a pickup time of 1:30 and a return time of 8:00?

    Either way it shouldn’t matter — if the priceline confirmation said 1:30, that’s the return time, and any charge for time within that prepaid window is disputable if it shows up.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I wouldn’t trust that it’s over.  If they said they charged him and gave him a receipt, they may very well still put that charge through.  He should document everything and watch his bill very carefully.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they still tried to stick it to him.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    The supreme irony here?  When I opened up the site just now, there was a Priceline ad for car rentals at the top of the screen!

  • I would have lost my mind at the counter if she told me that. I’m glad everything worked..


  • Dokeo

    Yes- I got that, too. Offering $13/day weeked rates!

  • Sadly, businesses work so hard to take your money, all under the guise of, “Them’s the rules”.

    With the advent of the Internet and cell phones, people are able to seek resolution almost immediately, keeping businesses on their toes.

    Oddly enough, I’m listening to a conservative radio host (it’s white noise while I work) who just made a statement that’s so true, particularly with this situation, “Capitalism w/o morality is doomed to fail.”  Looks to me as though it’s doing very well – and we as consumers allow it to continue all in the name of seeking the lowest price.

    I’m more than willing to spend a little more if it means I get better service.

  • Priceline rate: 
    Car $13 a day
    Taxes $33 a day Rate:
    $42.99 including taxes . . .

    think I’m joking?

  • Andrew Shepp

    Priceline is the merchant but Hertz takes your credit credentials in case there is an opportunity to overcharge you for something not agreed to with Priceline.

    Who gets the insurance waiver money?

  • Davidthomson_98

    What a load of rubbish. $122 is not a great rate for 4 days! Has Chris even rented a car lately? I rented one in L.A and another in Miami just 2 weeks ago and got each one for $12 a day, from Enterprise…..

  • Steve R

    @Chris: “Or here’s an idea: Why not get up a little early and return the car by 8 a.m.?
    If it saves you $183, it might be worth it.” I’m surprised that you would even suggest this. The reason not to bother with returning the car by 8am is that the reservation that the customer made clearly states that the rate he paid allowed him to keep the car until 1:30. There’s no reason to back down when the rental car company is trying to renege on the contract.

  • properthwacking

    Case dismissed? Sort of a misleading headline. And 2/3 of the story. I wish the author didn’t play this game. Too often, people DON’T read the terms and are in this exact situation with almost no hope for recourse. But if it’s the other way around, and the overbilling occurs, definitely ask for a manager to correct.

  • properthwacking

    Agreed. I tend to like this column, but this is Elliott’s worst work. Perhaps he phoned it in that day. Or had an intern write it.