My car rental rate doubled — should I split the difference with Hotwire?

By | November 16th, 2010

When it comes to fixing travel problems, every happy ending isn’t necessarily a Hollywood ending. Consider the case of Samantha McCormick, a 23-year-old Hotwire customer whose car rental rate unexpectedly doubled.

McCormick turned to me to fix the problem, but now she’s at a crossroads and needs your help. I’ll get to the proposed resolution in a second. But first, a few words about compromises, and, of course, the details of her story.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, there are varying degrees of happy endings. A company will sometimes admit partial liability and offer to meet you halfway on compensation. These can be some of the hardest cases to wrap up, because no one likes a partial victory.

Often, travelers will walk away from a perfectly adequate settlement agreement on principle.

Is that what McCormick is about to do?

She recently booked a one-week car rental by calling Hotwire. An agent asked her to authorize a $170 charge for the rate.

I’m 23, and on the phone I asked if there would be an additional charge because I’m under 25. They said, “No, as long as you have someone over 25 vouch for you.” So I gave them the name of my father, who would be driving me to the rental center.

So far, so good.

But then McCormick checked in at Budget and was given some bad news:

I was told at the counter that I would be charged a fee each day for being under 25 and being the primary driver. The fee was over $20 more each day – almost doubling the $170 that Hotwire already charged me for the car rental itself.

I spoke with the manager and he said this happens all the time with Hotwire, they don’t inform customers of extra fees, they just want to seal the deal.

So because I wouldn’t pay the extra fees, I was refused the car rental. I immediately called Hotwire’s customer service to find out what the deal was. I was told by a rep that Hot Deal sales are final.

McCormick didn’t rent a car that day, but Hotwire (and Budget) kept her money. A credit card dispute was unsuccessful.

Related story:   An extra $14 for "A Concession Fee Recovery" on an all-inclusive price? What's with that?

I contacted Hotwire on her behalf. Yesterday, I heard back from her. A Hotwire representative had called her with some good news. Sorta.

I was offered half of what I paid, and an explanation that they “do not feel at fault” but are giving half back as a (mediocre) courtesy.

[A representative] said she reviewed the tape of the original phone call sale. In response to the tape, she did say, “We feel that our representative should have anticipated that you were asking if you could add yourself as another driver.” This statement sounds as if they know the rep was misleading — however they still somehow don’t feel at fault.

When I asked to hear the tapes, she said I could. However, she has to play the tape for me over the phone – they will not let me have a copy.