Dinged for using a “fraudulent” discount code on my Avis rental

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Anand Iyer recently rented a Hyundai from Avis in Westfield, NJ. He’d found the car online through a site called AutoSlash.com, and booked the rental through Travelocity.

At the end of the rental, Avis charged him $686 — an excellent deal for a 30-day rental.

A few days later, Iyer heard from Avis. Turns out the deal was a little too excellent, and his bill would be revised to $992.

The reason? An Avis representative accused him of “fraudulently” using a discount code that belongs to the Florida Department of Management Services.

Iyer doesn’t work for the Florida Department of Management Services, but he does believe Avis should honor the $686 rate. If it doesn’t, he wants me to intervene and force Avis to make good on its offer. After all, a representative told him his codes looked fine when he picked up the car.

He explained his position in an email to Avis. As he noted, no one told him he had to be a Florida employee:

I was not informed about this requirement when I took possession of the car, nor when I signed the agreement when I got the car.

Neither was I informed any time during the period when the rental car was in my possession. Hence, I do not think it is fair for me to pay the extra amount.

We could have easily fixed this if you had told me a word about this during the rental; don’t you agree?

One of your representatives told me that this rate would be honored for this rental since it was already done, so I kindly request you to honor her word.

Avis wasn’t so understanding. The discount code wasn’t legit, and he shouldn’t have used it, Avis contends.

All rental agreements are subject to a final audit.

Why you would use Travelocity to book a corporate Avis identification number instead of using your contact administrator means one thought to me. You fraudulently used a discount code, which you are not entitled to, through a colleague, a friend or you went to a website: slickdeals.com and tried to use this corporate code. It is not up to our rental agents to discover this type of fraud, but our security department to.

I have contacted our corporate offices about this matter.

Iyer says I have to get involved. After all, didn’t I help another car rental customer under similar circumstances recently?

Perhaps. But no two cases are exactly alike, and this one feels a little different.

Iyer admits that he used a discount code and that he doesn’t work for the state of Florida. He says he did not know the code was meant to be used by Florida employees exclusively.

I agree that Avis should have verified his eligibility before he left the parking lot, but in a situation like this, I think a post-rental audit is acceptable.

The wildcard in this case may be Autoslash. If it offered the discount code, and Iyer used it believing it was legit, then I think it may bear some responsibility, too.

Look, I’m all in favor of finding the best deal possible, but searching a deal forum for any discount code and then plugging it into your final rate, which is what Avis suggests Iyer had done, raises some ethical questions. Avis would argue that using a code to which you’re not entitled is theft, and if I got involved in this case I’d be an accessory to a crime.

Then again, if this was a simple misunderstanding, should Avis be allowed to jack its rates up by $306? That doesn’t seem fair, either.

Update (10 a.m): Last week, when Iyer contacted me to ask for help, I suggested that he escalate this to corporate Avis. He did, and a few hours after this story was published, Iyer notified me that Avis agreed to reverse its decision and would charge him $686 as agreed. He also emphasized that he didn’t know he was ineligible to use the discount code. For those of you who are not regular readers, the Monday column, Can this trip be saved? is a feature where I present one side of the story — the customer’s — and ask you, my readers, if I should get involved. These cases have not been vetted in any way. See Friday’s column, The Travel Troubleshooter, for those reader questions.

Should I mediate Anand Iyer's case with Avis?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Marcin Jeske

    “You can’t have it both ways.”

    Why not?

    This is not an issue of cosmic balance or yin and yang… the two situations you are trying to say are symmetrical are anything but.

    In one case, the agency offers the customer a price prior to rental without verifying they are eligible for it. For any given code, they should know better than I do what the terms are.

    In the other case, the customer is agreeing to a higher rate than contracted with the understanding that once proof of eligibility is supplied, the contract would be honored.

    The change in the second case is by mutual agreement, in the first it is not. The same applies in other retail situations… if a grocery store hasn’t bothered to verify they offered me the correct pricing until after I leave with my purchases… they better not be chasing me down in the parking lot. Conversely, if I look on my receipt and see that they overcharged me for milk, or rang up a single item twice… you can bet I am justified in returning to the store.

    Let me ask you… at those grocery stores where there is a loyalty card program that gives discounts on items, and they offer to use the store code if you don’t have a card, do you turn them down “because that would be fraud”?

  • Marcin Jeske

    I think if AutoSlash put him in a rate without checking his eligibility, that is on them. But even if the OP used the code directly, with the information we have, he is still innocent of the allegations of fraud, cheating, lying being thrown at him.

    The OP did not “illegitimately gain” any money. Had Avis even bothered to ask about eligibility, they would have correctly offered him a higher rate, and he likely would have gone elsewhere, or found a similar code for which he was eligible. (There are thousands of these things, many much more permissive. And no matter how special you think your organization is, it is likely hundreds of others have the same rate.)

    The OP paid what Avis decided a long time ago was a fair rate for its service.

    You say this was all “due to no fault of Avis”. Yet how can that be true if they did not make even the most minimal of efforts to verify he was eligible for the rate they offered until well after he returned the car? At best they turn a blind eye to people who accidentally or deliberately book the wrong rate… at worst, they do so to catch people like the OP… hook them with a low rate, then reel them in with the real rate once they have no chance to escape.

    You make an excellent point regarding documentation: Why would rental car companies, notoriously strict about documentation of damages, be so lax in who they rent to?
    – Maybe they are just inconsistent and disorganized.
    – Maybe, as some suggest, they don’t want to annoy big clients.
    – Or maybe, lax checking is better for their bottom line, bringing in more business, and the potential to add charges post-rental. (But really, should never expect that kind of duplicity from rental car companies, should we?)

  • MarkKelling

    The main thing I have found about the AAA rate is, at least at the hotels I choose to stay at, it gives you the 6 pm day of arrival cancelation option that the similarly priced discounts offered by the hotel without using AAA do not provide. Sometimes the AAA rate is actually higher than other offers from the hotel.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    “But even if the OP used the code directly, with the information we have, he is still innocent of the allegations of fraud, cheating, lying being thrown at him.”

    That would only be true if the OP received the code from Avis or State of Florida. While we don’t know where exactly the code came from, we do know that the OP did not receive the code from either of these sources. Avis can’t control which discount codes are shared online, but that doesn’t mean Avis must offer the deeply discounted rate to anyone capable of entering a 6 digit number on a website.

    “The OP did not “illegitimately gain” any money.”

    The OP was booked at a rate which he didn’t qualify for, saving him hundreds of dollars. He did not qualify for that rate, yet received the benefits of the rate anyway. You think this is legitimate?

    “The OP paid what Avis decided a long time ago was a fair rate for its service.”

    A fair rate for members of that organization, sure. Just like Avis employees receive a discounted rate. Just because one particular subset gets discounted rates does NOT mean those rates should apply to everyone.

    “You say this was all “due to no fault of Avis”.”

    It wasn’t Avis’s fault that the reservation was made at a rate which the OP didn’t qualify for. And as I said above, it also isn’t Avis’s fault the rate was shared inappropriately. It isn’t the standard across rental companies to check corporate credentials when renting. And no, it isn’t some big conspiracy.

    “Why would rental car companies, notoriously strict about documentation of damages, be so lax in who they rent to?”

    What documentation other than a faxed letter faxed at time of rental from HR would qualify the renter to receive the discount? Many people have said business cards, what happens if someone has old business cards? Old letterhead? What happens if they use this illegitimate documentation to get a discount, then an audit later finds out they were never entitled? Would it be OK to charge them in that case? IF so, why is this any different? Because the OP makes an unsubstantiated claim that he didn’t know the discount was restricted?

    Speaking as someone who has spent entirely too much time behind the rental counter, It just isn’t practical to verify corporate eligibility with every renter. Especially when an audit later can easily find out whether or not the renter was eligible.

    Finally, please remember that the rental agreement specifically states that a renter using a corporate discount code must be fully eligible to use said code. The agreement also states that if an audit finds later they are not eligible, they explicitly agree to authorize the additional charges on the renter’s CC. I’ve said it before: If you voluntarily choose to enter into a binding legal agreement, you are bound by said agreement. You do NOT get to pick and choose which terms of the contract you want to have apply.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    “For any given code, they should know better than I do what the terms are.”

    Avis speaks to the use of AWDs on its site. I don’t know why some dude from NJ would feel entitled to use a discount code specifically meant for employees of the State of Florida.

    “f a grocery store hasn’t bothered to verify they offered me the correct pricing until after I leave with my purchases… they better not be chasing me down in the parking lot.”

    I’m guessing if the bank teller hands you $200 too much, you would accept that too, right? Because if the Costco cashier misses scanning your 4 pack of Filet Mignons, you feel perfectly justified in leaving without paying, because you are the customer and the customer is always right. In other words, you expect mistakes affecting you as a customer to be rectified, yet any mistakes the business makes in your favor are permanent and can not be changed at a later point in time.

  • Jim Zakany

    Actually, the man told the truth. He said where he found the discount code and that he does not work for the Florida Dept of Management Services. In fact, all evidence we have indicates that the person is truthful.

    Your assertion that he lied is made up from the whole cloth.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    That’s not true. Costco has negotiated discounts directly with the rental companies. Usually it’s a percentage off the rate, with other perks like free upgrades, additional drivers, etc.

    That is MUCH DIFFERENT than plugging in random codes that the renter may or may not qualify for.

  • Marcin Jeske

    From the Costco Travel rental car page:

    “Let our Low Price Finder search the best price for you.

    Price all brands and vehicles with one search with our Low Price Finder. Enter your criteria and we’ll shop all coupons, codes and discounts for the lowest prices!”

    Please note I said “roughly the same way”… I too agree that we can trust Costco much more to apply valid codes… and the additional driver perk is across the board. But the Costco Travel approach is somewhat more complicated than just a single affinity code.

    Plugging in combinations of codes and coupons is a perfectly valid approach when there are so many out there with so many interactions… but whether a company does it for you or you do it yourself, there is the risk that purposefully or not you may overlook some of the requirements.

  • Mike Z

    I don’t see what the big deal is here. The company issues discount codes. The customer used one and rented from a company that he may not have rented from otherwise. the company makes money. The Florida department gets a rental credited to it’s bottom line for ongoing discounts.
    As the OP noted, at any time, the company counld have informed the renter of a problem but never did so. The renter did not contract to rent at $900, and so billing for that later on I think is not moral, and really should not be legal.