Why do I have to pay $308 for my rental car?

By | November 17th, 2016

Tanya Panetti and her father-in-law reserved rental cars for a family trip to Orlando, Fla., at the same time – but were charged amounts that differed wildly from the confirmations they received.

Panetti doesn’t understand why. She’s asked our advocates to help her find out – and to make the difference go away.

Panetti’s story is yet another example of why car rental customers need to pay close attention to the contracts they sign, down to the tiniest print. We were able to help her with the first part of her request, but not the second.

So why were the rental car charges so far apart? And why can’t we get rid of the price differential for her?

Panetti and her father-in-law made their reservations two months in advance with the Orlando International Airport location of Signature Car Rental through Kayak.com, an online travel website that is geared toward helping travelers find great deals on airfares, hotel costs, and car rentals. Both reservations were for $105.

On the day of arrival in Orlando, Panetti called Signature to confirm her family’s reservations and was told that “everything was in good order.” But when they arrived at the Signature facility to pick up their cars, there were no cars available. Instead, Signature’s agent offered the Panettis vehicles from another car rental company at the Orlando airport for the same price and gave them a number to call.

When Panetti called the number, the agent to whom she spoke offered her a vehicle from Firefly, another car rental agency, after a 30-minute discussion. She informed Panetti that she would “pay a small amount more” but would be reimbursed for the extra cost within 24 hours. The agent also provided Panetti with the email address for the president of Firefly, Clark Girges.

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Firefly, it turned out, charged more than “a small amount more” than Signature had confirmed to the Panettis. Their rates had gone up to $308 and $309 respectively — a financial hardship for the family.


Panetti called Firefly and requested to speak to a manager about the price differential, but was not permitted to do so. She then emailed Girges to request assistance. He responded promptly, asking for copies of the Panettis’ receipts. Panetti sent him the copies — and never heard from him again.

She then filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, but her case was closed as “unresolved.” In addition, she continued to call Firefly with no success. At that point, Panetti turned to our advocates.

We can’t blame Panetti for believing that she and her father-in-law shouldn’t have had to pay more for their cars from Firefly. It’s standard car rental industry practice not to charge customers extra for replacement rental cars when the cars they reserved turned out to be unavailable.

Unfortunately, Signature’s rental agreement terms and conditions contain no language at all legally obligating Signature to provide rental cars in accordance with confirmed reservations – or to charge the rates listed in those confirmations.

And Firefly’s qualifications and requirements emphasize that Firefly is not legally obligated to “fulfill confirmed reservations, subject to … vehicle availability and satisfaction by renters of the relevant Renting Company’s then-applicable rental qualifications and requirements” among other conditions.

So neither Signature nor Firefly was legally required to limit its rental charges to the amounts in the confirmations.

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Our advocates reached out to Signature on Panetti’s behalf, and learned that Firefly had upsold Panetti and her father-in-law for additional items. That raised the charges from the original rates, which were very close to the rates the Panettis had confirmed with Signature.

We also learned that Panetti disputed the additional charges on her credit card.

In the meantime, Signature has refused to respond to our contacts. So for now at least, her story is going in the “Case Dismissed” file.



  • BubbaJoe123

    “An extra $308 for my rental car? But why?”

    Two problems with this headline:

    1. It wasn’t an extra $308, the rate went up TO $308 (“Their rates had gone up to $308 and $309 respectively”).

    2. Why is very clear – they bought additional products and/or services (“Firefly had upsold Panetti and her father-in-law for additional items”).

  • Jeff W.

    The main villain in the story is Signature, not Firefly. They are the ones who took the reservation, but could not hold the reservation — to quote Mr. Seinfeld.

    But when you rent from a no-name off-airport rental agency and there are no cars available and they walk to another no-name off-airport rental agency, no good can come of that. I really doubt that there were no cars on the lot, probably just none that they were willing to part with for $108.

    And where was Kayak when all of this was happening? While not their fault, are they not supposed to provide assistance when something goes wrong? It is unlikely, but they may have been able to assist as well when no cars were available.

  • Rebecca

    If $400 represents “financial hardship for the family”, they’re taking the wrong vacation. What if there was an emergency? That’s the scary part, honestly. I understand and am sympathetic to the situation, but that doesn’t excuse it. If you don’t have the nominal amount of $400 sitting in the bank for an emergency, you shouldn’t be flying to a theme park and hoping for the best. You should be putting the money spent on the vacation in the bank for an emergency, then starting to save for a vacation, going in another year or two.

    That being said, the original agency didn’t honor the reservation. There isn’t clear information on what the “upsells” were that caused the price increase. But I suspect if we listened to the phone call, it would explain a lot. I can’t make a determination without more information.

  • MarkKelling

    Kayak clearly states they are only a search engine. When you search for something (hotel, car, whatever) they present offers that when you click on them links you to the actual website of the company you will be dealing with. You pay nothing to Kayak, they have no customer service.

  • Charles Owen

    I would be very hesitant to criticize what someone else may refer to as a “financial hardship”. They may very well consider it a financial hardship if they have to dip into emergency funds that they do have. I have emergency funds, but if I suddenly had to take $400 out, that money would have to be restored and would come out of other budget categories. The money has to come from somewhere.

    I understand the idea of “upsells”, but an 200% increase in price upsell?

  • Annie M

    I never heard of either of these car rental places.

    However, did they tell your advocates that they added services or did they conveniently “omit” that and the car rental company told you?

  • sirwired

    “Our advocates reached out to Signature on Panetti’s behalf, and learned
    that Firefly had upsold Panetti and her father-in-law for additional
    items.”

    Well, that would do it.

    If we boldly assume these charges were put in on-the-sly, this is another object lesson in the necessity of at least reading the summary of charges before driving off (it’s not particularly “fine” print). If the upsells were known, but the consumer “forgot” to mention them to the advocate? … *sigh*…

  • Lindabator

    larger vehicles, 2nd drivers, prepaid fuel, insurance — ALL add on cost, and that is for ANY rental

  • Pegtoo

    It just says “trip”… may have been a funeral, not necessarily an event involving mouse ears. If it was vacation, I agree with you. $400 wouldn’t even get a family in the gates.

  • cscasi

    “When Panetti called the number, the agent to whom she spoke offered her a vehicle from Firefly, another car rental agency, after a 30-minute discussion. She informed Panetti that she would “pay a small amount more” but would be reimbursed for the extra cost within 24 hours. ”

    When the agent told Pametti she would pay a small amount more, why didn’t Panetti ask for the amount right then? Then she could decide whether or not to rent from Firefly. Second, when she arrived at the Firefly facility and got the rental agreement, did she not read it and look at the pricing, or did she just blindly sign the contract and drive off; only to finally find that the charges were not what she expected?
    The problem with some renters is that they “assume” too much and do not take the time and effort to find out what the exact costs are and why they are what they are; i.e. up sells like, insurance, upgraded vehicle, GPS add on, toll tag, etc. Many never read the contract and look at the pricing; just when they bring it back and declare, “Hey, that is not what it should be”. Whose fault is it really?

  • Kairho

    Absoloutely the answer to this issue … along with the “That raised the charges from the original rates, which were very close to the rates the Panettis had confirmed with Signature.”

  • joycexyz

    Kayak is a search engine, not an OTA.

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