There may be no drier subject in the travel business than car rental fuel purchase options, but when the emails began flooding my in-box about Hertz’s new “Express Fuel” option, the topic suddenly turned interesting.
At first, the court-ordered legal notice looked like junk mail. I was half right.
The notice was about junk — junk fees, that is.
At the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 101 in Willits, Calif., you’ll find three service stations. But look closely before you pump gas, otherwise you could pay a lot more than you expect.
What follows is a cautionary tale about junk fees, from an industry that journalists like me tend to ignore, unless it’s spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of unprocessed petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico.
But the cost of a product, both perceived and real, are very much in the news today, with a key part of the Affordable Care Act scheduled to kick in Oct. 1. Fees are a hot topic in my neck of the woods, with some industry apologists spinning the absurd argument that junk fees such as the ones I ran into are good for consumers, because it gives them choices.
Ric Vesely knows about the car rental industry’s double standards. When he returned his Dollar Rent a Car vehicle in Minneapolis recently, an employee asked him a strange question: Did he have a receipt for his gasoline purchase?
Vesely, an engineer who was visiting from Colorado, hadn’t bought Dollar’s pricey fuel-purchase option, agreeing instead to return the vehicle with a full tank. He said he didn’t have a receipt, but that it didn’t matter — the needle on the gas gauge pointed to “full.”
Answer: When the car rental agent checked your tank and offered you a receipt, you shouldn’t have been charged extra. But if Alamo decided you owed it money, the least it could have done was to let you know — not find out when you checked your credit card bill.