Q: We recently booked a rental car for 10 days through Alamo.com. Unfortunately, my husband’s grandmother passed away while we were on vacation and we had to come home three days early.
A few days after our return, I discovered my credit card had been charged more than triple the price that Alamo had originally quoted us. The early-return policy on Alamo’s Web site says something about a fee of $15 per day for early returns, but our weekly rate was raised from $152 to $513.
My husband and I were not made aware of the higher charge when we returned the car. We did not authorize it or sign a receipt agreeing to pay that amount.
Alamo claims that we broke our contract when we returned the car early, but I feel this is a classic case of bait and switch. Do I have any recourse in this matter?
– Molly Reinhardt, Kawkawlin, Mich.
A: Raising your weekly rate by $361 because you returned your car three days early makes no sense. If anything, Alamo should be offering you a refund for bringing one of its vehicles back early, thereby allowing the company to rent the car to someone else.
But that’s not the way it works. Two years ago, Alamo made a small but significant change to its return policy. Not only would it apply a $15-per-day early-return fee, but it would also recalculate your rate, charging you the same price that walk-up customers pay to rent a car without prior reservation. In other words, you would owe Alamo the penalty plus the rate difference, which in your case is an extra $361.
The Alamo policy is similar to airline rules. A fare booked two weeks in advance is almost always cheaper than a walk-up fare, but if you change your plans, you’re subject to a rebooking fee.
You could have prevented this excessive surcharge by carefully reading the terms of your rental contract and asking about the early-return fee when you made plans to go home early. If you had asked, you might have been able to explain your situation to a manager, who would almost certainly have adjusted your rate in a more compassionate way.
I contacted Alamo on your behalf. Regina Barr, a senior customer services manager, said that under the circumstances, Alamo would honor the original weekly rate. The company has issued a refund.