Years ago, renting a car was a relatively pleasant experience. There were rules, of course, but they were relatively painless. Case in point, you could make a reservation to rent a car and just not show up without penalty. For the most part, those days are over.
Years ago, you could return your rental car early and either get refunded for the day(s) you didn’t use, or pay a small penalty. That may still be the case some of the time, but a California man recently returned his rental car one day early and was slapped with an extra $500 fee, on top of what he charged for the rental.
Pasadena resident Marc Schiler had a car rental in Switzerland for 2 weeks. His rental company was Budget (bet you thought I was going to say Hertz, didn’t you? Budget isn’t even owned by Hertz; it’s owned by Avis. Go figure). His plans changed partway through the trip, and he wound up returning the car a day earlier than originally planned.
Of course, nowadays when you return a rental car, you barely see anybody. You give someone the keys, take your bags out of the trunk, and they email you your receipt. The thing is, when Schiler got his receipt, it was $500 more than he anticipated for returning it one day early.
Of course, weekly rental rates are cheaper than daily rates. Let’s use a 2-week reservation with Budget out of Zurich Airport from Nov. 8 through 22:
The prices for that rental vary as follows:
- $389.60 – Economy manual ($55/day)
- $399.62 – Compact manual
- $407.78 – Compact
- $452.12 – Compact wagon manual
- $456.56 – Intermediate
- $459.56 – Intermediate manual
- $493.08 – Standard
- $524.72 – Standard SUV manual
- $688.66 – Premium
- 826.40 – Luxury
- $880.04 – Full-size van
- $1,007.30 – Luxury wagon ($143.90/day)
If you only rent for 1 day though, the prices vary from $24.81 per day for an Economy manual car (less than half than the average daily rate for a weeklong rental) to $151.88 for a Luxury wagon (barely $8/day less. Woo hoo!).
Without knowing what class car Schiler had rented, it appeared that when he returned the car one day early, Budget bumped him from a “weekly rate” to a “daily rate” for 6 days – a VERY expensive bump.
Local Pasadena NBC affiliate “helpers,” I-Team, contacted Budget. They, in turn, refunded Schiler the $500 but refused to respond to any of I-Team’s questions.
Here’s what Budget’s rental terms say about “Return of the Car” (boldface is ours, for emphasis):
You agree to return the car to us in the same condition you received it, ordinary wear and tear excepted, on the date, at the time and to the location specified in the Rental Contract. You must return it sooner on our demand. If you return it earlier or later, a different or higher rental rate may apply and, if returned later, you may also be charged a late return fee. You may not return the car outside of the return location’s operating hours unless specifically allowed by that location. If you do, your responsibility for damage to or loss of the car will continue and all charges stated on the Rental Contract as a periodic rate will continue to accrue until the return location reopens and we process the return of the car. Operating hours vary by location. If we do not find the car when that location opens, your responsibility for all charges and for damage to or loss of the car will continue until the car is actually returned or recovered. If you wish to extend any rental you must contact us at 1-888-897-8448 or use a method we approve to request the extension before your return date. We may or may not grant an extension or decline to grant it for the entire period you request, in our sole discretion. If you do not return the car to the location specified in the Rental Agreement, as and when required under the Rental Agreement, you may be subject to criminal penalties. If we do grant an extension a different or higher rate may be applied to the extension period and a service fee may also apply.
This is most likely what happened to Schiler.
What about other car rental companies?
Most are about the same, according to their respective rental terms:
Any alterations to your initial rental car reservation could result in a different or higher rental rate. It’s best to contact your specific Avis return location to ask about their policy.
Early Return Fee: Applies if you did not prepay your rental charges and returned the vehicle more than 24 hours early before the return time indicated in your rental agreement. You will only pay for the days used, but there will be a $25 charge to compensate us in part for our inability to rent your vehicle during the remaining time reserved for your use.
At Enterprise, we do not charge customers more for returning a car early, and you will only be charged for the days you had the vehicle (excluding prepaid reservations).
Where you have selected a pay later rate, committed to a rental term and then brought the vehicle back early we will recalculate the cost of the rental at the rates current at the time of return. You will only pay for the days used but the recalculation may result in an increased or decreased overall price.
In addition reserve the right to make an Early Return Charge to compensate us in part for our inability to rent your vehicle during the remaining time reserved for your use.
If you return the vehicle before the original return date (early return), you will not be refunded any portion of the payment. Retain your reservation confirmation number as it is necessary for modification or cancellation refund requests.
You can return your SIXT + car at any time. Returning a vehicle to the Sixt station selected in the application at, or prior to, the time and dated stated as the “due in” time on your applicable rental agreement. Return of the vehicle will be deemed to be a termination of the existing contract.
Yes, you will be charged for each hour or part of an hour in excess of the time you were required to return the vehicle.
In addition, in order to ensure that your car is ready and waiting for you, Thrifty has introduced Change Fees that will reduce last-minute disruptions to vehicle planning.
- Early Return Fee: Applies if you did not prepay your rental charges and returned the vehicle more than 24 hours early before the return time indicated in your rental agreement. You will only pay for the days used, but there will be a $25 charge to partially compensate Thrifty for our inability to rent your vehicle during the remaining time reserved for your use. You can reduce the fee paid by calling the On-Rent Help Desk at 1-877-283-0898 to update the date and time of your return.
Travel expert Christopher Elliott was quoted by the NBC affiliate as calling these sorts of bills for early return, “one of the oldest car rental tricks in the books.”
“They are well within their right to recalculate their rate if you’re returning the vehicle early. But as a practical matter, there’s just the logic of it that doesn’t seem right,” Elliott said
He continued by recommending that if you plan to return a car earlier than originally intended, to speak to the manager and ask if they’ll honor the price that was originally agreed upon.
Schiler says he’ll do that next time.
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