Am I Buying This Car? Paying $3,000 Too Much For A Rental

Written by Charlie

I had written last month about the offers from rental car companies to drive their cars out of Florida at a reduced rate. By far, the best deal from the companies came from National since they allowed rentals of up to 21 days and you could return it anywhere outside of Florida (other places had restricted return locations).

I needed a car for a few weeks while I was in the US and the regular things I do to find cheap rental car rates was not working. That left me with running the numbers on the value of renting a car from Florida and driving it up here. After coupons and elite discount, the rental came to $208 for 3 weeks and the gas was going to be just around $100 for the trip up. I used some miles to fly down, pick it up, and bring it up.

The problem came with the pick-up and return times. Rental car companies can get funny about pick-up times. Depending on how you booked the car (through different sites, programs, whatever), you can actually lose the rental if you show up too late to pick it up. On the flip side, if you show up too early, you can also be told that you cannot pick it up. I had reserved the car for a particular time because that is when I thought I would be coming in. I changed my flight the week before and modifying the rental would have jacked the price so I just left it as is. I did call National to ask them if it would be ok to pick up a couple of hours early as long as I still returned it within the total 21 days (which is how long I was keeping it). I knew it would be ok but I wanted the note that it would be ok in my account.

Rental car

Fast forward to picking up the car. I had rented a full-size (mid-size and full-size were the same price) and, as a National Emerald Executive club member, renting one of those sizes allowed me to take my pick from the Executive aisle. I really wanted a mini-van but the rental cost was much higher for one so I just hoped that there would be one in the Executive aisle. Sure enough, there were a couple but you should have seen the people all rushing to get the good vehicles! It was like a game of musical chairs with rental cars since it is first-come-first-served. People would grab a car, throw a bag in the front seat and then get out to look down the row to see if anything else caught their eye.

For my part, I found a nice Chrysler Town&Country and put my stuff in. Thanks to the previous trip we had made in it, I knew I could get around 28-29 mpg so the increase in gas cost would not be that much to drive it up (ended up with 28mpg – a long way from the vans of old!). I started driving to go out of the area and gave the vehicle card, driver’s license, and credit card to the agent at the gate. She processed me out and I was good to go.

As I drove away, I received an e-mail from American Express that I had crossed a preset spending warning limit. That puzzled me because rental companies do put a hold on your credit card but that does not get processed as a charge and there was no way it was going to be as high as my preset. I stopped and checked and saw that I had been charged $3,000 for my rental! That two hours was what bit me and went from the promotional rate to monthly rate. I called in and they said they did see the note on the account and I should be fine when I dropped it off in Rochester after the three weeks (if it was indeed dropped off within the actual 21 day period). I do not know about you but I did not want to be driving around for three weeks with a $3,000 rental charge that I may have to really argue and fight about later. Instead, I turned around and went back.

After a few minutes and two very nice ladies, it got sorted out and I was given the correct amount. But, there are a couple of things that it reminded me to do if I was in that position again (I do admit that it was my mistake that got me to this point!):

  • Get it taken care of right away – I do not care what reps on the phone say, get it taken care of before you leave. It will save a lot of headaches later and it is easier to make up for a mistake in a couple of hours right away than doing it weeks later (or days, depending on the rental period).
  • Check the receipt! – I know, that was my first problem. I should have checked my receipt right away but since the agent did not give any indication that there was a high amount and different from my initial rate, I did not even think about it.
  • Do not use the full rental period for the reservation – this was stupid of me, I should have put the return at 6AM (which is when I am returning it) instead of trying to max out the period. If you put a time that is earlier than the rate quote you received, you still have up to that time to return. For instance, I was picking up at 9:30AM. I could have put my return at 6AM and still been able to return until 9:30AM because what I paid for was a 21 day rate that goes up until 9:30AM.

It certainly felt like I was putting a down-payment down on this vehicle but fortunately it worked out! Have you had a similar experience?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.