Even Jerry Seinfeld had an issue with a rental car company overbooking. Remember this episode?
Jerry: I don’t understand. Do you have my reservation?
Rental Car Agent: We have your reservation, we just ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Rental Car Agent: I think I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. You see, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.
Unfortunately, there are no federal laws that require that a car rental company honor a reservation. In addition, the rental car company’s terms and conditions may clearly spell out that it is not a contract so you may have no legal recourse, either. For example, Hertz states, “Hertz does not charge for confirmed and standby reservations for non-prepaid rental transactions, and those types of reservations do not commit you to make the associated rental. Because of that, confirmed and standby reservations for non-prepaid rental transactions are not intended to give you any contractual or other legal right to compel Hertz or any Hertz licensee to enter into a rental transaction.” In other words, unless you have a prepaid or guaranteed reservation, they don’t have to rent a car to you even with a confirmed reservation. Alamo’s policy states, “Alamo may refuse to accept or may cancel any reservation or transaction, whether or not the reservation or transaction has been confirmed, for any or no reason, in our sole discretion, and without liability to you or any third party.” Enterprise states the exact same, “Enterprise may refuse to accept or may cancel any reservation or transaction, whether or not the reservation or transaction has been confirmed, for any or no reason, in our sole discretion, and without liability to you or any third party.”
How can you protect yourself? Just like with airlines and hotels, it can be to your advantage to belong to the rental car company’s loyalty program and to be loyal. Some rental car companies have different terms and conditions for rentals of their loyalty program members that may guarantee a car. In addition, be sure to show up on time for your rental. If there is a reason that you cannot be on time, call the rental car company to inform them. Otherwise, they may have a policy to give your car to someone else after a specified period of time. Also, check to see if you can get a guaranteed reservation. Many prepaid rentals are guaranteed instead of just confirmed, but be sure to understand the terms and conditions. Usually, while the rental car company guarantees a prepaid reservation, it also means that you can’t cancel the reservation without losing your prepayment. Finally, rent from larger, more popular locations. Even though one has to pay extra to rent a car from an airport location, those locations also tend to have the most cars available so are the least likely to run out of cars or your car class.
If you do get to your rental car location and your car isn’t available, ask politely what they can do for you. If it’s just your car class that isn’t available, you may be in luck with a free upgrade to a better car class. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen that go another way. I know of someone who rented a large SUV and ended up with a midsize sedan, which doesn’t work if you’re transporting a lot of people and luggage. Some rental car companies will have you rent from another company and submit a receipt to them to be reimbursed for the difference. I have also heard of rental car companies providing transportation to a hotel and return transportation to the pickup counter to pick up a car when it was available later that day or the next day. One time, I was able to wait at the rental car company while they went to another company location to get a car for me. It was about a 30-minute wait, but I ended up with the car class I rented. As much as I travel, I have yet to have a rental car company leave me completely without a car.
Check out these other posts on overbooking issues: