By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/18/2008 12:08:41 PM ET 2008-11-18T17:08:41
travel troubleshooter

Q: I have a question about late charges on a rental. I recently booked a car through Hertz to drive my family to San Diego for the holiday weekend. Two weeks after I returned the rental, I discovered an additional $66 charge from the company.

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I called Hertz to find out why they had increased my bill, and was told that I had brought my car back two hours late. That's true. My son had gotten sick on the trip, and we made multiple stops along the highway.

A representative suggested that I appeal the decision to Hertz in writing. But before I do, I wanted to know if you think they will take care of this, considering that it was something beyond my control. — Larry Chan, Danville, Calif.

A: I think charging for an extra day when you were only two hours late is a little excessive. But not Hertz.

According to its terms, which you signed when you rented the car, if a car is returned beyond the expected return time, "extra days will be charged based on the prevailing local rate." In other words, two hours equals an extra day in Hertz math.

The company allows for a little wiggle room, though. If you're within a half-hour window, it'll let you slide. But if you exceed it, you'll probably see an extra charge somewhere down the road.

Here's my problem with the late fee structure: It isn't uncommon for car rental customers to wait a half-hour or an hour before their car is ready. But most of us wouldn't imagine asking for a discount, upgrade or a free day when that happens.

They hand us the keys; we say, "thank you."

For a car rental company to charge you an extra day when the tables are turned just seems wrong. But that aside, I think you could have done a few things differently when you were done with your rental car.

If you knew you were late, why not ask about possible charges? One of the car rental industry's latest tricks is to not mention extras when you return the vehicle to avoid a confrontation. It's up to you to ask about them.

If you knew you were late, you should have spoken up. A manager could have overridden the system and offered assurances that you wouldn't be billed any more.

Given your circumstances — having a sick child in the car — I think Hertz would have been more than accommodating. I recommended that you write a letter to the company, politely asking it to reconsider its decision to bill you for an extra day. Hertz charged you for two extra hours, which effectively cut your rate in half.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations” on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at

© 2008 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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