IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Forced to upgrade my rental car

The rental car that Earnest Hoenck reserves from Hertz isn’t available when he arrives in Hamburg, Germany. He’s offered two choices: A smaller car that won’t fit his luggage, or a bigger car for an extra 10 euros a day. He picks the big car, but when he returns the rental, he finds that his bill is even bigger than he expected. What can he do?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: I’m having some trouble with my car rental bill, and hope you can help me. I recently reserved a midsize car for about a month through the Hertz Web site. I was offered a rate of 946 euros. But when my wife and I arrived at the rental counter in Hamburg, Germany, an agent told me that the car wasn’t available.

We were offered a smaller car at a reduced rate or a bigger car for an extra 10 euros per day. I asked why the larger car was not given as a complimentary upgrade, since the car I reserved was not available, and was told that the upgraded car was in the “wrong class” and wouldn’t be an option.

Because cost was a concern for us, we opted for the smaller car. But our luggage wouldn’t fit in the trunk, so we returned to the office and asked if we could come back later to pick up the car we had requested. The agent said “no.”

I had no choice but to take the larger car at 10 euros more per day. In the end, my rate seemed even higher than the one I had agreed to pay — it came to an extra 357 euros. It was a terrible start for our vacation, and I feel as if the sales person used a bait and switch tactic to make us pay more.

I have rented from Hertz many times and I have come to expect a much higher level of service from the company than I received. I contacted Hertz and was offered half of the money back, but I think they should refund the entire 357 euros. What do you think?
— Earnest Hoenck, Charleston, S.C.

A: I think Hertz shouldn’t have charged you 357 euros in the first place. It should have handed you the keys to the car you reserved or offered an upgrade at no additional charge.

You were correct when you pointed out that when a vehicle you reserved isn’t available, the car rental company should give you a car in the next available class at no extra charge. That’s a standard industry practice.

When you started getting a string of denials from the agent, you should have asked to speak with a manager. A supervisor would have probably known that the agent was out of line, and that you were entitled to a free upgrade. Certainly, a manager would have known that your offer to return later and pick up the car was entirely acceptable.

If that hadn’t worked — sometimes managers will “support” their agents even when they’ve made a bad decision — then you should have called the corporate office and explained your situation. A trained phone agent would have been able to fix the problem on the spot.

Booking directly through the Hertz site was not a mistake. You probably found an excellent rate. But if you had used a travel agent, you would have had one other person to turn to in order to resolve your problem or act as your advocate when you were overcharged for your rental.

All of these things could have been caught and fixed by a well-trained customer service representative answering your e-mail query. But that didn’t happen, either. You might have tried appealing to someone at a higher level at Hertz or to a supervisor in Hamburg (I publish a list of these e-mail addresses and contacts on my site.

I asked Hertz to take another look at your rental record. It found that the agent in Hamburg was “aggressive” when you were renting your car, according to Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera. The employee, “did not adhere to our policy of providing a complimentary upgrade if the car reserved is not available.” Hertz also failed to fully investigate your complaint. It has issued a 357 euro refund.

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