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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Budget adds $14 to your rental, calls it a service

This weekend I rented a car with Budget. I declined their fuel service option since I knew I was driving a relatively short distance, and there are plenty of gas stations near the rental station. I could easily fill the tank. Since I am a member of their RapidRez program, I didn't need to go in to the office; I picked up my paperwork literally on the way out of the airport parking lot, put it aside, and drove to the city.

Sunday night I paid $8 to fill the gas tank, and returned the car. Some rental facilities give you a bill as you drop off the vehicle, but at this location I was directed to the office, where I picked up the paperwork. I looked it over quickly and noticed a $14 fee. (Okay, it was a $13.99 fee but the only two groups of people who suggest those numbers are unequal are marketers and mathematicians.) I asked the agent about the fee, and I was pointed to a small sign regarding their new policy:
EZ Fuel
If you drive fewer than 75 miles, save time and do not refill the tank. Budget will automatically add a charge to the rental for fuel. If you do refill the tank, simply present a receipt and Budget will remove the charge.
Their website has a small write-up about the EZ Fuel option.

Apparently I was given a piece of paper regarding this policy when I left the parking lot. But I wasn't asked to sign anything, nor was I aware of it when I handed the forms to my passenger and drove off the lot. I explained to the agent that I filled the tank, but could not find the receipt. The agent insisted I was still responsible for the charge. I told the agent that there was no way I was paying for this. The agent insisted I was liable without the receipt. I stood my ground. I repeatedly pointed to the slip of paper provided by the person who collected my car that indicated a) no damage and b) a full tank of gas. It was only when I asked to speak with the manager that they removed the fee.

There are so many things I dislike about this fee: this article, suggests they're banking on your unwillingness to argue for the refund. They're hoping you run for the shuttle, or not even notice. I wonder if the typical profile of an airport renter who drives less than 75 miles is the businessperson in for the day, people who are seriously counting minutes. I, too, would have not argued for a refund if I returned the car as originally planned Monday morning 9AM, instead of Sunday 11:55PM when I was the sole customer in the office.

I can imagine they want to recoup costs for their one-gallon consumers. Here's a solution: raise your rates. Of course, they won't; they want to maintain their competitive advertised rates, in the same way airlines charge for meals. Here's another idea: charge a sliding scale based on the vehicle's fuel efficiency. They won't do that either: it's easy to have a flat fee, and it will encourage customers to rent the more fuel efficient cars, for which they charge less. OK, here's another idea: stop relying on mediocre analog fuel gauges for your measurements. That also has problems. Here's another: don't make me come to your office to get a receipt.

So is it worth ensuring I drive more than 75 miles just to avoid the fee? At $3 per gallon, a car that gets 16 miles to the gallon will need $14 of fuel to travel 75 miles. What's the right strategy to execute when driving to an airport in an unfamiliar location when your odometer reads 73.5 miles?

I've only used Budget because they provide a RapidRez card to my company's employees. It's not worth this. Even though I am certain to drive 300 miles when I return to Los Angeles in January, I'm going with Enterprise.


KevinKevin said...

This happens with ALL rental companies. There was one time that I rented a compact car and the company offered a service in which I don't need to fill up the tank when I return the car-- they'd fill it up the tank for market price of unleaded gas (around $2.50/gallon at the time). Since it was in fact market price, I said sure, let me sign up for the service.

I returned the compact car with 1/2 full tank. The capacity of that compact was about 10 gallons (I looked it up), so I figured they'll simply add 5 gallons at most, or ~$12.50. When I got back home and checked with them, they added about $20.00. It turns out that they did use market price ($2.50) but claimed over EIGHT whopping gallons refill. TOTAL BS.

You know, you can switch from one rental company to another. But in the end, they're all very similar.

jeremyosborne said...

Watch out for Enterprise. They lied to my wife and checked the box for insurance when she verbally declined it. Lots of enterprise horror stories out there.

And my catpcha image is "bravular."

Robert Konigsberg said...

Kevin, jeremy, you have good points. I'm just surprised at the number of issues I've had with Budget recently, compared to the distinct lack of issues I've had with the others. Naive?