What To Do When Car Rental Reservations Aren’t Honored

On the morning of September 12, 2015, I learned of an event that I needed to attend that night. I drive an older car that had some issues, but it would have most likely gotten me to my destination and back without any problem.

I checked Enterprise.com and found a weekend special rate ($9.99 per day), low enough to convinced me not to risk the 30-minute highway drive that night. Their online reservation system showed several locations that had cars available at that rate. I previously had mostly positive experiences with Enterprise and reserved an economy-sized car around 11 am for pickup at 12 noon. I had a 1 pm appointment a few minutes away from the Enterprise location.

I had my wife to stop what she was doing, so she could drive me to Enterprise at 2233 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO. We arrived around 12:10 pm and I was told they were out of economy cars, but that they could put me in a standard-sized car for an additional amount.

I declined to pay an additional amount; the low rate was the primary reason I chose to rent another car in the first place. I asked about being accommodated with the standard vehicle at my reservation rate and explained that's what happened other times. I was told that Enterprise's online system always allows reservations even when there are no cars available. The agent stated since I had made my reservation an hour prior to renting, they didn't have a chance to call me and explain they were out of economy cars.

For about 20-30 minutes, I had to debate why I should not be required to pay an additional amount of money because of their system limitations or flaws. Finally, the agent agreed to honor the rental rate, but the time delay caused me to be late for my appointment. I felt like a victim of bait and switch. I did not appreciate having to waste my time explaining what should have been an automatic courtesy.

This practice is most likely illegal; a violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act – RSMO Sections 407.010, 407.730, 407.732407.748, which provide consumers with a means to seek relief for deceptive and unfair practices. Contact the Missouri Attorney General's office to file complaints if you experience car rental violations.

Broken Promise

I was offered an unsolicited accommodation as compensation for my negative experience, however, that accommodation was withdrawn as soon as I tried to redeem it.

Long story short, a manager trainee made the offer, but the branch manager told me she was unable to provide the accommodation. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I hadn't even asked for anything, but once the promise was made, I relied upon it, which ended up causing embarrassment because I had offered my accommodation to someone else who had accepted it, then I was forced to withdraw my offer which caused me to seem unreliable and foolish.

The branch manager instead offered me a refund of my rental fees or a future discount on a future rental. I did not accept either offer. As I had stated earlier, with the exception of this incident, Enterprise provided good service.

When I was a manager in the transportation industry years ago, I was responsible for our company switching to Enterprise Truck Rentals almost exclusively over Penske, Budget, and Ryder because the customer service was outstanding.

Once Enterprise had made good on their promise, I had originally decided to redact their name from this page and replace it generically with "a car rental company". However, since Enterprise is the largest car rental company in the U.S. and the parent company of both National and Alamo; I now believe this page will be more helpful if people realize this wasn't some small or fly-by-night type operation.

I've rented a lot of cars from many different companies and this rental was by far my worst experience.

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Update: 5-24-2016

On Friday, May 20, 2016, I rented another vehicle from the same Enterprise location. This was my first rental since the September 2015 episode. As mentioned above, I drive an older vehicle, (16 years old) and my license plates expire in July. Rather than spend any money to make sure it passes safety and emission inspections, I decided to search for a new one.

Since I usually purchase vehicles from private owners, which usually requires driving some distance to find a great deal, I decided to take advantage of Enterprise's $9.99-weekend special, which usually begins the weekend after Labor Day in September and ends the weekend before Memorial Day in May. 

I made my reservation online Tuesday, May 17th at Enterprise.com. I phoned Friday to inquire about a pickup and was disappointed when I was told that location was no longer participating in the $9.99-weekend special. I was shocked, especially considering my previous experience. I explained that my reservation was made on their website and that my confirmed reservation was a contract and I expected to be accommodated at the contracted price. After arguing the point a few times, I asked to speak with a manager. A few moments later I was told the reservation would be honored, but that it would be at least two hours before they could pick me up. I replied I would make it there on my own.

A few moments later Enterprise phoned to explain they were out of cars and asked if I could wait at least an hour before coming. I picked up my vehicle about two hours later, with no further incident.

I found a very well-maintained one-owner high mileage vehicle in great condition inside and out and well below book value. The owner already had the vehicle state inspected and had even filled up the gas tank before I arrived. Minutes after purchasing the vehicle, I went to the DMV, paid the sales tax and license fees, and received my plates and stickers.

When I returned the vehicle on Monday, I was quoted a total price of $58 instead of $34 per my rental agreement, because allegedly I had gone over my miles. I made note of the mileage just prior to returning the vehicle, so I knew I had not gone over. The agent explained the proper mileage credit had not been entered when I picked up the vehicle, he made the adjustment and I was charged the amount shown on the contract. 

I was offered a coupon for a future $9.99-weekend rental which I accepted. I will rent from Enterprise again, but I will pay close attention to the details. Although I experienced some unexpected issues, I was satisfied with the overall experience and outcome. 

I will also continue making my reservations online. Once I receive my confirmation, I will fully expect that agreement to be honored. If there is an error with the reservation system, the customer should not be the one who suffers. Accommodate the customer, then have someone fix the glitch. 

As a former airline employee, I've rented cars all over the United States and in other countries. Enterprise acquired Vanguard Automotive Group, the parent company of National Car Rental and Alamo Rent a Car in 2007, and is now the largest car rental company in the United States. In many areas, Enterprise, Alamo, or National will have the lowest rates, so if you're price sensitive, it will be difficult to avoid them. When traveling to Florida and California, I was often able to find the cheapest rates at smaller car rental companies such as Fox or Advantage.

Update 12-11-2016

I made a $9.99-weekend special reservation for my parents the weekend of December 2th-5th because their car was being repaired. My parents, although in their 80s, are very active socially and are frequently on the move. We arrived at the 2233 Washington Enterprise around 9:30 am and they honored the online reservation with no issue. They were out of economy and compact sized vehicles and instead automatically offered us an upgraded vehicle, a mini SUV. My 88-year-old father is disabled and needed a vehicle with a lower height profile. He would have had a problem entering and exiting the SUV because it was so high off the ground. Enterprise graciously phoned their other downtown location, 315 Chestnut, located in the Hyatt Hotel (formerly the Adams Mark). They did have a smaller vehicle and that location honored our reservation.  

This is the sort of service that I expect and had previously always received from Enterprise locations all over the country. If you don't complain and accept substandard service, that is exactly what you will receive. Most reputable companies will try to correct issues once they have been made aware. The next time you receive sub-par goods or services, let someone with the proper authority know that you are not satisfied. 

Car Rental Legal Information

Car rental reservations are legally binding contracts that are enforceable in court or small claims court.

Reasonable extra expenses incurred because of a car rental company's failure to honor reservations should be reimbursed and companies can be held legally responsible for taxi fares, the difference between the reservation rate and the replacement option, and other expenses incurred related to their failure to honor your contract.

Renting a Car: Know some basic information about renting a car before you appear at the rental counter. – Nolo Legal

Renting a Car | Consumer Information – Federal Trade Commission

Adding Extra Fees: What’s The Law? – AutoRental News

Enterprise – A Car Rental Experience From Hell – Do Not Rent List – Court.rchp.com (8-24-2021)

Helpful Car Rental Information and Articles

For additional information about car rentals see the following  articles:

What To Do When Car Rental Reservations Aren't Honored – Huffington Post

How to Avoid Unnecessary Rental Car Fees – Kiplinger

Buck the trend of car-rental surprises – Consumer Reports

Forced Rental Car Upsells? – View from the Wing

Don’t Let Car Rental Companies Take Your for a Ride – Scambusters

6 secrets car rental companies don’t want you to know

U.S. Senate Passes Rental Car Safety Bill – Consumer Council of Missouri

Put the power of the law in your hands