Car Rental Travel Tips

Something to be Aware of if You’re Booking a Rental Car

Photo credit: Atomic Taco / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Atomic Taco / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This week, my aunt and cousin are visiting from Germany. When you’re staying with family and part of such a big clan, it’s often tough to get around and do the tourist thing. So today, my cousin decided he was going to rent a car and go to San Francisco for a day or two. He wanted a rental car so he wouldn’t have to worry about who’s car he’s driving, whether he’s covered under the insurance plan, etc. I searched on Kayak and booked him an economy car from Hertz.

We drive to Hertz and the only employee working there is on the phone with what appears to be an angry customer. He looks tired and “over it” if you can imagine what that looks like. He hangs up and tells us, “If you’re here for a rental car, I’ve got zero cars on the lot.” I tell him I have a reservation and he responds with, “So do the 17 other people I’ve been calling all afternoon.” He holds up a piece of paper with names and phone numbers to emphasize his point. I ask why Hertz was accepting reservations if there were no cars left and he says, “It’s Hertz Oklahoma. They’re clueless about our inventory.”

We leave and drive a block over to Enterprise, which I also remember seeing availability for that morning. We go inside and there’s a customer on the phone with somebody, complaining about how he came “all the way out here” for a rental car and they told him his reservation had been cancelled, and how he wished he’d been notified ahead of time. Hoping this was more of an issue with the type of car he wanted, I walked up to the desk and asked the rep if they had anything. Yes, they do but that car is going to be driven off the lot shortly. If we cone back at 4 PM, they should have a car ready for us.

Next, I call Avis and they tell me they’ve only got an SUV. It’s kind of strange that all these rental agencies in the suburbs are out of cars on a Wednesday, but I keep trying and call Budget next. They tell me they’ve got two cars and I head out to the location, which was thankfully not too far. Oddly, Budget and Avis were not only in the same building, but they shared a desk! You would think the Avis rep would have saved me the trouble and said, “We don’t have anything, but let me ask my colleague at Budget who’s sitting right next to me.” I can’t stand the car rental industry.

Anyway, we picked up the car and the ordeal was over. What I find annoying is that Hertz continued to take reservations even though they were way overbooked. Even Enterprise was showing availability online despite having no cars available. So if you’re ever booking a rental car at the last minute, I would highly suggest you call the agency right after your booking and make sure they have cars available. It would be awful if you were flying into another city, thinking your rental car was taken car of, took a shuttle to the rental office, and found out they had nothing available. Even if you’re booking way in advance, give them a call before you arrive and make sure they have availability.

Has something like this ever happened to you? What was the outcome?

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  1. Similar thing happened to us in Maui 2 weeks ago (but not as bad). We reserved the Nissan Ultima 5 months in advance and we go there and there are no Ultimas left. What? Why did I make a reservation. They did upgrade us at no charge to a Chrysler 300 (which we liked)….but I guess I don’t understand. We got to Kona last week and it took 1 1/2 hours to get our car…everyone was complaining. They need a better inventory system. I would rather be told no in advance, than to show up and be told no.

    • PointChaser

      It’s worse when it happens during your travels. You hit the nail on the head: They need to keep better track of inventory and let customers know ahead of time.

      • While your post may reveal extenuating circumstances that mean the rental car companies are responsible, what makes it very difficult for rental companies to keep better track of their inventory is lack of customer accountability. There is no penalty for no-showing a reservation. I say this as a customer who booked a car on Monday at Hertz ORD and never showed up to get it until 12 hours later when their website was showing sold-out of cars. Fortunately they were able to find something for me. But my negligence and irresponsibility would not have been tolerated in the hotel industry (which has a good, neutral policy on inventory and reservations in general with a small discount offered for non-refundable) or the airline industry (which has a policy tilted against the customer and common-sense with most tickets being non-refundable). Either of those policies would allow for rental car companies to keep better track of their inventory. However, the first rental car company to switch to that would be hurt majorly in sales. And so as always, they play lemming follow the leader and stay as they are. And it hurts both the companies and the customers.

        • PointChaser

          There needs to be better communication between the branch and the reservations department, so reservations aren’t pouring in when there are no cars. In Hertz’s case, they were actually calling customers to let them know they were sold out, but Enterprise was sitting around, waiting for customers to walk in. It doesn’t make me feel safe as a consumer that I may book a car in a foreign city, but there the rental car company may not have one when I arrive, possibly leaving me stranded as a result. At least hotels will arrange accommodations elsewhere. Rental car companies need to get it together in general.

    • Didn’t know you could reserve an exact type of car, just thought it was economy vs compact vs luxury, etc. Thought the agency was off the hook as long as they gave you a car in that class or higher. I’m sure you can request a specific car at the counter but didn’t know you could reserve one in advance?

  2. timeforsomecheese

    Yep! familiar with this nonsense at Hertz. Best part was that I was on the phone with the local Hertz agent (in the burbs), telling him all the cars the website said he had, and in reality, he had NONE. This is completely unacceptable if you ask me, and Hertz should fix this issue. Huge lack of customer service with this issue looming over every reservation!

    • PointChaser

      I didn’t realize this until now, but there is a very popular hashtag #hertzfail where people complain about their experience with the company. The rental car industry seems to be the only one where a 1-star customer rating is acceptable.

  3. “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.”

  4. I think this has been going on for a while…

  5. Yes, last month I flew to JFK and rented a standard size car with Dollar. The agent said go to the lot and pick any car in the standard size row. Only problem no cars. Choice of a large van or a subcompact (no reduction in rate if I chose the subcompact.)
    They had two premium cars, a Prius and a Hyundai Genesis. Ended up with the Prius. There are always some cars, but not the ones you want. Never known to be completely out of cars.

  6. Similar with dollars toronto airport. Booked online. At. The time of pick up. The rep tells me they have no full size sedan I booked & asks me to check with hertz. Hertz tells me they only got a van. Went back to dollars and I complained about the run around. Finally gets me a midsize. The drop off was at Buffalo NY airport. I dropped off and explained to the hertz rentals in Buffalo
    3 days later, I get a call from dollars and asks me where the car is at
    I told them I dropped off in Buffalo with hertz and that was the rental I booked. I complained about the whole nonsense with dollars on phone and with bbb..The dollars senior phone rep sent me $30 voucher and bbb complaint resulted in $30 credit

  7. When we were in Costa Rica over Christmas break we had to fight with the rental car agency for 4 hours to get a car that we had reserved 6 months prior. So frustrating – not the way that I wanted to start my vacation.

  8. I worked at a rental car company for a few years. i’ll let you in on a secret, when you reserve a rental car your not actually “reserving” anything at all. Your basically just letting them know that your coming. they aren’t actually setting aside a car for you. They really shouldn’t call them reservations. The car rental places are going to rent a car sitting on their lot to anyone who walks in. You should still make a reservation because they do try to move cars around to get inventory, and reservations help them know what the demand will be. But call ahead of time to make sure your not stuck somewhere

  9. The situation in the car rental market has changed dramatically. Look at the new services.

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