Travel Troubleshooter: Customer surprised by 'extra driver' fee

01/08/2012 12:00 AM

01/06/2012 11:53 AM

Q: We rented a car for our monthlong vacation in Baltimore through Dollar Rent-A-Car recently. I was quoted a rate of $872 for an economy car.

When we arrived at the counter, we were told they didn't have any economy cars but that they would give us a midsize car. Even though the gas mileage would be worse than we had planned, we grudgingly accepted.

Next, they announced that there would be a $10 per day additional driver fee for my wife to be listed as a driver. The fee hadn't been disclosed to us when we booked the car.

We generally share the driving responsibilities on our vacations. We had reserved the car for 28 days. That was going to be $280 we hadn't planned on! We protested and argued. They wouldn't budge.

We felt "had" on both counts – car size and fee.

After a few days, we called Dollar and told them we wanted the car we originally reserved and didn't want to pay the additional driver fee. They agreed and arranged for us to exchange our car in Philadelphia, which we did. Dollar agreed to remove the additional driver fee from the new rental.

You can imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were charged the fee, anyway. We found out about it only at the last minute, as we tried to catch our flight home. We didn't have time to argue.

Is there any way to have this bill reduced by the $180 we believe we were overcharged?

– Bayard Allmond, Berkeley A: Dollar should have told you about the additional driver fee up front, so you could have made an informed decision about your rental.

It's highly unusual for a car rental company to charge an extra-driver fee for a spouse, but such a surcharge isn't illegal.

It is something of a money grab, though. Does it cost the car rental company more if your wife, brother or son drives your rental? No. Will your car insurance cover damage to the vehicle if it's damaged? Check with your insurance company, but I've never heard of an "extra driver" fee having any relevance in a claim that involves a driver's insurance company.

Some car rental companies will allow spouses to drive a rental at no extra charge. But what does marriage have to do with a rental car? Last time I checked, it had nothing to do with it at all.

So, no, I can't blame you for feeling "had" by the extra driver fee.

The involuntary upgrade, however, was not a scam. That was just Dollar not managing its fleet well, and running out of economy cars. To be fair to Dollar and other rental companies, it's really difficult to effectively manage your fleet when drivers can cancel their rental with no penalty.

I checked with Dollar on your case. It says its terms and conditions, which include its additional driver fee, are disclosed on its site but "can be overlooked," according to a spokeswoman. "We also have a detailed counter system that itemizes and fully discloses all rental charges, options, taxes and fees," she added.

Dollar apologized for not handling your case better and refunded the additional driver fee, as agreed.

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