PSA: Bad customer service from Budget car rental

Lynne Kiesling

We interrupt our regular discussion of economics for a public service announcement: I’ve been having a horrendous customer service experience with Budget car rental. Briefly, the re-routing of my flight to Collegiate Triathlon Nationals, due to inclement weather in Dallas, meant that I had to re-reserve the rental car, and the Expedia agent assured me that I would be paying the same rate, or one even lower. However, when we got to Midland and were rushing to get to the meeting with the team two hours away in Lubbock, the Budget desk agent failed to point out that the rate she was quoting would result in a charge that was more than $500 higher than what I had been quoted over the phone, and through my initial reservation.

I have written to Budget twice, to no avail, so now I am invoking the power of reputation networks to encourage you not to give Budget your business. It’s a competitive industry, one that should be grounded in customer service, so you have many market options. I have never been treated as shabbily in any customer experience as I have been by Budget. I don’t want them to profit from their poor behavior, and I don’t want any of you to be treated as poorly in a market transaction as Budget has treated me in this one. Take your business elsewhere.

The text of the letter I sent to them is below the cut.

I am writing to share with you an unfortunate customer experience I have had with Budget over the past month, which to this point has reached an outcome that is unacceptable to me. I hope that my letter to you can lead to an amicable resolution of this conflict.

On Friday 17 April I traveled from Chicago to Texas, to participate in the U.S. Collegiate National Triathlon, which was held in Lubbock, Texas on Saturday 18 April. I am the faculty advisor of the Northwestern University Triathlon Club, and traveled to Lubbock to race and to support my team. I had made a Budget rental for two days through Expedia at a rate of $28.49/day for 150 miles/day, as per the attached reservation confirmation. Unfortunately, thunderstorms in Dallas on Friday meant that the team coach and I arrived at DFW five minutes late for our connecting flight to Lubbock. After 30 minutes on the phone with a Budget agent and an Expedia agent, and while trying to book another flight that would get us at least close to Lubbock, we flew to Midland, Texas, and changed the Budget reservation from Lubbock to Midland. The agent informed me that there were no rentals available that I could pick up in Midland and drop off in Lubbock, so I agreed to drive the two hours back to Midland on Sunday. Furthermore, the Expedia agent told me that my Midland daily rental rate was actually $2 lower per day than the Lubbock rate that I had confirmed on my prior reservation.

When we finally arrived in Midland around 6:00 PM on Friday, we picked up our car, tired and dreading a two-hour drive to Lubbock, where we would finally meet with the team and get some sleep before having to wake up at 4:30 AM Saturday to race. The Avis agent who processed my rental was aware of all of the travel disruptions and changes we had endured, and I even told her about my conversation with the Expedia agent and that he said that the Midland rate was low.

The agent at Midland went out of her way to point out the extra charge for mileage beyond 150 miles/day, but she did not point out the rental rate, which I believed would be $26.49/day based on my re-booking conversation with the Expedia agent. Given my exhaustion, the duress and stress of the situation, and the anticipation of a two-hour drive and a sleep-deprived race experience on Saturday, I picked up the keys and ran to the car.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when upon returning the car Sunday morning 19 April the agent handed me a bill for $600.47! I objected strenuously that this rate did not match the rate I had been promised, and in fact with the fuel pre-pay and the slight mileage over 300 miles, I was anticipating a bill closer to $100. I was dumbfounded, and extremely upset that the booking agent had misled me and not informed me of the rate when I picked up the car on Friday, clearly under duress. How could she have failed to point out a rate of $250/day? To this day, a month later, I am still angry and dumbfounded by the whole experience. The agent at Midland claimed that she could do nothing to ameliorate the situation, so I simply took the bill and immediately contested the charge with American Express.

Earlier this week, on the same day, I received a letter from American Express stating that my claim against Budget had been successful and a letter from Budget billing me for the $500! Whether I take the kindest interpretation (that the Midland did not mean to mislead me) or the worst-case interpretation of fraud, I do not believe that I should have to pay the difference between what I was billed and what I was led to believe would be the rate. At best, this charge is unreasonable; at worst, it is fraudulent.

I hope that by writing to you we can avoid what I see as the logical next step, which is my contacting my attorney to initiate a legal proceeding, and communicating to all of my friends, family, and collegiate athletes that they should avoid giving Budget their business in the future. I look forward to hearing from you to resolve this situation.


7 thoughts on “PSA: Bad customer service from Budget car rental

  1. Except for the part where they treat it as an unpaid bill and report it to a collection agency, potentially harming my credit rating.

    I’m also fighting on principle.

  2. I had a “worst in my life” experience with Budget at Midway last month. They didn’t screw me on the bill, but everything else was awful. They’ve lost my business for life.

  3. Avis and Budget are the same company, and their Avis desk agents were serving both desks. I just pointed it out to be precise.

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