Renting a Car When the Office Is Closed — Reader Mistake Story

Jul 18, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Dave, who got an unpleasant surprise after a red-eye flight. Here’s what he had to say:

One weekend in May, the stars aligned perfectly for a last-minute trip to Houston. My favorite band was opening their summer tour there on a Friday night, my favorite baseball team was playing in town on Saturday afternoon, and my childhood best friend who lives there happened to have the weekend off. I wanted to be in Houston from Friday until Sunday, and was looking to book on Tuesday of that week.

Naturally, airfare was quite high. The non-stop Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle at the times that worked out best was just under $1,200 round-trip. Mileage redemption was out of the question, with that Alaska flight costing 50,000 miles round-trip — that’s a one-way business class flight to Asia on Cathay Pacific. I looked at a few other award options and had a laugh at SkyMiles pricing.

But then I tried looking at vacation packages, which had worked out for me in the past. Lo and behold, Alaska Vacations was offering round-trip economy airfare for under $300, including a rental car! The flight times were not the best, but they worked. I took a red-eye departing Seattle around 10pm, and my Gold MVP status even got me an upgrade.

The trouble started when I landed in Houston early on Friday morning. My itinerary clearly stated that the car pickup was set for 4am. However, I did not check the hours of the Hertz location at IAH. It was a most unpleasant surprise to get to the rental car facility at about 4:15am, only to find that I wouldn’t be able to get the car for another 45 minutes. I could have been to my friend’s house and fast asleep in that amount of time! Luckily for me, Avis was open, and I was able to get a decent rate for another car through them.

Moral of the story: don’t assume that a major rental company at a busy airport is open 24 hours. Do your homework before snagging that killer deal!

Commercial aviation is a 24-hour industry, but while planes are always in the air, airport facilities and the businesses that serve them don’t necessarily operate around the clock. Atlanta-Hartsfield (the busiest airport in the world) typically sees around a half dozen arrivals from 1:30-4:00am, which is enough to keep most of the rental companies open all day. By comparison, IAH sees just a few cargo arrivals during that time. Passenger traffic doesn’t pick up until around 4:30am, so there’s not enough volume to justify staying open. Given those numbers, it seems like more of a surprise that Avis offers 24-hour service than that the other companies close their counters for the night.

Rental car companies aren’t the only closures to watch out for. Restaurants, parking facilities, airport shuttles, local transit and more may be inaccessible, especially at smaller airports, where even TSA checkpoints may close early. When your itinerary involves an arrival or departure at odd hours, take Dave’s advice and make sure the services you need will be available ahead of time.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Dave for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Feature image by George Rose / Getty Images)

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