Dollar Car Rental Charged Me $59.99 For a Single $1.75 Toll — Here's How To Avoid The Same Fate
"To leave the airport, there's tolls. To come back in, there's tolls. There's no way to get to or from the airport without paying for a toll."
The agent at the Dollar Rental Car center near Logan Airport in Boston told us this with a straight face. He was wrong. There is a non-toll route to and from the airport that he left out of his sales pitch for the company's "all-inclusive" toll pass.
When I reserved the Dollar rental car, the company didn't disclose the price for its toll-pass rental. Now, at the time of pickup -- after we had flown into Boston, taken the bus over to the rental car center and waited in a long line -- the agent finally shared the information: $11.99 per day or $59.99 per week. Between the lack of cash toll booths and a supposed lack of non-toll route between the airport and the city, the Dollar agent insisted that we needed the pass.
My wife Katie and I were renting the car for a week but we would only need to use the toll pass twice -- once leaving the airport and another time returning to the airport. We asked if the $11.99 daily rate only applied to days when the toll pass is actually used. No dice. The agent told us that the rate is applied to the entire week-long rental period no matter the number of times the toll pass is actually used.
With tolls in and out of the airport costing just $1.75 each for passenger vehicles, Dollar's policy was effectively that we had to pay $60 for $3.50 in tolls. I pointed out this absurdity to the agent, and he shared another option: "You can go without the E-ZPass and just go through the tolls and pay $18.50 each toll you go through." Paying $37 for two tolls was better than $60, so we opted for this option.
But that's not what we ended up being charged. We drove around the toll on the way out of the airport, but we came back to the airport through the tunnel, which charges tolls. That means we went through exactly one toll during our rental -- as confirmed on the bill:
But, instead of the $18.50 amount we were told we'd be billed, we received a bill from Dollar for $59.99:
Tolls have become increasingly big business for rental car companies, particularly as the option to pay cash for tolls has vanished on many toll roads, as is the case in Boston. The rental car companies are happy to rent a toll pass to customers and charge absurd fees for providing the "convenience."
Our experience in Boston was emblematic of just how annoying the situation has become -- especially in Boston where the easiest ways to get to or from the airport are via a toll tunnel or bridge. Most rental car companies charge the same rental/admin fee at Boston as their other US locations, but there are some that take advantage of this captive market, such as Dollar and Thrifty.
For each of the major rental car companies that rent cars from Boston Logan Airport, I checked the website and then called to confirm the toll rates for car rentals from the airport. I learned that the fees can vary wildly:
- Alamo, Enterprise and National:
- Rent an E-ZPass: Pay each toll, plus a rental fee of $3.95 per day up to $19.75 per rental period
- Pay by plate: Pay each toll, plus $3.95 admin fee per day you actually incur a toll -- up to $19.75 per rental maximum admin fee
- Avis and Budget:
- Rent an E-ZPass: Pay each toll, plus a rental fee of $3.95 per day, up to $19.75 per month
- Pay by plate: Pay each toll, plus $3.95 admin fee per day of your rental period -- up to $19.75 per month
- Dollar and Thrifty: These sister two companies are the least transparent about their toll charges.
- Rent an E-ZPass: During my booking, an agent on the phone said the all-inclusive toll fees "range from $8.99 to $21.49 per day" and that they couldn't provide an exact price at booking. Instead, I was told I'd need to ask for the exact rate when I picked up my car in Boston. A Thrifty agent said the same thing. The websites for both Dollar and Thrifty only refer to "a low daily rate" for their PlatePass program. Going through a sample Dollar booking for Boston airport, the reservation notes a $12.49 per day charge. That's higher than the $11.99 per day rate I was quoted at the Dollar car rental center for my May rental. Thrifty doesn't disclose any price for its PlatePass program at booking.
- Pay by plate: If you decline the PlatePass program, the terms say that the "highest, undiscounted applicable toll rate" will be charged, with a $15 per toll admin fee, up to $90 per rental.
- E-Z Rent-A-Car:
- Rent an E-ZPass: $9.99 per rental day before taxes/fees which covers the cost of the tolls. No weekly rate.
- Pay by plate: Pay each toll plus a $25 admin fee per toll
- Hertz: Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty, but has a much more reasonable rate for its PlatePass program. The website notes that "you will be charged for each toll at the highest, undiscounted toll rate plus a $5.95 convenience fee for each calendar day when tolls are incurred."
- Rent an E-ZPass: Pay each toll plus a rental fee of $2.95 per day, including days no toll is paid, up to $14.75 per month
- Pay by plate: Pay each toll plus a $2.95 admin fee per day of your rental period -- up to $14.75 per month maximum admin fee
- Silvercar: Pay per toll with a recently-added flat $4.95 administrative fee
To make these policies more understandable, let's take our example of a week-long rental from Boston airport with one toll at the beginning of the week and one at the end. E-ZPass users are charged $1.75 for each toll. The cost to pay by plate is $2.05 per toll. Assuming these rates, the total cost charged by each of these rental car companies is:
|Rental Company||Rent an E-ZPass||Pay by plate|
*E-Z Rent-A-Car price is "before taxes and fees."
What You Can Do To Avoid This
Of course, the obvious way to avoid toll convenience fees in a rental car is by avoiding tolls altogether. Google Maps, Waze and other mapping apps give you the option of only taking routes without tolls. That's how we found the toll-free option that we used when leaving the Boston airport area. However, we had an early-morning return to the airport and didn't want to add the extra 20 minutes to route around the tolls.
If toll roads are unavoidable or worth the extra cost, the easiest way to avoid toll convenience fees is to bring your own E-ZPass with you. For some travelers, it could be worth signing up for an E-ZPass just for one trip. Signing up for a Massachusetts E-ZPass account and getting a transponder is free and only requires a $20 initial load.
To open an account, however, you need to have a vehicle license plate to associate with it. Those of us who don't own a car will have to associate the transponder with a friend or family member's license plate -- and be liable for any tolls they incur.
If you don't want to go through the hassle of getting an E-ZPass, renters may be able to pay the toll directly to the toll agency to avoid the convenience fee charged by the rental car company. To do this, make sure that the rental car's transponder isn't active, pass through the toll and then search the applicable tolling agency to pay the toll amount before it's billed to the vehicle owner by mail.
If you have an E-ZPass account, but don't have the transponder with you, a National rental-car agent recommended that renters associate the rental car license plate with your existing E-ZPass account for the length of the rental. However, this is something that E-ZPass specifically recommends against:
While E-ZPass doesn't elaborate on this, there's a reason that this is a bad idea. When the toll plaza doesn't get a signal from a transponder, it will default to checking the license plate. If the license plate is registered to a transponder, it'll bill that account. And it usually takes some time for the tolling agency to check the plate. You could end up being billed for a prior renter's tolls. Also, if you've already ended the rental and removed the vehicle from your account, the bill will be sent to the rental car agency and the administrative fees will apply.
Dollar's toll-collection arm sent me a physical bill about four weeks after we returned the car. I got the bill just in time to protest it before the charge automatically applied to the credit card on file. A surprisingly nice agent answered when I called the dispute center for Dollar's outsourced toll collection agency.
After I explained the situation, the agent told me that she'd be able to reduce the bill to "just" $17.95 -- that's still more than 10x the single toll amount. I was assured that a new bill would be available online in about 24 hours and I could pay it then.
A week later, the online invoice still showed a $59.99 balance due and my credit card was charged for this full amount. Chase's fraud department was apparently as skeptical as I was at this price and messaged me to confirm that I used my card for a $59.99 purchase with Dollar Toll Charge.
We contacted Dollar's parent company, Hertz, for comment. After looking into the situation, a Hertz spokesperson was able to confirm that the toll-pass provider had agreed to reduce the charge to $17.95. However, the spokesperson conceded that "they did not process this refund appropriately." Because of this mistake, Hertz offered to waive the toll amount and administrative fee "to help make this right and retain your future business."
The spokesperson provided a further explanation of our experience. She noted that the rental car desk agent was slightly off when quoting a charge of $18.50 amount for passing through the Boston tolls once. If we passed through the toll without the transponder active -- as we believed we did -- we should have been charged $17.95. That's the $15 per toll administrative fee plus a $2.95 toll as the rental car is registered as a commercial vehicle.
As to the lack of specific disclosure of the tolling fees at booking, the spokesperson provided the following comment:
It is Dollar’s policy to fully disclose our toll offerings. While we are unable to provide exact pricing at the time of booking as it varies by region/city, our representatives are trained to disclose the weekly and daily rate for our PlatePass all-inclusive tolling product upon pickup. PlatePass allows renters to go through as many tolls as they want for one all-inclusive rate. Dollar representatives are also trained to explain and disclose that if customers decline PlatePass upon pick up, they will be charged the current convenience fee ($15 for Boston) plus the price of each toll occurrence per the T&Cs outlined in the rental agreement.
In addition to waiving the toll fees, the spokesperson offered a $100 voucher toward a future reservation. Our editorial policy at TPG is not to accept free travel from providers, so I declined the offer.
This story has been corrected to reflect Silvercar's recently-added tolling administrative fee.