Two days of fees on a one-day rental — reader mistake story

Nov 29, 2019

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Amie, whose rental car grace period didn’t go as planned:

We recently took a quick trip to Chicago, where we picked up our Hertz rental at 10:15 a.m. Saturday morning and had a return flight out of O’Hare at 3:10 p.m. on Sunday. This lined up perfectly for us to use the four-hour grace period on The Platinum Card® from American Express, which saved us from having to get back to O’Hare earlier on Sunday or spend more on a few extra hours with the car.

Upon walking out to the President’s Circle, we were surprised to be left with zero cars. We asked an agent about our options as we wanted to get out of there quickly, and there was one vehicle (an SUV) parked in the Prestige Collection lot. After a brief search, the key was determined to be missing, and they brought out another SUV we could rent with a $50 upgrade fee. With no other options in sight and two restless toddlers, we loaded up and headed to the checkout lane. We noticed our rental agreement listed the upgrade charge as $100, but the agent confirmed that it would only be $50 provided we returned the car prior to 2 p.m. on Sunday. So, away we went.

On Sunday, we returned the car at 1:20 p.m. We asked for a printout of the receipt, and to our surprise, we were charged the rental fee for one day and the upgrade fee for two days. We brought the receipt to the counter and asked how we could be charged for more upgrade days than rental days. After some discussion, it was determined that the system was recognizing the grace period on the days, but not on the upgrade.

Lesson learned, when using the Amex Platinum benefit for a great daily rental rate (ours was only $19), either skip the upgrade or make sure to return the vehicle on time and forgo the grace period. The upgrade alone ended up costing us more than twice our original rental fee including taxes and fees, and we only drove 51 miles!

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The terms of the Amex Platinum four-hour grace period benefit specify that it only applies to time and mileage charges; upgrades, collision damage waivers, GPS units, car seat rentals and other optional charges are excluded. If you’re paying for those services and don’t want to be charged for an extra day, then plan on returning your vehicle by the pick-up time specified on your rental contract. Also, note that the grace period is only valid for rentals in the U.S., and that the terms indicate a grace period of “up to” four hours. The additional time allotted may vary by rental location, though I’ve never encountered a location where the benefit was truncated to less than four hours, and neither Amex nor Hertz would provide a list of such locations upon request.

Upgrade fees aside, I like Amie’s approach to booking her rental. With or without a grace period, I try to time my flights in a way that minimizes rental car charges whenever doing so is pragmatic. That might mean simply passing time in an airport lounge upon arrival or before departure, or it might mean shifting my flight schedule entirely — paying more for an earlier or later flight is sometimes worthwhile if it saves me a day of rental fees. The lesson is to take a holistic view when you make travel arrangements; aim to maximize the value of your itinerary as a whole rather than each component individually.

Related: Five steps to a perfect car rental

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Amie a 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. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

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