TPG staffer mistake story: The rental car misstep that cost me big time

Dec 31, 2020

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Today, I want to share one of my own rookie mistakes that ended up costing me when I rented a car.

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Renting a car is always a stressful proposition for me. I’ve lived in New York and San Francisco for most of my adult life, and most of that time I didn’t have a car or really even need to rent one very often. Once the pandemic hit, and I was staying out west at my father’s ranch, I’ve been renting a car more and more often. I do not have personal car insurance, and I’ve always booked my rentals with my Platinum Card® from American Express to make sure I have primary coverage.

Related: Best credit cards for rental cars

Frankly, I’ve always worried that an accident might leave me vulnerable to damages that any car I rented caused, but that wasn’t what bit me this time.

Related: How secondary insurance works for those without car insurance

It was bridge tolls! I meant to ask the clerk at Hertz in Santa Rosa where I picked up the little economy car about tolls, but they were not very friendly and I totally forgot. No one mentioned it when I checked out either. It would have been nice because there are not only several bridges that require tolls in the Bay Area, but there are an increasing number of toll lanes now as well.

I had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and I realized there was no way to pay cash for the $8 toll as I approached San Francisco after crossing the famed bridge. It’s FasTrak only on the Golden Gate (in fact, right now because of COVID-19, no Bay Area bridges are accepting cash). That’s when I realized I was likely to be getting a ticket or charged a fee of some kind.

A system of cameras tracks license plates as they cross the bridge, and sure enough a few days later, I got an alert from American Express that a charge was added to my card. Instead of the $7.70 if I had used FasTrak, however, it was a whopping $29.30!

(Screenshot courtesy American Express)

That’s a more than 300% increase. Ouch.

I tried to figure out how the company that services tolls and tickets came up with that number, but I could not for the life of me figure out the website.

The third-party company that does the charge is called ATS and here is how they describe themselves:

“ATS Processing Services, LLC is an affiliate of American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (, a leading provider of traffic safety, mobility and compliance solutions for state and local governments, commercial fleets and rental car companies. ATS’ products include: photo-enforcement programs, electronic toll enforcement management, violation processing services, fleet violation management, and fleet title and registration services (”

I tried multiple ways to track my bill with absolutely no luck no matter how I tried to input the data.

(Screenshots courtesy ATS)

Hertz does have a way to escape the most onerous of the up-charges involved in tolls, but it’s not exactly easy to find or understand. Their “PlatePass allows you to use cashless lanes or all-electronic tollways without using a personal transponder or paying the toll authority directly.”

But as you can see from the image below it doesn’t work on some Bay Area roads and express lanes. It also comes with extra fees. Not only will you be charged the toll, but you’ll need to pay a $5.95 fee each day that you use it. That can add up quickly. Not as quickly, though, as the extra fees charged by any third party as I experienced.

(Screenshot courtesy Hertz)

I really feel like I got ripped off by Hertz in this case. They didn’t offer the PlatePass at checkout even though they likely know most drivers in the Bay Area will need to be crossing toll bridges or roads at some point in their journeys. Nor did they tell me some bridges no longer accept cash.

I hope you can learn from my mistake. Be sure to ask your next rental car company about tolls. Sign up for the rental car company’s toll program or better yet sign up for the area transponder service in advance. FasTrak, for example, has a special program for rental cars. You can sign up ahead of time and add your rental car. That would have been the cheapest option for me.

Please email your own travel mistake stories to, 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.

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 image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy. 

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