Avis Has Compact Tact Available But Not Car…

A complaint and a tip, all in one email, what a happy day, albeit not one for Avis car rental.

You can’t fault them, though, they’re Avis and as #2, they really do try harder. It may not be to your benefit, but they try, nonetheless.

If you’re a pack of circus clowns on a budget, don’t rent from Avis. They probably don’t have a small enough car for you.

Find out more in Brian’s letter, after the jumparoonie…

    “My wife and I just got back from a trip to San Diego. We rented a car from Avis (through Hotwire, not that it matters) for our 6 day stay. We rented a compact because it was cheapest and it was really all we needed.

    When we got to the Avis terminal at the airport to pick up our car, the customer service representative was quite aggressive in trying to get us to upgrade from a compact to a mid-size car. We politely told her no, but she wouldn’t let up, even trying the “you’re really tall, how are you going to fit in a compact” line on me. We again politely declined, at which point she paused and said “Well, how about a free upgrade?”. We asked her what she meant, and she said “we actually don’t have any compacts left, so you’re automatically upgraded to the larger size”. So they were trying to sell us something that we were going to get for free!

    If we had said yes, we’ll pay for the upgrade, would she really have gone ahead with charging us, knowing they didn’t have any compact cars left? I like to think not, but somehow I think she would have.

    Here’s a tip–she said they only have like 3 compact cars in the lot on any given day, so odds are quite good that they will sell out and you’ll get upgraded to a larger size car. I assume this is the case for most Avis locations. The lesson–never, ever upgrade to the larger size!”

[photo cred]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Danilo says:

    I dunno, from the sounds of it, the Avis agent was trying to snake Brian into paying for an upgrade. Nasty policy, that allows for that kind of behavior.

  2. Clare says:

    Something like this has happened to me twice in the last year, though not from Avis (I think it was National and Thrifty.) I rented an “economy” online a month or two in advance and both times I got a “free upgrade.” However, on both occasions, the person behind the desk was upfront about the “free upgrade.” Nobody tried to sell it to me.

    The upgrade wasn’t much of a boost in Pittsburgh (an Aveo to a Pontiac Sunfire? *pfffft*) but in LA the upgrade was pretty sweet: Instead of another Aveo, we got a fresh-off-the-dealer’s-lot Dodge Charger! It had three miles on the odometer and it still smelled like new car! It was great.

  3. Das Ubergeek says:

    Brian, you did exactly the right thing — and you’re right, there are never any compact cars and hardly ever any economy-sized cars either, so reserve the cheapest one and figure that 8 times out of 9 you’re going to get upgraded. Don’t be suckered into paying for it, though. Unless you’re at some tiny airport, there’s more than one company available, so you can always just threaten to vote with your feet.

  4. matto says:

    I’ve had the same sort of infuriating offer and subsequent “instant free upgrade” sleaze from at least Alamo and Enterprise. When I decline both, the mouth-breathers behind the counter look at me like I’m a leper.

    Why can’t they get it though their tiny brains that if I had wanted a giant pimp-in-a-beastie-boys-sorta-way Lincoln Continental, I would have friggin reserved a giant douchemobile?

    Contrary to what they believe, not giving me what I want isn’t doing me a favor.

  5. Paul D says:

    A few years ago when the penultimate Mustang body style came out, one of the big-name renters (don’t remember which one) was doing some cross promotion with Ford.

    I had a similar experience at the counter. I wanted the El Cheapo sub-sub-subcompact and the guy tried a few times to get me to upgrade to the Mustang. “C’mon, you’re a young hip guy! Wouldn’t you rather drive a sports car on your vacation?” Yadda yadda.

    I wasn’t biting. He slashed the price a couple of times and then finally gave me the upgrade for free (claiming he was “doing me a favor”). As I was leaving, another employee person came in and asked something like “how are we on compacts?” and another guy said “we’re out”. I looked at my guy and he looked away, pretending to be shuffling paperwork. I left after a loud snort and a shake of the head.

    So yeah, basically the same scenario. Run out of compacts, try to get the customer to pay for an upgrade, give them the upgrade for free after they refuse.


    I wonder if it’s a company- or industry-wide policy. Like health insurance companies automatically denying all claims on the first try. They’re just hoping the customer will flinch first.

  6. Hawkins says:

    This happens all the time. Attempts to snake you into an upgrade are standard industry practice.

    Sometimes there’s a hard sell. I was once asked questions like, “Oh, you flew in on Delta? Then you’re entitled to a big discount on an upgrade to a premium car! Oh, and you’re paying with American Express? What luck! An even bigger discount! Look, now it’s only $27 a day extra to get you into a nice comfy luxury car!”

    Just keep saying, no, thank you, I’ll take the stinky subcompact that I reserved. I once got a really nice Lexus for a week by saying no, thank you about 71 times (that’s all they had on the lot).

    Sometimes, though, they don’t even bother. They just give you a contract with the agreed-on subcompact rate, and the keys, along with a blank stare, and when you get to the lot, you find a big ol’ Grand Am.

  7. Paul D says:

    PS: The Mustang was a turd. Christ what an awful car.

  8. dancemonkey says:

    this happens every single time i rent a car. it’s just the way they do it. one time i needed a large car to lug a few friends to a river for some rafting, and they tried to “upgrade” me to a honda del sol. just always refuse the upgrade even if it sounds like a nice idea… if they don’t offer the free upgrade anyway, you can just change your mind and pay for it.

  9. Rick Dobbs says:

    It always has to do with the location. San Diego has more families going there and renting cars than say, Sacramento, so compact cars aren’t usually in demand there. It’s always worth reserving the lowest class though.

    However, at some locations, such as Las Vegas, mid-size cars regularly sell out, so if you didn’t reserve one, you may actually have to fit yourself in to that Economy Class car. Cruise The Strip in THAT!

  10. Smoking Pope says:

    How is this not bait & switch? For that matter, how does the airline industry get away with offering a seat for $39, then when you call up they say they’re out of that and sell you the very same seat for $100? Can someone explain to me why bait & switch laws don’t apply in these cases?

  11. Smoking Pope says:

    Ahhh, just found the answer:

    “Advertising a sale while intending to stock a limited amount of, and thereby sell out, the loss-leading item advertised is legal in the United States. The purveyor can escape liability if they make clear in their advertisements that quantities of items for which a sale is offered are limited.”

    So unless Avis didn’t specify that supplies are limited, they’re off the hook.

    But considering that airlines aren’t in fact out of seats, how do they get away with upping the price?

  12. Das Ubergeek says:

    Because they all say, down in the fine print, that the number of seats at that price are limited. They’re out of seats at that price point. Splitting hairs? Yes, but it’s apparently legal.

  13. Smoking Pope says:

    I don’t doubt it’s technically legal. But I bet if I opened Kumquats-R-Us and advertised kumquats for $0.25, then charged everyone $5.00 because I was out of the quarter kumquats (which are not different in ANY way), I’d be getting a visit from the feds regardless of whether or not I said the quarter kumquats were limited in supply.

    The airline industry. Pppphhhhh. C’mon teleporters, where are you?

  14. Steve S says:

    It’s standard… I’ve had this from Avis, Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, and probably a few more. Stick to your guns, and you’ll get a car at the rate you reserved. No one’s forcing you to pay more for a bigger car – they’re just making a weak attempt to recover some of the extra cost they’re otherwise going to have to eat.

    It’s not even entirely their fault they could be out of compact cars – I know I have been guilty on a number of occasions of not returning a car at the time I originally intended.

    Now, IMO what’s a crime is the loose definitions of subcompact/compact/intermediate/mid-size that rental companies have… I just this morning returned a PT Cruiser I’d had as my “mid-size” rental from Hertz…

  15. CatMoran says:

    Odd. I always reserve an economy car, and with only one exception (they actually had an economy car on the lot!) I’ve always been given a larger car at the economy rate with no attempts to make me pay for the ‘upgrade’.

    One time it really worked out great. The ex and I were in LA for a convention, and we’d originally planned for the two of us and two friends to go to DisneyLand the day after the con. When we were ‘upgraded’ to a twelve passenger van (!!!) we offered several new friends a free ride to the park.

  16. tinfoil says:

    The only time I’ve had to rent a car was when my wife bounced my Grand Prix GTP off of a Ford pickup. After bickering with my insurance agency about the type of car I would get (they paid for a sub-compact only, and I stated that I should get a vehicle comparable to what I was driving) I went to Enterprise and decided I would pay the difference. To my surprise, the only vehicle they had left was an ’05 Chevy Silverado quad-cab, which I got as a free upgrade.

    Nifty, though I really don’t enjoy driving trucks.

  17. Melsky says:

    With gas prices the way they are now, that “free upgrade” might really end up costing you.

  18. Sir Winston Thriller says:

    I was told by the clerk running the Avis counter (Burlington VT airport) to always reserve the smallest car online. Nine times out of ten their location doesn’t have them available so they give you a free upgrade.

  19. Do you think that maybe they get some sort of commission on the upgrade? Maybe that’s why some of them push it. I know if I worked there, unless I had some big incentive I certainly wouldn’t feel good about pushing it on other people.

  20. Smoking Pope says:

    Dr. Paul, that’s because you have a soul.

  21. Bubba Barney says:

    Hmm.. I rent frequently from Avis and never have any problems. Maybe it’s because they know me.

    I often get a free upgrade with no hassles. Recently, I reserved a sub compact, but they were out, so they gave me a choice of a PT Cruiser, or HHR. I told the guy behind the counter to surprise me.

    He later pulled up the Chevy HHR. I thought it was ugly when I first saw it, but after driving for a week, I fell in love with it. It does have some bad blind spots, but it was really good on gas, and was quick and peppy.

    Also, during a recent transit strike here, I had to rent a car if I wanted to get to work. They gave me another discount [I get frequent and corporate discounts] on top of the others. I have not had a bad experience with Avis in the 9 years I have used them.

  22. gskelding says:

    My husband regularly rents from Avis … and they try that trick on him all the time! He’ll usually wait until they offer the free upgrade, and then he’ll complain that he selected a compact because gas is cheaper, and even though he’s getting a ‘free’ upgrade – any savings are lost because he has to by more gas, and they give him a credit on his account for the rental! It usually varies with each agent who helps us, but a credit is a credit!