Silly Customer Thinks Reserving A Vehicle From Enterprise Means Anything

Dan chose Enterprise to rent a van for his spring break vacation because the company offered the lowest price. What they couldn’t offer him was a van. Somewhat naively, he thought that using Enterprise’s online reservation system to reserve a vehicle would result in an actual vehicle being rented to him. No such luck. Now he’s left scrambling for a vehicle large enough to accommodate everyone on his trip.

I’ve been dealt a severe beating by Enterprise, and I’m staggering, but still in the fight. We are brave souls. My wife and I are taking our kids plus 3 of their friends an a whirlwind Spring Break trip. Rather than drive 2 vehicles, we decided to rent a van. It seemed smart at the time.

We decided to go with Enterprise because not only did they have the best rates in our area, but they also have a special program through AMEX Membership Rewards. We checked the rates and availability and chose the location with an advertised special of $64.99/day. The next lowest was $89.99/day. Total cost for 4 days – $298.96. The AMEX certificates are in $50 denominations and can’t be used for taxes, so we ordered $250 in certificates. To use the certificates, you must book through a special website. We did and got our confirmation #.

Fast forward 4 days. Just as I was about to call to schedule my pickup, I get a call from Enterprise. They say there is no van available and there never was. They said the web site was “wrong” and this vehicle has been sold out since February. The offer no solution other than I’m out of luck or a smaller vehicle (can’t fit). Of course I say this is not acceptable. After some pushing, the rep agrees to have the Area Manager give me a call.

Of course it has been several hours and there is no call. I call AMEX rewards and they contact Enterprise corporate. M says he will call around and try and find a van for me. He finally says he has located one – for $45.00 more per day. That is of course unacceptable. He talks some more with other locations. C. at one spot says he “might” price match the other location if he can “for sure” get a van in. I’m currently awaiting a call from C. That is where I stand now.

If I cancel I have no leverage and probably will pay far more – if I can even find a van 3 days before the trip. Plus I now have $250 in worthless Enterprise gift certificates. I’m sure AMEX will refund me, but it is still a hassle.

I’m just asking the Consumerist community to pray for sanity at Enterprise.

It does sound like divine intervention is the only thing that will get a van for Dan at this point. Well, that, and a much higher rental fee.

Update: Enterprise has promised Dan a van. Maybe. Keep your fingers crossed. He writes:

After applying immense telephonic pressure, allegedly there will be a van for me on my pick up day. According to C., the location manager, several people had booked this non-existent deal. Despite efforts to screw everyone, the scope of the goof has forced them to bring in several vans from Chicago. I guess no one drives vans in Chicago.

While I am more confident that I will be merrily cruising America in a van in a few days, the comments from the readers dampen my enthusiasm. I guess I’ll believe it when I have the keys. Then they’ll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands. Thanks to all for your concern and rental stories.


Edit Your Comment

  1. seth_lerman says:
  2. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    I don’t pray.

    • CPENinja says:

      Thanks for posting that. The quality of the internet has improved due to the usefulness of that post.

      • SavijMuhdrox says:

        oh, but then you had to go and negate her usefulness with your sarcasm. tsk, tsk.. the internet is back to square one.. oh, but then there’s this post.. my bad.

        • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

          Now, commenting on the quality of other peoples’ comments is just poor form, and not the kind of thing I expected to be confronted with here in the safe, secure confines of the Internet.

    • Daniel Svoboda says:

      That’s okay. I do. I can pick up the slack for you.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      Even if you did…would it be for sanity at Enterprise?

  3. winstonthorne says:

    This is very common in large-scale rental operations; it’s tough to predict when certain cars are going to be at a given location – late returns, accidents, and simple human error each play a part.

    In fact, something similar just happened to me when I rented a Penske truck for an interstate move. At 5:00pm the night before I was scheduled to pick up the truck (and move), the Penske location called me to tell me “whoops, we’re out.” Luckily, I was able to rent a UHaul truck over the phone that very evening. At the time, I was pissed, but after reading many similar stories online I realized it’s just a fact of life when dealing with rentals.

    • Sneeje says:

      I think most people would agree with this, but the real problem is that rental companies don’t want to acknowledge this. They want you to treat the reservation process as a guarantee and for the customer to bear the complete burden of the inconvenience, so that they have the best opportunity for your business.

      If this were truly a fair and honest exchange, the customer would have more information on the availability of the vehicles, the ability to enter into multiple contracts with various vendors until one vendor confirmed, and a confirmation meant that you would get some form of compensation if the confirmation fell through.

      • Carlos Spicy Weiner says:

        Yeah, I think an Enterprises guarantee should mean if they make a mistake (which clearly happen), they should “make it right”. People take a guarantee to mean something they can count on and plan around, and don’t expect that a mistake the company made means they’re S.O.L.

        • pdj79 says:

          If you go in with a level head, stay cool and calm, and be reasonable, you’ll find they can be very accommodating for you at the counter. I got a full-size SUV at the price of a full-size sedan when they didn’t have any minivan’s available because I was calm and they obviously empathized with my silent frustration over a system that is flawed. Part of the issue is that on Monday they could very well have 1 of every vehicle to meet the reservations for the week, but if someone comes in on Monday needing a van that isn’t being lent out until Friday, and that person keeps it beyond that time, the branch doesn’t just go and grab another vehicle for the customer on Friday…you’re basically stuck with whatever is left. But if you ask for some sort of compensation, and it isn’t overly ridiculous (an Escalade for the price of a Ford Focus), they are usually able to accommodate.

          • Carlos Spicy Weiner says:

            I hear you. We reserved a Economy car at Enterprise a few years ago, and when they couldn’t find one, they upgraded us to a Volvo S60 :-). But that was 10 years ago…c’mon guys. Quit overbooking and hope it all works out. Time to get a more sophisticated computer program that can keep track of vehicle inventory better in Real Time.

      • vastrightwing says:

        Agreed. Rental vehicles are never reserved, but requested. Just like you say, it’s a marketing gimmick to trick you into doing business with them.

    • Scuba Steve says:

      Why are we still putting up with this? This is not brain surgery. This is not predicting weather patterns.

      This is simply reserving a vehicle at a destination for a certain price. There shouldn’t be this much of a problem.

      I can understand if a car gets stolen or damaged and they can’t replace it in time, but that’s not what’s happening.. its the fact that they simply have no idea how to schedule or inventory correctly for large amounts of vehicles and times.

      • Hi_Hello says:

        can’t control the drivers.

        if everyone return their vehicle on time, maybe this wouldn’t be a problem.

        • MMD says:

          Charge late returns a significant penalty and use the proceeds to solve problems for those who make a reservation.

          Also, not relevant to this story if they really were “sold out since February”.

          • pdj79 says:

            The problem is that the website almost never indicative of what the individual store has in “stock”. Case in point, I attempted to rent a minivan for a trip out of state. The site claimed the particular branch had Grand Caravan, Town & Country, or the equivalent available. I chose the vehicle and was done with it. It wasn’t until a couple days before the trip that I called up to make sure they had my reservation that I learned this particular branch never has anything above a “mini SUV” like the Ford Escape and even those were all booked out and the best they could offer me was an HHR at “a generous discount” of $49/day….never mind that was the normal rate for that particular vehicle. Naturally I cancelled my reservation and called another branch directly to confirm not only their “stock” but that I could get a minivan during the time I needed. They were unfortunately unable to accommodate me with the vehicle choice, but they did me a solid and got me a Trailblazer and only charged me for the size of a full-size…saving me ~$25/day. The moral to all this is, as great as the website is, be sure to check the fine print which clearly states that the car type may not be available come time of rental. At least this person was contacted…I never would have known this information until I showed up and then I would have been stuck with a crappy car at an inflated price. This was Enterprise, by the way.

            • TacoDave says:

              I had a similar issue. Reserved a mini-van. Called the day before and they assured me there was a mini-van at another location and they would be driving it over to their location in the morning. Arrived to find … no mini-van. All they could offer me was an SUV, and I really had no choice but to take it.

    • GoBobbyGo says:

      I agree that this happens all the time. I remember waiting 4 days for a “reserved” U-Haul truck. But if this is a normal occurrence, they should be using a different word instead of reservation.

    • MMD says:

      “Just a fact of life”? No. Death is a fact of life, in that it’s unavoidable.

      This problem? Totally avoidable, if one demands competence.

    • bhr says:

      It is a “Fact of life” with rentals because a prior customer may fail to return the vehicle, or a vehicle may break down/become unavailable for some other reason.

      That said, in this case there was no vehicle available since February so they rented something they couldn’t provide and didn’t immediately notify the customer.

      If they had simply called the customer the day the reservation showed up in their system I doubt we would be hearing about this.

      • BBBB says:

        “…there was no vehicle available since February so they rented something they couldn’t provide and didn’t immediately notify the customer…..”

        The system is set up to maximize the company’s profit. By waiting until the last second they keep your reservation as a backup in case there is a cancellation. Then they void your reservation when they are sure they don’t need the backup.

        [in this case, it is likely that the situation was: the two week rental that made the van unavailable started the day OP got the notice thus making his backup reservation unnecessary.]

    • druidicawen says:

      I agree, there is more to this story than Enterprise just screwing up. Two things stand out. He went through a special AMERICAN EXPRESS website (from the little exposed in the article, I’m just guessing) to set up the Enterprise rental through AMERICAN EXPRESS.

      Enterprise might have called him the day they got the reservation. Whose to say that AMEX speedily pushed things through. When dealing with discounts and “special websites” there is a lot more confusion and blame cannot be solely placed on one entity.

  4. sgtyukon says:

    I only rent cars once or twice a year, but I’ve never gotten the car I reserved from any car rental company anywhere in the USA. The ad always says “or similar” and that’s what I get even though their definition of similar and my definition of similar is seldom similar.

    • Daggertrout says:

      Of course these vehicles are similar! They both have four wheels and an engine.

    • Martha Gail says:

      They usually upgrade you if they are out of what you reserved. I’ve never been downgraded once, and I rent between 2 and 4 times a year.

  5. StopGougingMeThere! says:

    This is standard practice for most rental companies. When I went to reserve a U-Haul 2 weeks in advance I was told online that it would DEFINITELY be at my local facility but when I called that facility to follow up a few days before I went to get the truck I was told it was POSSIBLE they’d have one but I might have to go to another facility 40 miles away. In the end they did have what I wanted and I had a pleasant experience (truck was almost brand new with less than 10k miles!) but I too thought the ONLINE reservation was something written in stone. If I had to venture a guess though I’m sure they track the vehicles based on what’s in the “general” area at the time of the reservation and figure they can wrangle one when the actual time comes.

    • vastrightwing says:

      There is an easy fix for this: don’t call it a reservation system! Call it a vehicle request. A request is miles different than a reservation and more aptly describes the vehicle rental scenario. You may request a vehicle online but no one can make an actual reservation online due to the nature of the business. Add to the confusion, demand. As demand goes up, so do rental prices. No company wants to make good on a reservation at a price lower than the current market rate. The other way around, sure.

      Perhaps they could offer a reservation where the price you pay is the current market price and not the price that was available at the time of the reservation. This would make the vehicle price go up as demand kicked in, forcing the renter to pay an ever higher rate to ensure they actually get their vehicle.

  6. CharlesFarley says:

    I was once told by an Avis agent that my reservation guarantees the price not the availability of the vehicle.

    It was not an amusing verbal exchange after that….

    • mrvw says:

      I was told the same thing by Hertz once. And I imagine my exchange with them went similar to yours with Avis

  7. Scooter McGee says:

    Enterprise…you’ve pissed me off so many times. Such as the time I reserved a full-sized car and you tried to convince me when I arrived that a Honda Civic is full-size.

    I used to work for a company that was flagged in their system as “extremely sensitive” (I could see it from the seating position at the rep’s desk). Apparently our complaints for a clean car with non-bald tires were ridiculous.

  8. scoutermac says:

    I dated a girl once that worked at Enterprise. She told me that reserving a car at Enterprise only guaranteed your rate. It did not guarantee a car would be available. She said it was first come first serve. She also said she sent many unhappy customers away daily. So if you want a car from enterprise get there early and hang around until a car becomes available.

    • GoldVRod says:

      “She told me that reserving a car at Enterprise only guaranteed your rate. “

      But guaranteeing a rate on an unavailable vehicle isn’t any sort of guarantee is it? I mean you’re not going to pay ANY amount unless you get the car promised.

      You’re not reserving a price you’re reserving a vehicle and it clearly states that on the enterprise website; quote “Make a car rental reservation”. It doesn’t say “Make a price reservation”.

      • vastrightwing says:

        Marketing speak to trick you. Properly, there are no rental vehicle reservations, only vehicle requests. “Sure, we allow to request a vehicle at this price. It’s even possible you may get your vehicle, just don’t bet on it.”

  9. Naked-Gord-Program says:

    With antics like this I hope The Consumerist will post a handy how to guide on how to make our own vehicle.

  10. madrigal says:

    I’ve never received the car I’ve reserved when renting a car. I usually get a larger vehicle which means more gas $$$ to pay.

    • lettucefactory says:

      Same. And the rental car staff is trained to say this is a special free upgrade just for you! Like you’re an idiot. I know all your small cars are sold out even though I reserved a small car, so you’re sticking me with a Crown Vic that gets 4 miles to the gallon. Don’t try to pretend.

    • madanthony says:

      a couple years ago I reserved a compact from Enterprise for a 1000+ mile trip. I normally drive a Ranger pickup, so I wanted something that got better gas milage. Got there and they informed me they were out of compacts but would generously upgrade me to… a pickup truck – a full size Chevy CK.

      Luckily, while I was arguing about this, someone came in and returned a Cobalt and they gave me that.

  11. GJaunts says:

    These pretzels are making me thirsty!

    I see I was beaten to the punchline…

  12. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    What I would request of the Enterprise location that took the reservation, if no van is available, is to have the same total number of seats at the reserved price.

    The van would seat 8? Then they should get two cars that comfortably seat 4 adults, for the total price of the van reservation.

    • Marlin says:

      problem is you still need 2 drivers and also 2 gas fill ups instead of one.
      The 2 cars would have to get double the gas milage of the van to equal out on gas but the driving would still need to be 2.

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        I thought of that, that they would be spending more on gas…but requsting a reduction on the rate to compensate for the extra gas used makes sense, it seems like it wouldn’t fly.

        At least it might make Enterprise work harder to locate another van, if they thought they’d have to rent out two regular cars in it’s place at such a reduced rate (as two for one basically).

  13. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    Too bad she didn’t rent in New York City:

    New York City regulations require that rental car firms which take reservations “make available either the car reserved”, or a similar car “within one half hour of the reserved time either at the reserved location or at another location to which the consumer is transported without charge.”

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      Interesting. I had some horrible experiences renting from Budget in Manhattan. Had to use them because we had a corporate deal with them – finally dumped them after two years because of their poor service. Didn’t klnow about this regulation.

  14. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    I am really surprised here. After being boned by Avis, Budget, and Hertz, I found Enterprise to be amazing in their service over the years. I only had one problem with them and that was because of a truly incompetent manager in a northern Vermont office. Otherwise, they have always been very, very good everywhere I’ve rented from Maine to Kansas.

    • Murph1908 says:

      I am just the opposite. Most of my car rental nightmares are Enterprise. Once, we waited in line for over 2 hours at the reservation desk, mostly outside, in Nevada. That was the last time I rented from Enterprise regardless of the price.

  15. Nic715 says:

    When I was 24, I was living in both NY and Florida and at one point was spending more time in NY than Florida so I’d driven my car back there and was renting whenever I was in Florida. Since I was under 25, I was pretty limited as to where I could rent a car from. Enterprise was the only place that didn’t charge me and arm and a leg extra for my age. I think I rented from them about 10 times in a span of 6 months and EVERY. Single. Damn. Time. No matter which location I went to, no matter what kind of rental I requested (truck, SUV. Compact car, luxury vehichle) I ended up driving away in a freakin’ PT Cruiser. Looking back, it was pretty comical …and it even became a running joke with my friends and colleagues, but I was PISSED at the time! I was 24 and trying to impress clients and every time I’d show up to meet clients in a PT Cruiser, they’d joke about my ‘Grandma car’…not exactly the impression I was trying to make!! Thanks a lot, Enterpise! (Although, I suppose I should just be thankful they had cars available every time I went.)

    • do-it-myself says:

      I’m curious to know what your line of work is if you must “impress” clients with your car. I’m 25 and I’m as proud as I can be of my 2007 Ford Focus. I consider a grandma car an Avalon.

  16. kaptainkk says:

    Has praying ever solved anything?!

  17. Sarek says:

    Many years ago, my business companion and I flew into Orlando and went to pick up our reserved Hertz rental. I wondered why there were a bunch of people hanging out in that area. Turns out that Hertz was out of cars and these people were waiting for somebody to return a car.

    I went up to the counter, checked in, and received my keys. As we walked out, one of the waiting crowd asked how I got a car. I told them it was probably because I was a Gold member. “So am I,” she said, and went up to the counter to do battle. I then realized that the real reason I got a car when no one else could was because we worked for [large multinational corp.], which probably had a “car on demand” -type contract with Hertz. We kept my mouths shut to avoid adverse publicity and high-tailed it out of there.

    So even when they say they have no cars, they could be holding some back for their prime customers.

  18. hymie! says:

    This has happened to me too.

    Reserving a car does not mean they will have one for you. It means that, if they have one, they will hold it for you.

  19. MrEvil says:

    Must be a regional manager that isn’t doing his job very well. I got a rental from Enterprise after my F250 was rear-ended. The other guy’s insurance agreed to get me a full size rental. Unfortunately all they had was a Hyundai Accent. Not wanting to be without a vehicle at all (My backup was having AC work done) I took the Accent. Later that afternoon I got a call from Enterprise to come swap out for a brand new Crossover with 15 miles on the clock.

    If the Regional manager is doing his/her job, they should be able to send someone to a dealer and buy another van.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      I have found Enterprise to be VERY resistant to swapping cars. I had a ’97 Jetta GLX (VR6, leather, moonroof, Bose audio, etc) that had some sort of invisible target on it… It got hit 3 times, 2 of those pretty serious. First I had to strong-arm the other party’s insurance company to agree that just because it said VW didn’t mean it was a ratted-out ’76 Rabbit and I wasn’t going to consider a Ford Aspire as an equivalent vehicle. Then I had to convince Enterprise of that, and one time I made the mistake of believing the lie that they’d let me swap to a more-suitable car when it became available. I ended up having to stand in their office arguing for a long while 2 days later to get from Sentra to Altima, because every time I called on the phone they couldn’t manage to help me.

      Another time on a business rental, I had a car that wouldn’t travel in a straight line… it required constant correction and sort of squirmed its way down the road, but this wasn’t really apparent until you reached highway speeds. So, I was some distance from the airport on my way to an appointment before I realized there was something wrong and didn’t try to swap it until late that afternoon when I could get back to their location. “No cars, sorry… try our location in X” (closer to my work site.) That location never seemed to return phone calls, so I ended up using the same tactic the next day, but to get them to budge I had to get a little loud with “I think the car is unsafe.”

      I avoid Enterprise unless the rate is so much better that it’s worth the risk.

  20. ozark81 says:

    I felt like I got a good service myself at the one down the road from me. Had to rent a car since my truck was having issues. Got a sedan model since my father and son were going with me. My dad is disabled due to neck injures and really bad anemia issues so we needed something where he could stretch out. My little boy is 6 and this was his first real road trip. We picked up an newer model impala with 37k miles on it. I looked it over with the sales guy before the trip. So fast forward 11 hours, we traveled from Bentonville, AR and was heading to outside New Orleans. Well just outside of New Orleans the front passenger tire blew out on a small causeway at 1:30 in the morning. Tire had tread and wires separated on it. Other than us the only other vehicles that were on that road were big trucks. And every time they went by the road swayed. So i did my best NASCAR tire change and went on to my Uncle’s house 12 miles away. Next day I called the company and they directed me to the nearest location which was at the NO Airport. I got there and the service guy checked the car completely over. Come to find out the other front tire was not far behind the one that blew out, plus it looked like they never had the tires rotated. We got upgraded to a nice brand new Ford loaded small suv, full tank of gas, and a gas waiver for when we dropped it off. When we did drop it off the sales guys there refunded a 100 bucks to me. I have rented before from other places like hurts and it was a complete nightware, like the post said ask for one thing get another when you arrive.

  21. IraAntelope says:

    Seinfeld did the best bit on car rentals years ago. I remember some of it. Rental Agent: Sir, “I know what the word Reservation means!” Seinfeld: “I don’t think you do. Otherwise you would have the car I reserved.” It is not reserved if you give it to someone else.

  22. KitanaOR says:

    The one and only time I rented from Enterprise I asked for a compact and got an freaking Hummer. They charged me the same price, but would not give me another vehicle when I told them it was going to cost me more in gas.

  23. tbax929 says:

    My parents were in a not-at-fault car accident and the offending driver’s insurance set them up with a rental car from Enterprise. A couple of days later, we had a windstorm and a tree fell onto said rental car. Enterprise promptly replaced the vehicle but deducted $500 from my mother’s debit card account (this card was only provided for the $50 hold they required since the other driver’s insurance was respoonsible for everything). I should mention my parents did not agree for their insurance to be primary. I saw the paperwork myself.

    Anyway, it took about three hours worth of phone calls and a chargeback request to get my mother reimbursed for the money they wrongly withdrew from her account. I think all rental car companies are shady, but Enterprise takes the cake. I’ll never do business with them again.

  24. Sparkstalker says:

    The certificates were bought through AMEX, and had to be booked through a special website. My question to the OP – who runs the website you booked through? If it’s not Enterprise, have you contacted that company, as it’s possible it’s their mistake and Enterprise got left holding the bag…

  25. amuro98 says:

    1. Cancel with Enterprise.
    2. Get van elsewhere.
    3. After the vacation, file in Small Claims Court against Enterprise for the cost of getting the van elsewhere.

    If they accept a reservation and then later can’t provide you an equivalent vehicle or better, they’re the ones breaking the contract.