When it comes to travel, my general advice is to always book the flexible (cancellable) rate, whether it’s a hotel reservation or a car rental. This offers the maximum flexibility if plans change or if unexpected things happen. The only exception is if there are substantial savings with the prepaid rate and you are close enough to the travel dates to know that you won’t be making any changes.
Car Rental Booking
I need to book a car rental for upcoming travels spanning multiple states. I was also multi-tasking, making hotel bookings and securing those reservations with a credit card.
So I didn’t blink at eye when I switched over to car rental booking. I was finalizing my plans and I knew I need a car rental from either one of two states. My preferred car rental company is Avis, but the most reasonably priced option at either destination was Thrifty. I’ve heard of this car rental company, though I’ve never rented from them. That is not a barrier. I’ve rented from National, Alamo, and Enterprise before.
I didn’t have a Thrifty account and I didn’t want the hassle of creating one with them. “No big deal”, I thought. I have an Expedia account and I can reserve my car rental just as easily. I typed in the airport code, picked one with competitive pricing, and confirmed my reservation.
Made a Mistake
I realized my mistake as soon as I got my confirmation email. It looked like I was charged immediately. I re-created the reservation process to see what I did. When you book a car rental, you usually get two options (a prepaid rate or one with “free cancellation”). This is sometimes the “Pay now and save” or the “Pay Later” option.
The prepaid rate is typically more competitive because the rental car company priced them that way. They are guaranteed the rental instead of no-shows. In my haste, I must have accidentally selected the prepay rate.
The rental dates are fine, except it created two inconveniences:
- This is a non-flexible rate so this forces the starting point for my trip.
- I had searched by the airport code (thinking it would return the rental option closest to the airport). Let’s just say the pickup is not at the airport…which is my arrival point. Fun.
Can I cancel within 24 hours?
I called Expedia’s customer service line as soon as I realized my mistake and was on hold for over an hour before I gave up. I had another attempt that was randomly disconnected.
Not having much success with the exceedingly long wait time, I “tweeted” Expedia for assistance. Even though the reservation was made that same day, they could not update my reservation (to an airport pickup) or cancel my reservation. They emphasized that it is a special rate and that type of booking is neither changeable nor refundable. While it is all true, I was still a little disappointed. It was a legitimate mistake. I reached out to them immediately after I got the confirmation. I wasn’t looking to cancel because there was a better deal.
It made appreciate the flexibility that most airlines provide these days — the ability to change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking.
Contacting the Car Rental company directly?
I also reached out to Thrifty customer service to see if they could help, but dropped it shortly after. The booking is already charged by Expedia (except for taxes and fees which would be collected at pick up). Thrifty has access to my reservation, and I have no doubt that they could “cancel” it in their system. However, that doesn’t mean that that I would be refunded. I’m already charged by the third party Expedia, and my contractual agreement for this booking is with them.
I decided to keep the reservation as is. I don’t run the risk of paying for a car rental and not even having a car reservation to show for it.
This is clearly a booking error on my part. It is absolutely on me for not being careful enough when confirming the reservations. There are some simple lessons:
- Carefully verify before “confirming” a reservation.
- Don’t lock yourself into book prepay rates.
- If possible, book direct.
While this booking error locks me in in terms of some flexibility and convenience, I’m going to make some lemonade out of lemons:
Explore an unplanned stop!
Have you made any mistake bookings and were you able to cancel/change them?