June 13, 2024

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Help! I Reserved a Rental Car, but There Was No Car for Me.

2 min read

That doesn’t explain why Alamo would run out of cars. Nothing was forcing the company to accept those additional reservations. Having cars “due for maintenance” also strikes me as an odd excuse, since it seems highly foreseeable. Mr. Wilmering did not specify how many cars were not returned or were in for repair, but it must have been a lot more than usual or it doesn’t make sense for Alamo not to have cut off reservations as well. (Dec. 6 was the day of the Senate runoff election in Georgia, which both companies suggested may have contributed to the spike in demand.)

Alamo would typically be able to source cars from other Enterprise brands with agencies at the airport, but “we exhausted all possible options to provide vehicles to customers who needed them,” Mr. Wilmering wrote. He said Alamo has no centralized system to alert customers if no cars are available, and that individual branches would be responsible for communicating with customers.

This left me with two nagging questions: What can consumers do to ensure a car is waiting for them? And, if hotels and airlines require payment in advance (or at least a penalty for no-shows), why not car rental companies?

Jonathan Weinberg, the founder and chief executive of AutoSlash, a car rental site that searches for the best deals, told me that the car rental agencies originally offered risk-free reservations as a consumer-friendly policy and now are reluctant to drop a perk consumers have come to expect.

“Certainly, it’s a failure on the rental car companies’ part to both predict and manage the inventory properly,” he said. “It becomes more challenging for them in times of high demand.” The problem worsened, he said, coming out of the pandemic, as both fleets and maintenance staff had shrunk, but he said the problem is very rare, occurring in well under 1 percent of the rentals his company handles.

To seek advice on how customers can be sure a car — and preferably the one they reserved — is there, I asked not only company representatives, but also called customer service lines to ask whoever answered. Advice was all over the place and frustratingly devoid of promises, leaving me with the sneaking suspicion that companies simply give cars away in the order people show up, no matter who they are or how or when they reserved.

The best advice came from a customer service representative from Alamo, who recommended calling the branch directly as your travel date approaches. (It’s easy to find the branch numbers by clicking on “Locations” on alamo.com.) They can let you know if there is an increase in demand for your dates that might mean it’s worth having a plan B, he said.

Seth Kugel

2023-01-26 22:00:06

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