Avis blindsided Claudia Lockwood with a surprise charge of $4,228 after her last car rental experience.
She thought she had done everything right and didn’t expect any problems. She drove the car back to the correct lot and left the keys in the vehicle as instructed. Lockwood even kept her gas receipt which showed she filled the tank before returning the Ford Edge SUV.
It didn’t do him much good. A month later, Avis claimed she still had the rental car in her possession. This, even though she had proof that she flew to Germany (without the car, of course) shortly after her car rental ended.
So will she just have to pay Avis that extra $4,228?
Lockwood’s case raises the curtain on how we operate here at Elliott Advocacy. Behind the scenes, we don’t always agree on how to argue a case. It’s a good thing for Lockwood, because it allowed us to take a second, third, and even a fourth look at the details of his grievance with Avis – and find an unlikely solution.
Here’s how Avis gave its customer a $4,228 surprise
Lockwood returned his rental car at Tweed New Haven Airport in Connecticut after driving from Washington, D.C.
“The Avis counter was closed,” she explains. “So I called them and did the rental handover over the phone. A rep asked me for the number on the key. I asked if he needed anything else from me, and he said no.
Lockwood didn’t hear from Avis for a few days — no receipt, no verbal confirmation — so she called the company back.
“A rep assured me again that Avis had terminated my contract,” she said.
But Lockwood wanted something in writing, so she followed multiple times. But the car rental company didn’t send him anything.
Then the shock. A month later, Avis sent her a bill for $4,228, “because she claims I kept the car for 34 days.”
But did she?
“No, Avis, I didn’t fly to Germany with this rental car!” »
Lockwood didn’t have the rental car. In fact, she moved to Berlin two weeks after returning the Avis vehicle.
“Also, the odometer on the rental closing bill reads as if the vehicle had been sitting in the New Haven Airport rental parking lot the entire time,” she says.
Lockwood presented gas receipts showing she filled the tank in New Haven before returning the car.
“But the evidence doesn’t seem to be enough for Avis,” she adds. “Can you help me?”
Good news! Avis will reimburse your costs. But …
It seemed like a simple misunderstanding. Lockwood had done everything she could to return her vehicle as instructed by Avis. The fact that his system did not register the car as returned was not his problem.
So I contacted Avis. And within a day, I got a response from the car rental company with what seemed like good news:
We received a response from our Director of Operations. By way of explanation, our customers are responsible for all rental charges until the car and keys are checked in by an authorized ABG employee.
We were informed that the car keys were left in the vehicle. The car was not parked in an Avis Budget car park. The vehicle was found on January 18, 2022. At that time, the contract was closed.
As a goodwill gesture, our customer service team refunded the late fee charged on the rental and reduced the rental. The $614.21 credit was issued to the customer’s Visa account. The credit will be credited to the account within 3-5 days.
Then, a representative from Avis contacted Lockwood with even better news. The company would issue a full refund.
Or at least that’s what she thought.
This Avis Refund Isn’t Quite What It Seems
But someone somewhere crossed their threads. Just a day after receiving the good news, Lockwood was back to square one.
There was an unfortunate turn of events with my refund with Avis. Apparently, [my refund] was rejected the day after I received email confirmation that my refund would be issued within 5-7 business days.
After an hour of calling with an Avis supervisor, the only refund they can offer me is $614.21, which I accepted as I felt cornered and it seemed like the only option to this stage.
Avis told me the refund would appear in 3-5 business days, however, I don’t trust it based on my last experience. Avis is adamant that my case is closed and there is no further action from them as the car has not been returned to their property. This is not accurate as there is only one car rental location with no differentiation between car rental companies.
At this point, is there anything else I can do to negotiate a refund? From my perspective it looks like Avis is not being honest with the process and the information they need, taking way too long to respond and trying to take my money when I’ve done everything they told me to do. Do you recommend that I dispute the charge with my credit card company?
This “resolution” still left a balance of approximately $3,614. And Avis wasn’t going to let that go, even after my team asked for it.
“We have reviewed your case,” a rep told her in a follow-up email. “Unfortunately, we have not found any discrepancies in our system regarding the return date. At this time, we are unable to make corrections or issue additional credit to your account.”
What should we do?
If Avis’ records show she didn’t return her rental car to the correct lot, a goodwill refund of $614 seemed like a decent gesture. Should we skip this one?
Our team got into a little debate behind the scenes. Avis has a reputation for being inflexible in a situation like this, so I figured Lockwood wouldn’t get more than the initial refund.
First, does Avis allow after-hours returns? Turns out this place doesn’t work.
So we are already operating outside of Avis policies. But Lockwood’s car rental agreement with Avis confirmed an after-hours return. How did the booking system even allow this?
And did she return the vehicle to Avis when she says she did? His gas receipt says yes. And a screenshot of her phone suggests she did too.
After asking Lockwood for additional details, we decided to press Avis for a closer look. (We will get to the result of this investigation in a moment)
How to return a car after hours
You might be wondering: how do I return a rental car after hours?
The quick answer is: you shouldn’t. Returning a vehicle to a closed location increases the risk of something going wrong – like the rental company losing the car and charging you.
Beyond that, here are some pointers:
- Bookmark my ultimate guide to renting a car. To reduce the risk of being caught off guard by surprise charges, review all the information in my complete guide to car rental.
- Blaze a paper trail. Be sure to get gas receipts, photos of the car in the lot (Lockwood unfortunately didn’t have any), and phone records that show you returned the vehicle when you said you did.
- Take a photo of the odometer. A picture of the odometer at the time you returned it would go a long way in proving that you returned the vehicle when you claim to have.
- Get a receipt in writing as soon as possible. A receipt also proves that you returned the car when you said you did. You may need to call the company to request the receipt, as Lockwood did, but you need proof that you returned the car. Without it, the company might continue to charge you.
As with many situations we encounter in the travel industry, you are guilty until proven guilty. So if the car rental company can’t find your rental (even if they make minimal effort), they can and will charge you until they find the vehicle.
But back to the Lockwood problem.
Elliott Advocacy is investigating: it appears this Avis location made a mistake
We have therefore sent a further review request to our executive contact at Avis. We’ve included an image of the parking lot where she returned the car. Kinda hard to lose a car here, don’t you think?
The very good news! Here is your full Avis refund
When Avis reviewed this additional evidence, it decided to back off and reimburse all of Lockwood’s late fees.
I want to let you know that I received a refund from Avis. Although I have yet to receive written confirmation of the adjustment, the refund has been issued to my credit card. I really appreciate all the work and support on my case. Sincerely, Claudia
None of this should have been necessary. Avis’ booking system should not have allowed it to return the vehicle outside of business hours. He should have registered her car as returned and sent her a receipt, as she had requested. But these days, when you rent a car, you can’t assume that everything will go as planned.