Q: My husband and I rented an economy car with Avis in Kona, Hawaii, and we’re having a problem with the rental company. We paid $196 for the car, and we returned it with a full tank of gas. But we didn’t speak with anyone at Avis, since we had an early flight to catch.
A few days later, Avis charged us an additional $277. The company didn’t notify us about the charge, but when we looked at the receipt, we saw that it was billing us for an extra day and a full tank of gas.
I sent Avis our itinerary from Expedia, which confirmed our car rental. But now Avis wants to see a receipt from a gas station, which must show a fuel purchase on the date of vehicle return within five miles of the return location. It also claims to need the address of the gas station and the number of gallons purchased, as well as the cost.
Problem is, I don’t have the gas receipt. I want my money back because it’s Avis’ mistake, not ours. Can you please help us or guide us with what to do next?
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A: Avis should have notified you and your online travel agent of any late billings, including fuel purchases or additional fees for allegedly keeping the car an extra day. And it should have explained why it was charging you instead of forcing you to do all the work.
It’s true, car rental companies are strict about vehicles returned without a full tank of gas. They even have new technology that can detect when a gas tank isn’t completely full. The solution is to either pay for the fuel-purchase option or to refuel just before you arrive at the airport — and to keep your receipt.
The fuel-purchase option allows you to buy a full tank at market prices, which works if you can figure out a way to return the car with an empty tank. If you bring back the vehicle with half a tank, then you’ve subsidized the rental company’s fuel purchases.
But if you don’t go for the fuel-purchase option, and the needle isn’t on “F,” then you could be on the hook for a full tank at a premium rate, which is double or even triple the market prices. That would explain why you were charged so much.
I believe you returned your car with what you thought was a full tank. I’ve done the same thing, with one difference: I returned the vehicle during business hours. A representative informed me that even though the gas gauge indicated a full tank, the tank wasn’t quite full. He suggested that I visit the gas station across the street to top it off, which I did.
Point being, you probably could have avoided this late charge by returning the vehicle during business hours and speaking with an employee.
Failing that, you could get in touch with someone higher up at Avis. I list the executives’ names and numbers on my website: http://elliott.org/contacts/avis/.
I contacted Avis on your behalf, and you supplied the car rental company with your confirmation from Expedia and your boarding passes, which verified the correct return date. Avis refunded the $277.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler.” His column runs regularly at seattletimes.com/travel and in print. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org