Two readers wrote in regarding late returns and grace periods when renting a car. Reader Francine writes:
When I rented a car from National recently, there was no grace period for late returns. None! Is this the latest way they get you?
And reader Peter offers this story, and advice, from his recent rental with Budget Rent-a-Car in Montreal:
I was late getting out of Vermont and late getting the car back to the airport. When I arrived I discovered that I had signed a contract that stipulated $33.xx CAD/hour for being late on a $55/day rental. Further, since I was 2hrs 15 minutes late they claimed I was 3 hours late (the grace period disappeared) and they charged me for another DAY, stating it would cost me less than 3 hours of the late charge.
I haven’t had any luck getting Budget to discuss this with me. If you rent from anyone be clear at pickup 1) what constitutes late and 2) what it costs when you are.
Indeed, grace periods are no longer a given when it comes to late returns. Hertz cut their grace period in half a year ago, and others soon followed suit. Nowadays, you really need to know what you’re signing (and initialing).
In Peter’s case, I see only one possible “violation” here on the part of the company: The forfeit of the grace period. But even then, if he returned the car two hours late (instead of three), he’s better off paying a full day extra, rather than two hours’ overtime. It sucks, but those are the terms.
With contracts like this, if you signed for it, you’re on the hook. These hourly rates are one of the items you’re often asked to initial.
Not all companies are the same, though: Late-return policies vary by chain, with some chains offering no grace periods whatsoever.
Perhaps even more importantly, some companies reserve the right to retroactively change your rate to a higher level — for the duration of the entire rental — if you return the car late. If anything, Peter was lucky they didn’t change his rate for the earlier days as well!
The policies of each major U.S. chain, with key points highlighted, after the jump:
• Alamo: “A grace period of 30 minutes applies to rentals within the U.S. Within the European Union, there is a 59-minute grace period, thereafter a further full day’s rental will be charged.” Even worse: “Daily/weekly rates may also retroactively increase from the start of the rental if the vehicle is kept beyond the agreed return date and time.”
• Avis: “There is a 29-minute grace period. If the car is returned within the 29-minute grace period there will not be any additional hourly rate. Beyond the 29-minute period, an hourly rate will apply until it equals the rate for an additional day. Charges for optional services such as LDW, etc. are charged as full days after the 29-minute grace period. If a vehicle is returned beyond the parameter associated with a specific rate code the rental may revert to a higher applicable rate.”
• Budget: “Vehicles are rented on a daily, 24-hour basis beginning at your pick-up time. There’s a 59-minute grace period for returns. After one hour late, hourly charges may apply. After three hours late, a full-day charge may apply.”
• Dollar: No grace period. “The renter will be charged for each hour and/or any part of an hour in excess of a rental day the renter keeps the vehicle until the vehicle is returned, up to the applicable daily rate. … Other rates will apply if the Vehicle is returned earlier than the original return date or if the Vehicle is returned later than the original return date.”
• Enterprise: No grace period. “For most rentals, Enterprise uses a 24-hour period to define a single rental day. For example, if you rent a vehicle at 11 a.m. on Monday and return it any time prior to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, you will be billed for one day. If you return the vehicle after 11 a.m. on Tuesday, you will be charged an hourly rate for each additional hour, or for a second full day, whichever is less. Hourly rates are usually one-fourth of the daily rate.”
• Hertz: “Vehicles are due back the same time of day as rented, Hertz will provide a 30 minute late grace period at no additional charge. Vehicles returned after the 30 minute grace period will be subject to an additional hour charge and/or an additional day charge.”
• National: No grace period. “Rates are subject to change if vehicle is not returned on the date and time agreed upon at time of reservation and rental.”
International chains, or rentals with these companies at locations outside the U.S., will have different terms. (Kudos to Alamo for pointing out the difference up front.)
Be particularly careful when returning late to Alamo, Avis, Dollar, and National, as they can jack up the rate for the whole rental. Nasty.
When you’re booking, make sure you open the terms and conditions, and do a search for terms like “grace” or “late” inside the webpage. That will often point you toward the policy governing your rental. When in doubt, ask questions.
You may be able to negotiate some of these points (especially with Enterprise) but don’t count on it.
Know the terms of your rental, ideally at the time of booking, and certainly before you drive off the lot.
- More changes to car rental terms and conditions
- Low mileage, high surcharges
- Car rental rates at Enterprise are negotiable
- The death of the grace period? Or just the last time I ever rent from Dollar Rent a Car?