clock Reader mail: What happened to car rental late return grace periods?

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?


pixel Reader mail: What happened to car rental late return grace periods?

18 Responses to “Reader mail: What happened to car rental late-return grace periods?”

  1. David Albert Says:

    I don’t mind the loss of the grace period — as long as they are charging me for the time I actually had use of the car, and not for the time I spent waiting in line to return it!

  2. Jason Says:

    A little tip for renters from someone who’s been on both sides of the rental counter. Make sure the rental agent updates your pickup time if you arrive after your scheduled pick up time (i.e. scheduled to pick up at 2pm and you don’t arrive until 3pm). If you arrive early, the computers will likely set your pickup time to the actual time you pickup the car, but if you arrive late it’s up to you and/or the agent to update your pickup time. This little trick has caught a lot of renters who return at the same time they picked up the car, but still get the late fees.

    One other nasty suprise of Alamo, if you return the car more than 24 hours early you may be subject to a $15 early return fee. It’s stupid, but it’s on the contract the renter has to initial. Don’t try to argue with the agent, we couldn’t take it off and we never could figure out why it only appeared on some rentals and not others.

  3. Mark Ashley Says:

    GREAT advice, Jason. Thanks for this. Both very useful tips.

  4. Vacation Apprentice: Sights and events from around the world! Says:

    [...] with a bill much higher than you ever imagined. Especially if you return your car late. The blog Upgrade: Travel Better provide a good overview of the different return policies for the US majors. All things being equal, [...]

  5. links for 2007-04-06 « linksnstuff Says:

    [...] Car rental grace periods (tags: travel car_rental) [...]

  6. Oliver Says:

    I don’t quite understand why people insist on grace periods wherever they go. They rent for a given time period and agree to return the car by a particular time. Why is it so hard to plan accordingly for that return time? Yes, there may be the occasional unforseen traffic jam, but hey, why should that be the problem of the car rental company? And yes, the fees are rather high for returning the car late. But so are fees for paying your credit card late. It’s a way to make money off of those who plan poorly, I guess. And also a way to encourage people to be back at the time when the car rental company is expecting the car (and potentially needing it for the next customer). Imagine if the fees for extra hours where just proportional of the daily rate, e.g., your daily rate is $24 and every extra hour is $2. I’d have little incentive to return it when I promised, and the car rental company would have a hard time planning my car for future rentals.

    Do airlines give you a grace period (i.e., hold the plane a few minutes) if you don’t show up at the time you agreed to when purchasing the ticket?

    Does the IRS give me a grace period for my upcoming tax return? No, it’s due on midnight April 17. A minute later is late.

  7. Chi Says:

    Ah but let’s examine those kinds of companies you cite.

    If you’re a good loyal customer to a credit card company, most of them will be glad to do a 1 time credit every now and then for some fee that you just don’t like. Granted you can’t do this every time, but once in a blue moon, a check might just take a little longer than usual to clear.

    Or how about an airline? I’ve personally missed a connection flight switching from International to Domestic and I kindly asked for the ticketing agent to lend a hand and he did. He got me to the next flight that was outbound and I eventually got to my destination without having to pay additional fees.

    And lastly, let’s look at the IRS. Yup Taxes are due on the 17th. Unless of course you file and extension (which is easy enough to do). But let’s say you’re still strapped for cash, I believe there are payment plans that you can setup with the IRS so you can pay your due (and adjust that W-4 while you’re at it!).

    Grace periods are essentially that extra mile in customer service that says hey, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and you know what? I’m going to lend a helping hand. It’s the fact that a company is willing to go above and beyond for you the customer so that you’ll stay with them even if they are just a bit pricer than their competitors.

  8. Reader roundup: More tips for car rental deals » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] dropoff time Reader Jason, a former employee of one of the major rental car chains, responding to a post about disappearing grace periods for late returns, offered this advice: Make sure the rental agent [...]

  9. katarina Says:

    Yes, Chi, but how many times has your late payment to a credit card company resulted in delaying someone else’s plans? Having worked for a rental car company, we plan for cars to return at a certain time. When you don’t bring it back, we have to explain to an angry customer in front of us why their car isn’t ready. Put yourself in THAT customer’s shoes. He is getting penalized for your lack of planning. And so is the rental car agent, because they now have to deal with the angry customer. The rates and time of return are agreed upon when you pick up the car. Plan accordingly, or pay the price.

  10. Renting a car in Mexico? Better have a high credit limit » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

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  12. National Car Rental Invades Privacy Says:

    If you have any desire to protect your personal privacy, and to do business only with companies that respect you, you will not rent a car from National or their sister company, Alamo. Here’s why…

    Try dialing any of National Car Rental’s toll free reservation numbers (ex. 800-328-1234) from a VOIP line, especially a SKYPE line, and you will get endless ringing. Nobody will answer. Why? Because, as I was told by a National “customer service rep”, “National needs your home and cell phone numbers to service you better”. Huh? Say what?
    The truth is that National wants more detailed customer info so that they can sell it – you are aware that your personal info is worth money, right? – and also, of course, so that you have nowhere to hide from their marketing weasels.
    If you call National – Alamo from a SKYPE number, all National captures is the SKYPE termination number, and your privacy is protected…and National apparently doesn’t like that.

    So, rent Hertz and Avis.

  13. Joe Mateson Says:

    That is the dumbest comment ever. National and Alamo do not sell your phone number. Companies are always looking for ways to increase revenue but I can assure you, capturing phone numbers is not one of them. Can you imagine the backlash that would cause? It’s probably so they can speed up assisting you with reservation or rental agreement questions. Quite the pessimist there.

  14. Rental car advice: Be sure to update your checkout time | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] come up before, in a discussion of the decline of grace periods from a few years back. There was one comment in particular, from a reader named Jason, which is particularly prescient, and bears repeating: A little tip for [...]

  15. Susie Says:

    I don’t mind paying for the extra hour because I was 12 minutes late. What I can’t believe is that the upgrade and taxes and fees were charged a full day. 12 minutes may have been the wait in line for someone to help me. And you can’t tell me that at the Corpus Christi, TX Thrifty rental that my one car was holding ANYONE up.

  16. Avoiding airport rental markups | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

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  17. Sonic98 Says:

    I’m sorry but I find posters like Oliver terribly annoying whenever and issue like this comes up. I can understand having a policy about late returns. If I rent for 24 dollars/pay, charge me 1 one dollar plus 10% or something like that for every hour I’m late. But seriously charing for a whole day of everything other than the car rate itself is ridiculous. They should be able to wave a days worth of protections as long as your say less than 3 hours late. And my main issue is not even that you don’t get grace periods. It’s that you can’t “plan ahead” according to him and book for a longer rental from the beginning. At least don’t penalize someone who let you know before hand they might not need the car for exactly 24 hours or exactly 48 hours. We’re talking about traveling, something that takes time and can be tiring. So, now people have to either pick up a car at a later time or bring it back extra early to fit into a perfectly 24 or 48 hour rental.

    Some people are so annoying how they act like they’re perfect or always have the answer. They never have to pay a late fee. They never have to pay an overdraft fee. They never make a mistake or get things mixed up. He sounds like the same type of people who blast others for thinking the way banks are able to load to 5 or 6 overdraft charges on basically 1 or 2 items is somewhat unfair.

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