eternal clock Rental car advice: Be sure to update your checkout time

Reader Thomas writes:

I rented a car with Alamo last week. My scheduled pickup time was 2:00pm. My flight didn’t get in until 3:30, and I picked up the car around 4:00. When I returned the car three days later (at 3:00pm) they charged me for an extra hour’s rental. And that one hour cost more than the daily rate.

I complained that I hadn’t actually picked up the car until 4pm, so it was less than 3x 24-hours, so why were they charging me for 3 days plus one hour? They insisted that the reservation started at 2:00 pm. What gives?

This issue has 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 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.

There you have it. Once you drive it off the lot, the timestamp on the contract is the time that counts. So be sure to verify that the time is the time you actually rent.

(Of course, with some companies, you can be handed a contract but still wait… and wait… and wait for the car… If that happens, let the exit gate agent to mark and initial the contract with the accurate time, as a last resort, if you can’t get it updated in the computer.)

As an added heads-up from Jason’s comment, advice for tail end of the rental:

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.

Forewarned is forearmed: Watch the clock, and watch your contract.


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6 Responses to “Rental car advice: Be sure to update your checkout time”

  1. Marc Says:

    I had an occasion with Avis where I returned the car about a day and a half early due to a major change in travel plans. The computer recalculated my rate at the current daily rate, instead of the much cheaper advanced reservation weekly rate–about a difference of $300 that I would owe. I would have been happy paying the full weekly plus a small charge over that, but 300 was a little ridiculous. I went in to the counter, and they pro-rated my original rate–something that I still feel was over and above what they needed to do.

  2. Chester Says:

    Thanks for the advice here. I usually only rent cars for work, so don’t pay too much attention to the late fees, but this is great to know for personal travel.

  3. Elizabeth Says:

    We hope all customers read over their rental agreement before signing so they are aware of the terms and conditions. If there is any misinformation on the rental agreement regarding pick up time, etc we would be glad to correct it at the time of pick up.

    As for your reader Thomas’ case, we’d be glad to resolve this issue with him. He can email us at care[at] with the details of his reservation, listing reference number 100413-001299 in the subject of his email.

    - Elizabeth with Alamo Rent a Car

  4. Mark Ashley Says:


    Thanks for commenting and reaching out. I’ve passed your info on to Thomas via e-mail; the ball is now in his court.

    You are correct that customers should read their contracts. Of course, I hope that Alamo works hard to make those contracts clear, transparent, and easily understood by those without a legal background…

  5. Sofia - As We Travel Says:

    Sneaky! Good advice to get someone to mark and initial the contract with the accurate time, will remember that :)

  6. Yanakie Says:

    Great !Thank you for the advice, next time if I travel I’m going to be sure to update my checkout time to avoid inconvenience.

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