Beleaguered companies are finding fresh ways to reach into your wallet
By Christopher Elliott
updated 9:57 a.m. ET April 6, 2009
Look out for cancellation penalties. Beware of energy surcharges. And watch for facilities fees. No, not on your airline ticket. Not on your hotel folio. You may find these new extras on your next car rental bill. Beleaguered auto rental firms are quietly adding new surcharges designed to lift revenues in a recessionary economy.
To get an idea of how absurd it’s becoming, meet Jim Swofford. He found a mysterious $5 fee on his Hertz bill recently, which a representative described as a cancellation fee. Car rental companies typically don’t charge their customers for cancellations, so Swofford, who frequently rents from Hertz, said he didn’t want another car he’d reserved for later.
“That’ll be $25,” the agent told him.
“So I jokingly said I would not cancel but just be a no-show,” he remembers. “She said that would result in a $50 fee.”
Or talk to Eric Hegwer, a photographer from Austin, Texas, who spotted a $1 “energy surcharge” on his Hertz car rental bill recently. “My previous rentals didn’t have one,” he says.
I asked Hertz about the two new surcharges. Company spokeswoman Paula Rivera told me the cancellation fee, which was added in December, applied only to prepaid reservations and is meant to “reimburse Hertz for the paperwork and billing involved with a prepaid reservation.” The fee also covers part of the company’s cost of holding vehicles for prepaid reservations. The energy surcharge, which was added in October, bills all rentals in most states an additional $1 a day “to offset the increasing costs of utilities, bus fuel, oil and grease,” she said.