Sunday, July 17, 2011

CONSUMER VICTORY #230: BUDGET RENTAL CAR & THE SQUEAKY WHEEL

July 16, 2011

Avis Budget Car Rental, LLC
6 Sylvan Way
Parsippany, NJ 07054 U.S.

RA Document# 598442XXX


To whom it may concern:

I am writing to detail a disappointing experience I recently had with Budget and to offer your company a chance to make things right.

My wife and I recently booked a trip to the Los Angeles area through Hotels.com and reserved an economy vehicle to be picked up and returned at your LAX airport facility, 9775 Airport Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90045.

Upon arrival at the airport, we were picked up by a shuttle bus and transported to the Budget rental office location. The shuttle service, while prompt, was also considerably damper than our clothing would have preferred. The air conditioning unit in the vehicle had apparently been sweating at regular intervals throughout the day, emitting large amounts of condensation on the bench seats every time the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. As a result, the cloth seats were saturated with water. Unfortunately, this would not become apparent to us, or anyone else boarding the shuttle for that matter, until about three minutes into the ride when the water from the cloth bench had managed to saturate the bottoms of our pants.

While an uncomfortable ride, to say the least, this was only the beginning of what would prove a disastrous rental experience.

Upon arrival at Budget’s LAX rental office, we were unpleasantly surprised to see a line of customers from the office, out the door and down the covered walkway to the parking lot. We could not believe this was actually the line to pick up a “reserved” vehicle, so we checked inside to find out where we could pick up our car and were told that this long line was, in fact, the waiting line for ALL people picking up cars from Budget that day – even those of us who had booked a car online in advance months before to expedite the process.

Grudgingly, my family and I were forced to stand in line outside your facility for over an hour on an unseasonably hot day, all of our luggage and personal belongings baking in the summer sun as we helplessly watched the precious minutes of our first vacation slowly melting away.

Once breaking the threshold of the office, I saw the line wrapped around even further, which meant more waiting. At this point the problem became evident – while there were around eight reservation terminals in total, only three were staffed by personnel. Given the long line, which only grew longer as shuttle after shuttle continued bringing new customers to the office, it was clear that the people on duty that afternoon were in no hurry to get customers on their way.

Upon finally reaching the service desk, I was greeted by a polite lady who appeared to have a management position. I asked her if the facility were always this busy, to which she responded with a laugh, “Always. The price must be right, right? Business is good.”

I explained to her that while business appeared good, things were actually not so good if you asked the dozens of people in line behind me, many of whom were on their cell phones canceling afternoon plans because Budget was inexplicably understaffed and woefully inefficient.

She laughed again and said, “Well, we must be doing something right. Look at all these people.”

Frustrated at her lack of empathy, and lack of understanding regarding sound business principles, I politely explained to her that ‘all these people,’ as she had put it, had been “Bad-mouthing Budget for the past hour and a half.”

“They may be customers today,” I continued, “But they’re not HAPPY customers…and they won’t likely be repeat customers given this experience. That’s actually BAD for business.”

Another laugh. Another smile. Another excuse. “That’s how we keep our prices so low. People like low prices. It must be worth it.”

“That’s my whole point,” I explained. “It’s NOT worth it. No one here expected to waste away their afternoon in line at the airport. I would never pay a few dollars less for a rental car to endure this. I don’t think anyone here would. If it’s ‘always’ like this, and ‘business is good,’ then you’d think Budget could afford to hire a couple more people to make use of all of these empty terminals.” I gestured at the row of unmanned computer screens that had been taunting impatient customers all afternoon.

Another ‘polite’ laugh. I had to admire her mock amusement as she deftly avoided offering me anything that would have made the situation better – such as an apology, or better yet – a token discount for my time and trouble. I was instead horrified to discover the opposite was about to happen.

After accessing her records to locate my reservation, she began the ritual hardsell of vehicle upgrades, supplemental insurance, and pre-paid gasoline purchases. I declined, but she insisted on explaining to me the benefits of all three anyhow – even as my family continued sweltering in the sun outside. “Perhaps,” she suggested, “You would like a vehicle with a little more room.”

“Like what?” I asked, foolishly taking the bait.

“I have one Impala left,” she said. “It is the only car we have ready. I only have it because someone else canceled and you can have it now if you want it.”

“Wait a second,” I said. “You don’t have any other cars ready?”

“No,” she confirmed. “There is a wait for all other cars right now. They are not ready.”

“Even the car I had reserved for today? After I’ve been waiting all this time? It’s not ready?”

“There is a wait. But this Impala is ready now. It has more room.”

I would have been pleased to agree to a car with more room at that moment, had it been offered at the same rate I had been extended for the vehicle I had reserved online – well in advance. But it was not. This car would run another $93, she explained. But had more room.

I looked outside at my family, camped out patiently on our luggage, their pants finally beginning to dry from the shuttle ride over, and wondering if we would ever get to start our vacation. How much longer could I possibly ask them to wait for our car to be ready, I wondered.

In the interest of leaving the facility as soon as humanly possible, I relented and grudgingly accepted the terms on a car we didn’t ask for, that would cost more to rent, and that would get us worse gas mileage over the course of a week (but had more room). But it wasn’t until we were driving away that we made the most bone-chilling discovery of all.


UPGRADE? PLENTY OF ROOM IN THIS SWEET RIDE.






Just as we had been handed a key and were allowed to load our Impala and drive off to wherever we wanted, so too had other customers been handed keys to cars – economy cars – to be loaded and driven away. In fact, it was happening all around us. People walking out of the office with keys to cars that were *GASP* ready.

There had been no wait, after all, as we had been told. People who had been waiting in line with and around us were all driving away in cars that could easily have been assigned to us. We had, in fact, been lied to by the representative and told that our wait would have been longer had we opted to keep our economy car reservation.

Rather than spend another minute of our vacation battling your staff over this deceptive, unethical practice, we drove off and elected to take this issue to a higher authority. And that is, at long last, why I am writing today.

I believe we are owed an apology and an explanation for way we were treated, as well as a refund for the $93.31 we were coerced into paying by the unscrupulous Budget employee who exploited our frustration to up-sell us a vehicle we didn’t need or ask for.

I trust someone in your company has the authority to make this happen, and trust that whoever is screening this formal complaint and request now ensures it finds their hands. This is not a matter any company or business should leave unaddressed, and I do hope Budget will take action toward able remedying this to our satisfaction.

Sincerely,


Terry Mertens
312-501-XXXX



RESERVATION DETAILS

Rental Agreement Document # 598442XXX
Car # 10586XXX
Rented: 02JUL11/1146
Due-In: 09JUL11/1700

CC: Hotels.com

******************************************

TWO HOURS LATER:

******************************************

CS#40621

Thank you for contacting Budget Customer Service, Mr. Mertens.

Budget strives to provide exceptional customer service with every rental. We deeply regret that you have had a bad experience with us, and we thank you for bringing this to our attention. We try to provide you with the utmost customer service experience as possible and when this is not being done, we need to be aware of this. Also, the $93.31 USD charge for the upgrade has now been removed, and a credit has been issued to the charge card used for the rental, which you should see within a few business days. We can assure you that this case has been submitted to the District Manager of that location and action will be taken in order to prevent such an incident from occurring again in the future.

If you have any further questions please let us know.

Sincerely,

Josh Pinson
Budget Customer Service

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