Travel Troubleshooter

Dollar steps up when franchisee fails on car reservation

Q: I recently had a confirmed reservation for a one-way car rental between Melbourne, Florida, and Orlando. But when I arrived at the Dollar Rent A Car rental counter, the agent wouldn’t honor my reservation because I’d made it earlier that day. She said she wouldn’t have any more cars for the rest of the week.

I called a supervisor at Dollar, and she didn’t understand why they wouldn’t honor my reservation, either. She helped me make a second reservation. I went up to the counter again, and the counter person said, “I already told you I am not going to honor your reservation.”

I asked to speak to a manager on duty, and she said there wasn’t one and would not give me the number to the branch manager. Other car-rental locations were sold out. Finally, after a long wait, a supervisor gave me a car.

That would have been OK, except that when I tried to return the car to the Orlando airport location, they said they could not accept it. A Dollar employee said they had “no record” of the rental.

I spent five hours trying to return the car. I missed my flight and had to spend another night in Orlando. I emailed the Dollar manager in Melbourne, who insisted that none of this happened, even though I have everything documented.

I would like my rental refunded. Can you help me?

– Daniel Nevin, Alvin, Texas

A: Dollar shouldn’t have accepted your reservation if it didn’t have a car for you (although I know why they do that – I’ll explain in a minute). Dollar should have resolved your problem in five minutes, not five hours. I’m sorry you missed your flight back to Texas. I agree, the rental company should compensate you in some way.

But a full refund for your rental? That would be very generous. It looks as if you paid $103 for your one-way rental, and Dollar provided you with a car, even though it also gave you a massive headache.

This car-reservation problem is at least partially Dollar’s fault. One of its franchisees had trouble managing its fleet inventory and appeared to have accepted more reservations than it had cars. I promised to explain what’s happening behind the scenes. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Because of the car-rental industry’s liberal cancellation policies, which allow you to make a reservation and cancel at any time without penalty, some rental companies have a difficult time managing their fleets. At the moment you booked your rental car, the Melbourne location may have had a vehicle in inventory, but by the time you arrived at the counter, it did not.

Next time, you might want to reserve a car earlier than a few hours of your arrival. Waiting until the last minute may have exacerbated your problem.

I recommended that you give Dollar another chance to resolve this, and sent you the names, numbers and emails of the Dollar Rent A Car customer-service executives listed on my consumer-advocacy site (Hertz owns Dollar): Clearly, we had a breakdown between the Melbourne franchisee and Dollar corporate. I wanted to be sure Dollar had a chance to resolve it.

You contacted the executives in an attempt to fix your problem. A manager from Dollar’s Melbourne location called you and said that although this was the Orlando location’s fault, the company would offer you a full refund. I think that’s beyond generous.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at, or email