Read The Fine Print

by | Jan 13, 2016 | 2 comments

I learned my lesson the hard way last weekend that not all car rental agencies are created equal. In fact, there are several that make it very difficult to rent a car if you only use debit cards and choose not to have a credit card. I want to use this opportunity to pass on the knowledge that I gained in my experience so that you can decide for yourself how to interact with these companies.

Let me make a few statements up front to clarify today’s post. First, I have not used credit cards in six years and will not get one again. There is no argument or logic in the world that would make me change my mind on this subject. Second, the car rental employees that I interacted with were not rude or unprofessional in any way, shape or form. They were merely carrying out the policies and procedures laid out by their company. Third, companies are free to make whatever policies and requirements they deem appropriate to run their business.  That’s the beauty of the free market. I’m not asking these companies to change their policies but rather using this opportunity to inform others of these companies’ policies to make better decisions.

On Saturday night my car broke down. Two hours after I had left the mechanic to get work done on my car. It ended up being a rotor on my car and so the car was completely disabled. After getting the car towed, I need a rental car until I could get my car repaired. Being that it was 9:00 PM on a Saturday evening, my options were limited to the car rental locations at the airport which are open 24 hours.  I called for a cab and reserved a rental car through National Car Rental.

When I got to National, I gave the agent my debit card as I had with other past transactions. They asked me what my flight number was.  I said I hadn’t come in on a flight, that I was a local resident. The agent then told me that I would not be able to use a debit card to rent the car unless I had a round trip flight through the airport – this was the policy at all airport locations for National, Enterprise and Alamo (all owned by Enterprise Holdings). Needless to say I was stunned.  I had never run into this issue before but then again the only times I had rented cars was when I was making a round-trip flight.  I headed over to Budget who told me that I would be able to use a debit card but their computer systems were down. So I ended up getting an Uber home for the evening – I was mentally tapped out at that point to try any other rental options.

The next day I headed over to the local Enterprise location as I had been told by the airport agent that I would be able to rent a vehicle with a debit card at the non-airport location.  Turns out that there were additional steps necessary, which included obtaining either a utility bill, bank statement, or other way to verify my residence.

While I understand Enterprise Holdings’ need to perform some sort of due diligence before renting out a vehicle to someone, I find that they policies that they have in place are not logical.  Let me start with the airport example. I was told the reason that they have the policy in place it to ensure that drivers have an incentive to return the vehicle. I am pretty sure that the rental car companies don’t have access to the flight itineraries. With that being the case, I could have looked up an incoming flight on the airport’s website and picked any flight at random. If they would have questioned me due to my local driver’s license, I could have said that I was in the middle of a move and was coming back to finish the move.

In the case of the non-airport location, the residency-ish type confirmation with the bank statement or utility bill also seems illogical. I have to bring in these types of documents when I move in from out of state to obtain a driver’s license. So why shouldn’t a valid local driver’s license suffice for this requirement?

When a rental car company is telling you that they have to do a credit check before allowing the rental, I begin to wonder how thorough that check is.  In order to perform a true credit check on someone, you would need the person’s Social Security number. Last time I checked, I have never provided that information to any car rental agency. And while they do ask you for your personal car insurance information when you rent a vehicle, how often are they validating that the insurance policy information that you are providing is accurate? I have no idea how or if they validate it with any insurance company but that would solve many of their “credit check” issues knowing there is a valid third party with a vested interest who would cover those losses.

This past weekend taught me a lot about how the rental car industry operates and what is required for a rental. During my research I found there were plenty of other rental car companies that do accept debit cards – Budget, Thrifty, Hertz and Avis, to name a few. Yes, they do put an additional $200 hold (in most cases) on your card but to me that offers a greater incentive to the renter to bring the car back. And it is more straight forward. Having convoluted policies that make using a debit card almost a crime seems like a great way to lose customers.

So for now I will be renting my vehicles from those companies that are debit card-friendly. Should Enterprise Holdings choose to change their policies in the future, I would gladly go back and give them my business. For now, I choose to use the companies I listed above whose policies I can live with.