Q: I recently booked a rental car with Dollar through Priceline. My car did not have a front or rear license plate, so I had to bring it back to the rental location that night.
The second car Dollar gave me was not the size I reserved. It was too small to accommodate my passengers. The following day, I finally got Dollar to agree to give me the vehicle I had booked, a midsize SUV. A representative told me to bring my car back for another exchange. But instead of exchanging the vehicle, Dollar treated my exchange like an early return. A representative then told me I would have to pay for another reservation if I wanted a car. A Priceline representative promised I would receive a refund. But, Dollar said I voluntarily returned the car, which is untrue.
I have been talking to Dollar and Priceline for the last two weeks, attempting to — at the very least — get a refund for the days I couldn’t use my rental. Both of them keep telling me they do not have my money and that the other entity owes me a refund. I have tried disputing the charge with my bank, but have not received any help.
— Vivian Everhart, Houston
A: You should have gotten the car you reserved from Dollar. Instead, they handed you the keys to a rental without plates, and then canceled your next reservation. Come on!
But, things went wrong on both sides of the counter. When you pick up a rental, the first thing you should do before leaving the facility is to inspect it carefully and take photos. Had you done so, you probably would have noticed the missing plates. Then, you wouldn’t have had to return your first rental.
If the first vehicle has to be replaced for whatever reason, you should be sure the new car meets your specifications before you accept it. If you had just said “no” to the second rental, you also might have avoided this problem.
It looks like you had a prepaid rental, which means you had already paid Priceline for the three days you were supposed to rent the vehicle. So, when you returned the car, Dollar simply rented you a new one and kept the money for your previous car. Then, it looks like it tried to push the responsibility on Priceline to fix the problem. I think everyone was a little confused.
Priceline didn’t fully understand your refund request. It tried to mediate your refund request with Dollar, but the car rental company claimed it had given you the right vehicle. It had, initially. But, that car didn’t have plates. Priceline issued you a $25 gift card to make up for the trouble. But, you wanted — and were entitled to — a refund for the two lost days.
I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of both the Priceline and Dollar executives on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/priceline/ and www.elliott.org/company-contacts/hertz/. A brief, polite email might have moved your refund into the fast lane.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf. Priceline again reached out to Dollar. “We were able to secure a refund from Dollar on the customer’s behalf, which has been processed back to her credit card,” a Priceline spokeswoman told me.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or firstname.lastname@example.org.