No budget for fuel


Q: I recently rented a car from Budget Rent A Car in Kingston, Jamaica, for two days. An agent told me that I would be charged an additional $38.71 for a full tank of gas, whether I returned the car with a full tank or not.

I confronted the agent when I dropped off the car, and was again told that charging for a full tank, regardless of how much gas was in the car, was Budget’s policy. I spoke with two other people who rented cars from Budget in Kingston, and they told me they’d gotten refunds when they returned their cars with a full tank.

Can you please tell me what Budget’s policy is? Why did they bill me and not the others? And can I get that $38.81 back?

— Tasker Nanaesi

A: Budget actually offers three fuel-purchase options. You can pre-pay for a tank of gas and return the car without refueling. You can return the car partially full and pay Budget to refuel it for you (usually at a hefty mark-up from street prices). Or you can fill it up yourself before bringing the car back and avoid paying Budget for the gas.

Chances are the rental agent was confused about which option you had selected.

After returning the car, you wrote to Budget asking for your money back. A representative told you the Kingston office claimed you returned your car only a quarter full, and offered to adjust your final bill by $14.53.

But that didn’t answer your question, so you contacted me.

I asked Budget to take another look at your file, but I also advised you to write back to the company, explaining that a partial refund wouldn’t work.

Budget responded by removing the entire $38.81 – a full refund.

I’d like to think that what happened to you was a simple misunderstanding. But knowing the car rental industry like I do, it’s also possible the Budget employees you were working with were trying to maximize their revenue by inventing rules that didn’t exist.

In conversations with current and former car rental employees, I’ve learned that agents frequently try to saddle international-arrivals customers with surcharges or extra fees, citing non-existent “policies.” They apparently rely on the fact that these out-of-town visitors don’t know any better.

Next time you encounter a mysterious fee, don’t waste your breath arguing with an agent. Ask for a supervisor, and if you don’t get anywhere, call the corporate toll-free number. If you don’t get the answer you want, take your business elsewhere.

I think your persistence – not my involvement – led to a successful resolution of your dispute. Remember, if you’re ever unhappy with an “adjustment” of your bill, it’s important to politely continue asking to have your case reconsidered.

In order to avoid future misunderstandings, try joining one of the car rental companies’ frequent-driver programs, like Budget’s Fastbreak, which is free to join and lets you specify your fuel-purchase preference in advance.