You’re not paranoid. Someone is watching you — it’s Thrifty Car Rental!

As Marc Markowitz drives out of the Thrifty Car Rental lot in St. Louis, he has no idea that his whereabouts are being tracked. But when he returns the car, he receives an expensive surprise — someone was watching.

Question

I picked up a Thrifty rental car in St. Louis. At that time, the representative told me that I had unlimited mileage. No one mentioned a restricted driving area. Expedia charged me for the six-day rental.

When I returned the car, the agent gave me a receipt showing the Expedia rate. But when I received my credit card statement, it showed that Expedia charged me $250. But then Thrifty charged me an additional $121 and $181.

I called Thrifty about this. The agent told me that the unlimited mileage plan was dropped when I visited a neighboring state and an additional surcharge was added. Also, Thrifty charged me for six days of being out of the zoned area. But I was only there for two days.

I am shocked that no one told me that if I drove into a different state Thrifty would detect this and charge me over $300. Can you help me? — Marc Markowitz, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Answer

It’s not unusual for rental agencies to restrict driving into foreign countries — but “foreign” states?

That’s new to me.

After all, we live in The United States, so it was unclear why crossing the border into another state triggered over $300 in additional fees.

But more importantly: Why weren’t you made aware of this restriction or the fact that your car was equipped with a GPS locator that was tracking you?

When you contacted our advocacy team, you had a limited paper trail. But you did have a rental receipt. This showed the regular rate with unlimited mileage— no mention of driving restrictions.

What’s a “special” car rental?

Taking a look at your original Expedia reservation, I noted that your itinerary said “special.” But there was no explanation of what made this rental special. I continued to scour the page for a justification of the charge.

I finally found it — but it wasn’t easy.

When I clicked on your actual rental voucher and scrolled to the very bottom of the page I saw this:

UNLIMITED MILE RATES ARE FOR THE STATES OF MISSOURI, IOWA, INDIANA, MISSISSIPPI, ARKANSAS, ILLINOIS, KANSAS, KENTUCKY, NEBRASKA, OKLAHOMA, AND TENNESSEE. IF TRAVELING OUTSIDE OF THE LISTED AREA, RENTERS MAY NOTIFY THE COUNTER AGENT AT TIME OF RENTAL
ADVISORY: CHARGES ASSOCIATED WITH THE BASE RATE ARE THOSE WHICH ARE APPLICABLE AT THE TIME OF BOOKING AND COULD BE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. ONLY THOSE CHARGES LISTED AS MANDATORY ARE INCLUDED IN THE TOTAL RATE FOR THE DISPLAYED RENTAL.

GEOGRAPHIC DRIVING RESTRICTIONS: UNLIMITED MILES RATES ARE FOR STATE AND BORDERING STATE MO,AR,IA,IL,IN,KS,KY,MS,NE,OK,TN. IF TRAVELING OUTSIDE LISTED AREA RENTER MAY NOTIFY COUNTER AGENT AT TIME OF RENTAL TO RECEIVE UNLIMITED MILES FOR ADDITIONAL CHARGE 20.00 PER DAY OR 100.00 PER WEEK. IF THE VEHICLE IS TAKEN OUTSIDE THE LISTED STATES WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL FROM THE LOCATION, A GPS SERVICE FEE OF $150.00 WILL BE CHARGED IN ADDITION TO THE $20.00/DAY OR $100.00/WEEK. VEHICLES ARE NOT ALLOWED INTO CANADA OR MEXICO.

Traveling to forbidden lands in your Thrifty car rental

Where had you gone?

Unfortunately, Thrifty caught you traveling to the forbidden land of Michigan.

Gasp!

That short trip to visit your friend cost you an additional $300.

This didn’t sit right with me. The fact that the Thrifty representative had not reviewed the geographical “no-drive zones” before you drove away, seemed particularly unfriendly to a loyal customer. And although the information was located on your confirmation, it was quite difficult to find.

Such unusual terms should be made crystal clear at the time of the reservation and at the rental counter.

A GPS locator is tracking you

Not to mention, that Thrifty should disclose that if you rent from this branch, a GPS locator will be monitoring your travels.

I reached out to Hertz, the parent company of Thrifty, to find out what went wrong here. Our executive contact explained that this particular Thrifty branch is a franchise. For that reason,  the investigation was a little more involved.

In the end, Hertz agreed that you were due a full refund of these charges. It’s still unclear why this branch of Thrifty finds Michigan so objectionable, but you are pleased with this outcome and will use an alternative agency the next time you plan to visit your friend.

Should rental car agencies be permitted to track their customers’ locations with GPS locators?

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