Picture this scenario. A company hires me to work for them in house for a month. I ditch my normal per day rate and give a special price for the entire month. The contract specifies that it is a special rate for a full month.
In the end, the company decide they do not need my services for the final week, and they let me leave early.
What should I charge the company? I think most people would expect me to charge the original fee. After all, I booked time in my agenda for that final week and might not find other projects to take up the time.
But what if I told the client that because they were not using my services for the final week, I was going to charge then four and a half times the original price? What would the client think of my business? Would they ever use my services again? Would they recommend my services to other potential clients?
My bad experience with Avis
This is what happened to me when I hired a car from Avis.
I needed a car from 26 April to 16 May, and found a great price with Avis, at just €98.11. Adding a few extra days did not change the price, so given the frequency of strikes in France, I decided to extend the booking to 18 May, so that if my flight got cancelled I would still have the car for the extra two days.
The booking included the following clause:
For those who don’t speak French, it says “You shall not be refunded for the days that you do not use the car”.
This made perfect sense. If my flight went ahead as scheduled, then by returning the car on 16 May, I’d pay the same price as in the original booking and wouldn’t receive a refund.
Things turned out rather differently.
Unlike the conditions stated on the original booking, the conditions I signed when I went to collect the car said that the price was subject to hiring the car for at least 21 days. Yes, I realise that I should have queried this when I collected the car, but I’d already tried to check it would be fine and had been reassured by the above condition printed on my original booking. Sadly, the part about the minimum of 21 days was not among the three sections that I had to initial, otherwise I might have spotted it.
I returned the car, and thought everything was in order, but when I got back home and checked my credit card statement, I noticed a charge of €345.63, even though I thought I’d already paid everything I had to pay. It’s a good thing I checked the credit card statement, as I received no e-mail informing me of the additional charges until after I asked for clarification.
Of course, I’ll learn the lesson and in future I won’t return a car early without explicitly checking with the car hire company first. In this particular case, I did mention to the member of staff at the counter in Lyon that I was planning to return the car early, but I only mentioned it in passing, and did not specifically ask if it would result in a higher charge. It didn’t even occur to me that a company would charge more for an early return. It just didn’t seem logical.
Were Avis within their rights to make the additional charges? Perhaps. But it seems a strange way to treat one’s customers.
By returning the car early, I was making the car available to be hired by other customers. There was plenty of space in the company’s car park, so I can’t for the life of me work out why they needed to charge me an additional fee for returning the car early. And not just a small fee – one that made the total price four and a half times more expensive than the original price!
If I ran any kind of company that hired out any kind of product and a customer wanted to return that product early, I would always allow them to do so, and would never charge them extra to do so.
Fortunately many other car hire companies agree with me. Here’s what some other companies say:
Can I return the vehicle early?
You can return your hire early with no penalty however if your reservation was pre-paid you won’t get a refund of any rental days you have not used.
Can You Return a Rental Car Early?
At Enterprise, we do not charge customers more for returning a car early, and you will only be charged for the days you had the vehicle (excluding prepaid reservations).
Q: What happens if I return the car earlier/later?
A: In case you return the car earlier than the specified drop-off date and time, please note that there will be no refund.
In case you return the car later than the specified drop-off time and date, please note that there will be a grace period of 29 minutes. In case you do not return the car within this period, you will be charged a full day of rental, at the current rate.
(The latter is pretty similar to what Avis’s conditions said, but I know from experience that Firefly don’t charge you extra if you return the car early.)
So, with Europcar, Enterprise and Firefly, you usually pay exactly the same price for returning the car early, and you never pay more.
Had I been charged a small fee, I wouldn’t have been so indignant, but having been charged an additional €345.63 simply for returning the car early, therefore causing no inconvenience to the car hire company, I’ll probably not be hiring a car from Avis again.