It hurts to be Hertz these days

The name Hertz used to be synonymous with excellence.  It was such a gold-plated brand that Avis, number two in the car rental game, had to devise a clever ad campaign to compete (see here for a brief overview).  That rivalry started in the 1940s after World War II ended and was raging over much of the five decades of my world travels.  I regularly rented from both companies and still did through last month.  But after what happened to me and my family in Seattle in July, I won’t be reserving any cars again with Hertz, at least not until I read that they have fixed their fundamental problems.

Here’s the story:  My wife and I were spending a week on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and we took the kids with us.  Our 6:00 AM departure from RDU required a 4:00 AM wake-up, so by the time we got to Sea-Tac after connecting through LAX, we had been up for 12 hours and were exhausted.


Arriving on the shuttle at the huge Seattle Airport offsite rental car facility on Saturday afternoon in mid-July about 3:30 PM, I hurried down to the Gold board to locate my minivan, which I had reserved three months earlier in April.  My name was absent.  Usually the big Hertz Gold boards are full of car assignments, but there was no need to check it twice that day because only a few names were listed at all.  I should have guessed then that I was in trouble.

Perplexed, I went to the adjacent Gold counter downstairs (the main reservations counters are upstairs), which was manned by one person, with my wife and kids in tow.  Two and a half hours later we left in a Hertz vehicle, though not the one I had reserved.  What I experienced was almost word for word this famous Seinfeld skit about a car rental company from a 1991 episode, the key lines of which are:

Jerry: I don’t understand. Do you have my reservation?

Rental Car Agent: We have your reservation, we just ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.

Rental Car Agent: I think I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don’t think you do. You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.

Except that in my case the counter agent was a moron, and he was itching for a fight.  I was very tired from the long trip and lack of sleep, and I was upset because we had commitments in Olympia, Washington 90 minutes south.  I also had my wife and two kids with me, and I was protective of their well-being. I had fulfilled my duties in reserving the car, but Hertz had not fulfilled theirs.

Unlike the Seinfeld episode, the demon-possessed Hertz agent claimed that they had no cars at all, not even the compact that Jerry ended up with.  He could not tell me, either, how long the wait would be.  The nutty counter agent intimated, though, that it could be many hours, and the guy seemed to take pleasure in goosing my frustration.  He then easily provoked me into a heated argument during which I asked what happened to Hertz, once the greatest car rental agency in the world.  When I raised my voice to make that point, the agent threatened that he could have me arrested if I wasn’t “nicer” because “we are in a federal building.”  Doubtful that the ugly pile of concrete and steel miles from the airport was actually under government jurisdiction, I nonetheless took his threat seriously, since I knew he had the power to cancel my reservation–arguably a worse fate than spending the night in the hoosegow.

After an hour I chose to seek out a manager upstairs to complain about both the absence of my reserved van and the insane Hertz employee downstairs.  Two managers, a man and a women, explained that the agent down below had contacted them to say that I was a trouble-maker, and the two remonstrated me to wait my turn.  In other words, they didn’t believe me and had no better explanation for why I did not have a car or when I might have one.  Checkmate!

So I prowled the entire rental car complex, asking for a car to rent–any car–at every agency. Nothing. They all bragged about hoarding cars for customers holding reservations.  Too bad Hertz didn’t understand that critical business premise to their industry, I thought.

Spiritually defeated, I went back downstairs and dejectedly sat, mute, awaiting the car, whenever it might come.  I sent my family to get soft drinks and a quick snack.  The madman hired by Hertz to interface with their best customers like me, however, wasn’t satisfied that he had beat me.  He came out from around the counter and engaged me in conversation, repeatedly attempting to antagonize me.  I didn’t take the bait, and I asked him not to speak to me, just to leave me alone.  He kept it up, though. When I raised my voice to repeat that he should “stop antagonizing me and not speak to me,” he claimed I was the one causing trouble.

I left to go upstairs again to seek out the managers and got a call from my wife, still down there, saying the Gold counter idiot had gleefully informed her that he had canceled our reservation and to “have a nice day.”

This time my discussion with the two managers went differently.  It began poorly because they were very defensive about their cuckoo employee, who they said had just called them to report I was the one causing a ruckus.  I was humble, and my tone and explanation sounded that way, calm and flat.  I asked the manager to please review the video from their downstairs cameras to verify facts.

Long story short, they did study the video of the lunatic downstairs, after which one of the managers apologized profusely to me and quickly found a car for us.  No, it wasn’t a van, but neither was it Jerry Seinfeld’s Ford Escort compact.  It was instead a new Dodge Durango SUV with all the bells and whistles.  Though we really needed the extra seats in the van, I would have accepted even Jerry’s Ford Escort at that point.


I had already instructed my family to come upstairs after the nutcase had told my wife that he’d canceled our reservation.  Now I asked the apologetic manager to please keep us away from their psychotic employee.  He did so, bringing the car to a distant location and offering to carry our bags to it.  The manager also took $100 off the rental as a token apology from Hertz.  While I appreciated the discount, I just wanted to leave by then, having waited more than two and a half hours and having been subjected to the worst customer service representative I think I have ever seen.

It’s hard to fathom that this event could happen in a developed country, let alone in America and at Seattle. But it did, and Hertz squandered 45 years of loyalty in one afternoon.  How can I ever trust them again?

13 thoughts on “It hurts to be Hertz these days

  1. i am empathetic; dealing w/inept customer service agents – especially when exhausted, w/family in tow is exasperating to say the least. I certainly hope the rep you dealt with is not the norm at Hertz. I have to say we had a pleasant experience at the McCarran rental center in Las Vegas last month. We rented through Hotwire and was surprise that the rental was assigned to Hertz. When we arrived there was no line (we are not Gold) – the rep was pleasant and professional and we decided to upgrade to Mercedes for $30/day – since our hotel was comped it turned out to be a good deal and we had only good things to say about the experience.

  2. I’ve rented at multiple Hertz Locations, including McCarran/Las Vegas. The biggest problem I’ve had with Hertz is substitutions of smaller vehicles, especially during convention periods.. I’ve ordered minivans, and gotten 2 seat sports cars only to be told that I got an “upgrade”. Unfortunately, the 4 people traveling with me didn’t feel that way.

    While their customer service is pretty bad, the only upside of Hertz is what with Gold status….You in most cases don’t have to speak with a human being at the desk.

  3. Interesting timing on the “hurts to be Hertz” story. This just happened to me at the Orlando International Airport. My advance reservation was acknowledged and AFTER completing paperwork and signing all forms, I was informed that there were no cars available. I was told to step aside and wait for a car. The man in front of me had been waiting an hour and a half for a car, he had a family in tow with small children and was furious. For him and his wife, this was a well planned family trip to see Disney World. He, too, had made a reservation. There were NO cars, it didn’t matter what size. I’m no expert in the car rental business but it seems they could have coordinated with other car rental companies to find available cars, similar to an airline. I paid a premium to reserve from Hertz, but I won’t use them again.

  4. i recently switched to Hertz when United changed their program over from Avis. I had more problems this past year with Hertz then I did in the total 15 years of using Avis. If you have a choice stay away from Hertz.

  5. Hertz used to be the best, most reliable, etc. I willingly paid more to use them. Sad, yes. Surprising? Not any more.

    The race to the bottom has no winners… except for quarterly earnings reports and C suite compensation packages tied to those reports. Employees, customers and service are just the minor, irritating details.

  6. I had an impressive positive experience with our local Enterprise franchise this past June. I needed a minivan to haul all my grandchildren. Two days before the scheduled pickup, the manager called to say that they expected to be out of minivans, but he would do everything he could to find a suitable substitute vehicle with enough seats. He was true to his word, including checking in with me twice a day to update the status. As the pickup time approached, his calls were more frequent, and he volunteered to stay beyond their normal closing time so a vehicle being brought over from another branch could be prepared for me. As I was on my way to pick up the (quite suitable replacement) he called to say a minivan had been turned in early and would be ready for me when I arrived, which it was. Needless to say, they are my “go to” in the infrequent times I need a rental vehicle.

  7. Hertz today is nothing compared to what it was once upon a time. Last week at LAX, I was given a car with over 57,000 miles on it! There is no reason to rent with Hertz.

  8. I could probably fill a book detailing the so many reasons why I switched to National. Two, however, stand out.

    The first was when I returned a car to Hertz LAX after filling the tank less than a mile away. When the invoice showed up in my email a few minutes later, I had been charged for refueling the car. I have since talked to other customers with a similar experience. Something is crooked at LAX Hertz.

    A little over a year ago I flew into IAD, which was having a surprise snowstorm — that wet, gooey stuff. I live in the mountains, so a little snow isn’t much of a consideration. When the bus dropped me at Hertz, I had that same sinking feeling you reported — almost no names on the Gold service board. It was late afternoon and I had a dinner appointment. Uh oh. It was actually much worse than I could have imagined. There were dozens of people lined up at the Gold counter and many more for the regular rental counter. And there wasn’t a manager in site. Each of us were told there were “no” cars, despite our reservations, our corporate accounts, etc. In fact, there was an entire lot full of cars a block away, but they were shuttling their few personnel over there to clear off each car, take it through the washer, etc. There was absolutely no sense of urgency or the needs of the many customers. I finally managed to get a car by using the phone kiosk in the Hertz building, but only because an alert operator figured out that Hertz IAD was very confused and headless. She got a supervisor on the line, who escalated to someone with some sense, etc. It took maybe 30 minutes, but I was out of there in a brand new SUV that was being held in the “prestige” collection.

    Hertz was once the best in auto rental customer service. Now they aren’t even in the running. I have to assume that the company is being run by bean counters who never have to meet a customer and consider all of us just numbers. I rent a car about 20 times a year, but I doubt they’ll even miss me.

  9. Hey Will, it will be interesting to hear whether anyone from Hertz (especially the corporate office) reaches out to you since you posted this. Not that we should expect them to — I mean, they’ve obviously been studying the airlines’ approach to how to treat customers — but who knows, maybe there are still some decent people at the top.

    What say ye?

  10. Will, hate to hear you had such a horrible experience. I’ve never rented from Hertz but rather NCR, Avis, even Alamo….whichever my company was using. As I write this, I remember they switched to Hertz, but I basically ignored that and stayed with NCR. I am sorry to hear of them losing you after so many years. But that little sadistic pr**k you had to deal with in Seattle would have thrown me over as well. Glad the managers played back the video. They need to boot that guy. Enjoy your posts! Mickey

  11. Mr. Allen, I hope they have taken action against that employee once they reviewed the video. You nor anyone else deserves that kind of treatment. Of course they need to manage their inventory better too. Although I have been a customer of Hertz for many years (and have one of their cars now), I do not like to hear of them treating you in this way and wonder if I should review my dealings with them should they not rectify this situation in an acceptable manner. Please update us all if anything further is done by Hertz.

  12. I’ve lost interest in playing games with car rental companies. So I pack lightly and use public transportation in the cities I visit.

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