Something I love about writing a travel- and lifestyle-oriented blog is that I can vent to (generally) like-minded people.
With that in mind, I want to share a frustrating story with you.
Traveling for a Funeral
My best friend’s mother died last Wednesday. Her passing wasn’t completely unexpected. (But as most people who lost someone close can attest, it’s still sort of a shock.)
As soon as I learned the funeral’s date and time, I booked travel reservations to Pipestone, Minnesota. That’s where she lived and the services held. I wanted to be there for my best friend and his dad.
The closest airport to Pipestone (home of the world’s largest peace pipe) is Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is about 50 miles away.
I booked a Delta Main Cabin roundtrip (45,000 SkyMiles) and one night at a Holiday Inn, (19,000 IHG points) thanks to my IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card points.
But I needed a rental car to get between Sioux Falls and Pipestone.
I generally prefer Hertz because my Delta Medallion status gives me President’s Circle status. That’s helpful when I travel with my family — we can usually upgrade to a bigger car.
But this was a solo trip, so I wasn’t too picky. A cheap and small car would suffice.
Plus, rental car loyalty isn’t that big of a deal to me. I rarely rent cars. Most places I visit have ridesharing options, taxis, public transportation, or I know friends and family who are generous enough to provide a ride.
Naturally, I checked Hertz first. They wanted something like $125 for one day. That was a little rich for my tastes — but I kept it in the back of my mind.
I then visited Momondo. Some trusted friends told me they had good experiences booking travel through Momondo.
And there I found a good deal: a compact car for $40.
Momondo redirected me to Hotwire, where I completed the purchase. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay because it offers great travel protection.
Upon booking the reservation, Hotwire revealed that Alamo would be the rental car agency.
”We’re Over Booked By…”
I arrived in Sioux Falls at about 10:15 PM — and was eager to get to my hotel and hit the hay. The funeral was the next day at 10:30 AM.
But Alamo’s desk was dark; the lights were shut off.
Nonetheless, I walked up to the Alamo counter. Maybe there’s someone in the back working at this late hour, I hoped.
A gentleman at the Enterprise desk asked if he could help me.
“I’m here for Alamo,” I said.
He explained he worked that counter, too. (This makes sense because Enterprise, National, and Alamo all belong to the same company.) Then everything went downhill.
“I’m sorry, sir, but —“
He explained that they didn’t have any cars available. Their regional office overbooked by 85 vehicles.
Overbooking is part of the travel business. I know that. I worked at a hotel during college and we always overbooked, usually by about 15%. Only a handful of times did we have to “walk” people to another hotel because we truly were full. People flake, miss flights, cancel their trips, etc. So not every reservation is fulfilled by customers.
But never did we overbook by eighty-freaking-five rooms.
“That’s unacceptable,” I said. I didn’t yell, scream, or belittle. But my tone was firm.
“I know,” the rep responded. “But if you come back in the morning–”
“I need to be in Pipestone for a funeral in 11 hours,” I said. “There damn well better be a car for me tomorrow morning.”
The gentleman promised that if I came back the next morning that there’d be a car ready. He continued apologizing up and down. I told him I appreciated the sentiment — but didn’t blame him.
“Please tell your regional office that I have a blog and thousands of Twitter followers — all of whom are going to be warned about Alamo in about five minutes.”
His eyes lit up and a big smile spread across his face. He clearly loved the corporate suit shaming.
He said I’d be reimbursed for a ride share or taxi service to my hotel. I’d just have to email him my receipt. Or show it the desk in the morning.
I ordered a Lyft and went to my hotel.
The Next Morning
My original plan was to sleep until about 7:15, enjoy breakfast at a local restaurant, and then head to Pipestone.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Instead, I got up early, got all gussied up for the funeral, and rode the airport shuttle to FSD.
The Alamo counter was closed. Of course it was.
So I shuffled over to Enterprise. The employee there helped me with the Alamo booking. He kindly upgraded me from a compact to a Toyota Corolla (which was unnecessary but appreciated). Then he apologized several times for my inconvenience. I told him that unless he was the one responsible for the overbooking snafu that he need not apologize. (He assured me he wasn’t. 🙂 )
As for my Lyft reimbursement, that hit a small — but easily fixed — snag. The gentleman was going to deduct that expense from my rental rate. But that didn’t work because I prepaid my reservation in full through an OTA.
So he suggested a simple and convenient solution: I wouldn’t be responsible for refilling the gas tank before returning the car. My Lyft ride cost $11. I figured I’d spend slightly more than that for gas. I readily accepted his offer.
He gave me directions to the interstate and I was soon on my way. I made it to the funeral with about a half-hour to spare.
The “What If?”s Are Why I Won’t Rent from Enterprise, Alamo, or National for a Long Time — If Ever Again
I’ll do whatever I can to stay away from Enterprise, Alamo, and National.
Stop whining! You got your car! you may say.
Yes, I did. But ten stressful, restless hours late.
It would be different if Alamo was short one car and some customer didn’t return the vehicle on time.
But grossly overbooking is another story. It’s deceptive, untrustworthy, and bad business.
Flashback a few days to when I made all my travel plans: I originally thought about booking the night’s hotel stay in Pipestone (about 50 miles away from FSD) instead of Sioux Falls. But I decided to stay in Sioux Falls for a few reasons:
- One of my clients booked me on a job that was expected to run late the day before I traveled. (Indeed, it did. I didn’t get to bed until around 2:00 AM).
- My plane arrived at FSD late in the evening. An hour-ish drive — in the dark of night and tired from the past couple of days — through a rural area I don’t know didn’t seem like a great idea.
- My friend would be drained after his mother’s visitation and wake service earlier in the evening. He’d probably be asleep when I got to town.
- I snagged a decent points redemption at a Holiday Inn, whereas none of the Pipestone hotels I saw were affiliated with any loyalty programs. They weren’t even selling rooms on OTA.
Thank goodness I stayed in Sioux Falls. What if I’d booked a room in Pipestone? How would I have gotten there that night? I’d have gone to Hertz, paid through the nose, and hoped my travel insurance would cover the expense.
But why should I subject myself to a potential situation like this again?
To their credit, the employees with whom I interacted were kind and efficient. (Maybe they should be the regional managers.) They surely received the ire of many travelers but remained calm and professional.
I hope your Alamo experiences were better than mine. I’ll do whatever I can to avoid going business with them (and likely Enterprise and National) again. I don’t need the stress of hoping a car is available (one I prepaid, at that). And they seem to massively overbook. So why take the chance?
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