Thrifty but Evil

I had my first ever Planes, Trains and Automobiles type experience this year. And I owe it all to Thrifty car rental. Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Made It!

It all starts way back on December 12, when I used Hotwire to make a car reservation. Since I was working through the 24th the earliest I could make the reservation was Christmas Eve, so, of course, I wanted to book something well in advance. This didn't seem to be a problem; Hotwire produced several viable options. I chose Thrifty for two reasons: 1) it was the cheapest, and 2) it was close to my house. There are a number of car rental agencies near me, actually, and I've worked with a few, but I'd never tried Thrifty, so I looked for reviews online before booking. Most folks had only minor issues, which could be said of most of the other agencies as well. So I went for it. I booked a car. I made, what we refer to in the talking biz as "A Reservation."

In case you're fuzzy on the concept, let me briefly walk you through it: When an individual makes a reservation he or she enters into an agreement that says, in essence, that he or she will give the provider of a service or resource money to procure said service or resource at an agreed upon time in the future, and that this provider should hold — or "reserve," hence the term — this service or resource for the individual until said time. Not to be too pedantic, but here's the New Oxford English Dictionary's first definition of reservation:

reservation noun 1 the action of reserving something : the reservation of positions for non-Americans. • an arrangement whereby something, esp. a seat or room, is booked or reserved for a particular person : do you have a reservation? • an area of land set aside for occupation by North American Indians or Australian Aboriginals. • Law a right or interest retained in an estate being conveyed. • (in the Roman Catholic Church) the practice of retaining a portion of the consecrated elements after mass for communion of the sick or as a focus for devotion.

As you can see, the concept of holding something, retaining it for the future use of the individual is key here, I think we'd all agree.

Unfortunately, particularly considering the fact that a large portion of Thrifty's business must surely rest on the concept of the reservation, they seem not to fully grasp the idea. For when I arrived at the Thrifty counter to pick up my car at the agreed-upon time, I was told that there were no cars available. I was told that they'd overbooked and that I would not be able to get a car for the evening. I was told that there were eighteen others in this same boat, that boat being stranded in New York City on Christmas Eve, despite having made a rental car reservation well in advance. I asked why I hadn't been notified and was told, "It's not Thrifty's policy to do that," to which I replied, "Then I will not be using Thrifty ever again."

After trying everything I knew to find a car through other agencies — literally impossible given the timeframe — I decided to give Thrifty a call on the phone to see of they were at least prepared to offer some sort of recompense for my Nightmare Before Christmas. The woman on the phone had only apologies to offer. I told her, "You do realize that if you do nothing for me, you have lost me and all my friends and relatives as customers forever, and that I will do everything in my power to spread this tale as far and as wide as I possibly can. Are you okay with that?" No response.

So, here we are.

As much as I'm tempted to conjure up all sorts of systems metaphors and analogies, I'll resist. Suffice to say that Thrifty's failure to do the one thing they're tasked with doing — providing a rental car — on a crucial night such as Christmas Eve is inexcusable. And their response to that failure is nothing short of reprehensible. Let it be known that Thrifty does not care one ounce about service or the satisfaction of their customers. For that reason alone you should spend the extra $10-20 and use a reputable agency. So far, Hertz has not let me down, and when I asked them what they do in such a circumstance I was told, unequivocally, "If we book you a car we'll find you a car." Based on that response alone, Hertz has my business for the foreseeable future.

I spent Christmas Eve alone eating tacos on the couch, fuming and watching reruns of something or other I can't recall. But in the end I managed to get home. My family ended up driving all the way here, and then we drove all the way back down, all on Chrismas Day. I am grateful to them for that, and glad we got to spend some time together, despite the major inconvenience.