A Reservation

What does having a reservation mean?

Did you ever seen the December 4, 1991 Seinfeld episode where he and Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) arrive at the rental car counter to pick up their rental car?   It is hilarious.  And yet also so very sad.



Jerry Seinfeld comes to the counter and gives his name, asking for the car that he has reserved.  The woman employee of the car rental company at the counter says that there are no cars available.

Seinfeld responds that he has a reservation, and therefore there must be a car available.

She counters with “No, we have no cars available. I am sorry.”

Seinfeld then in frustration begins to explain that there is a difference between making a reservation (which he did) and holding a reservation (which is the rental car company’s responsibility).

This exact scenario happened to me a couple of days ago.  I arrived at the Jackson-Medgar Evans International Airport in Mississippi at 11:30pm, just before midnight.   However, this was when my flight was scheduled to arrive, and I had made a reservation with Budget Rent-A-Car for a rental car to be picked up at this late hour.

When I arrived at the rental car counter it was manned, and I gave the staff person my name.  He informed me that there were no cars available.  I said that I have a reservation.

He said, “I’m sorry, but there are no cars available.”  I countered “how can that be, when I have a reservation?”    He responded that they overbooked.  “You overbooked!”  I said with my voice rising.

Travelers' rights: When reservations aren't honored

“Yes,” he said, “we do it routinely.”  I said, “Really?”

So, here I am in the Jackson MS airport at midnight with no car which I needed to drive the two hours to my final destination.   What I ended up doing was to get a taxi to a nearby hotel, get a room for the night, make another car rental reservation with another company for 7am the next day, get an Uber to the airport at 6:30am and pick up a car for my 2 hour drive to my destination for my 9:30am meeting.

Bottom line, I survived. I made it to my meeting the next day at 9:30am.  Yet, I had to go through a lot of hassles to get there.  It cost me money for the taxi and uber rides.  I lost sleep as a result of the back and forth to the airport.  I also had a flat tire on the two hour drive!   But, I made the appointment.

The more important point to me is the issue of what is the value of a reservation.  What does having a reservation mean in this day and age.

I agree with Jerry Seinfeld completely.  When making a reservation you expect that the car rental company will hold a car for you, regardless of whether or not other people want to rent the same car.  To do otherwise is to make a mockery of what having a reservation means.

There are so many ways that the car rental company could handle this situation.  For example, when making the reservation the car rental company could inform me that they cannot guarantee the reservation, that it is subject to availability.  Therefore, I would know that the “reservation” is contingent on a car being available.   If this was OK with me, then I would be put on notice.  If this was not Ok with me, I would make a reservation with another car rental company.

Or, the car rental company could say that they want me to put a deposit down to ensure that i will have a car available when my reservation calls for.

At a minimum the car rental company should take responsibility for the inconvenience caused by their failure to hold the reservation.  They should offer to pay for the taxis and Ubers to and from a near by hotel, and they should pay for the room at the hotel.   Or, offer to provide credit to my bill for the inconvenience caused by their failure to honor the reservation.

To make this even worse, in this instance the rental car company showed no remorse.  None whatsoever.  Rather it was presented to me as if this is the way we do business.  That this happens all the time.

Holy cow!

File:Avis Budget Group logo.svg - Wikimedia Commons

I have since done some research on the Avis Budget Group.  Avis Budget Group owns Avis, Budget and Payless rental car brands, as well as Zipcar, the country’s largest carsharing company.  The Group generated over $12 billion in revenues this past year.  They have over 10,250 locations in 180 countries, with some 1,438 locations in the United States.

on their website, there is no mention that i could find of what having a reservation actually means. nor is there any mention of the possibility that reservations may not be honored or fulfilled.

Budget Car Rental Boynton Beach, FL - Last Updated April 2024 - Yelp

however, there is extensive discussion of what happens to you, the consumer, if you fail to cancel a reservation without giving at least 24 hour notice.  in fact, you, the consumer, are subject to a non-cancellation fee if this should happen.  even further, they have a No Show Fee (NSF) if you don’t show for your reservation.

can you believe this?  the company outlines in detail the price you, the consumer, will pay if you don’t show up for your reservation and/or if you, the consumer, do not provide 24 hour notice of your desire to cancel the reservation.

however, the company does not even acknowledge that they may not honor your reservation — that your reservation may not be fulfilled.  in addition, they impose no penalty unto themselves if they do not uphold their end of the bargain on providing a car that you, the consumer, had reserved.

what can be done about this, you may ask.

  • first, each of us can shop around to try to find rental car companies that do keep their committments.
  • second, we can try to influence the leadership of the company(s) that do this to change their behavior.
  • Rental Car Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4433) - GovTrack.us
  • third, we can support federal legislation designed to provide car rental consumer rights and protection. Representative Katie Porter from California introduced the Rental Car Consumer Protection Act (HR 4433) on June 30, 2023.  if passed the Federal Trade Commission would be empowered to enforce consumer rights and protection regarding car rental reservations.

Honestly, this whole experience shakes me a little bit.

It raises the question in my mind about what can you count on anymore.

  • When someone says “yes”, does that mean yes, or not.
  • When someone says “I love you”, does that mean they really do, or not.

You get the idea.  It just shakes me a little bit.

As a result of this experience, in the future when I make a reservation for anything I am going to take the time to ask if that means that no matter what they are going to hold the car, the room, the dinner table, or whatever.  Or does that mean that it is conditional, and depending upon demand, that I may or may not have my reservation when I arrive.

It has been 33 years since the Seinfeld episode, yet apparently nothing has changed.  Avis’ tag line of “we try harder” apparently does not apply to making sure that when a customer makes a reservation they are assured of getting a car.

A sad state of affairs.


7 thoughts on “A Reservation”

  1. Neil,

    My family had the very same experience a couple of months ago when we (6 of us) showed up at the Budget car rental kiosk in the Memphis Airport on the Sunday afternoon two days before the eclipse of the sun that we traveled to see near Little Rock, Arkansas. We, along with two or three other parties, sat and waited for a couple of hours, as we were told that other customers scheduled to return their rental vehicles had failed to do so, and there was therefore nothing the rental agents could do (except hope and wait for someone to show up).

    We, too, started to research nearby hotels, even though we had paid for an airbnb in North Little Rock, two hours away. 5 of us did get a taxi downtown to the Martin Luther King Museum, which was a great experience. But as the 4 p.m. hour approached when the car rental office was scheduled to close, we became very concerned. (We had checked with every other car rental agency in the airport, and no one had cars available).

    Fortunately, about 3:30 p.m., a car arrived that had 6 seat belts and barely enough space for our luggage, but we made it to our airbnb in time to go out shopping for supplies for dinner.

    I can report that on the day of the eclipse, stores in Hot Springs reported record-high sales (50% higher than the previous high records). So it’s not surprising that the availability of rental cars at the airport was a problem.

    People who rent cars can apparently decide, independently from the car rental agency (without their approval), to keep their cars an additional day or more, but of course they have to pay for the extra time they have the rental car. This business practice affects the availability of cars that have been “reserved”.

    I think you are kidding yourself if you think that some kind of legislative advocacy at the federal level will change the basic business practices of the entire car rental industry, But maybe Elizabeth Warren will take up this fight on behalf of car rental users.

    Welcome to the real world! And yes, Ilene and I clearly remember Jerry Seinfield’s cry of “what about a reservation do you not understand”?

  2. It would have been better to fly directly to New Orleans. even if you have to change planes to get there.

  3. It would be better to fly directly to New Orleans, even if you have to change planes and want to eat Jackson’s beignets.

  4. Same experience here at the Savannah GA airport. Had to take a 30 minute cab ride. Changed my plans completely. And id wasn’t Budget or Avis but Hertz.

  5. Fully agree, Neil, Brian, et al. I travelled a LOT during my active worklife, but never encountered no cars at all of the usual 3+ rental desks. But, then, I never did so in a full shadow zone during a full eclipse of the sun! —Baze

  6. This has happened to me but I switched to Enterprise about 3 years ago. It is usually the most expensive option but the customer service is top notch! I am one of those people who has extended their rentals last minute, now I feel bad!!

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