I was fined £800 for returning my hire car three hours early

avis car hire rental holiday travel issues advice dilemmas - Getty
avis car hire rental holiday travel issues advice dilemmas - Getty

Gill Charlton has been fighting for Telegraph readers and solving their travel problems for more than 30 years, winning refunds, righting wrongs and suggesting solutions.

Here is this week’s question...

Dear Gill,

I am a British citizen living in the United States. I pre-booked a car rental with Avis at Heathrow Airport for July to visit my family. The 14-day rental cost £926. When I returned the car, three hours earlier than the time on my rental agreement, the check-in agent issued a final invoice for £1,722. Apparently I was being penalised by £796 for returning the car early.

I have complained to Avis’s customer services, which says the charge is correct. I am told that if you return a car more than 29 minutes early, the reservations system will recalculate the entire rental cost and apply the higher standard daily rate. This is apparently common practice among car-hire companies in the UK. Please can you help me recover this unfair charge?

– CE

Dear CE,

Term 12 of Avis’s terms and conditions says: “Because special offers and discounts often relate to specific time slots, you may even end up having to pay more if you bring the vehicle back early.” The idea behind this is to prevent customers wishing to rent for a few days taking advantage of, say, a promotional rate for a full week. This was evidently not the case here.

I suggested that Catherine take her case to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), which runs a very efficient dispute resolution service. Its arbitrator acknowledged that by returning the car early (thus reducing the number of rental days to 13) you had invalidated the discounted two-week rate.

While acknowledging that Avis did have the right to recalculate the charge, the arbitrator nevertheless felt it was unjustified and instructed Avis to refund it – which it has now done.

I spoke to Avis to clarify this issue and to request it repay a further £40 held back due to currency fluctuations. The company apologises for your experience. “We should have recognised that Mrs Edmond should not have been charged a revised rate,” said an Avis spokesman, who also confirmed a refund of the £40 currency charge.

Avis does now recognise that it needs to show more flexibility over early returns, especially due to the current uncertainty over flight schedules. However, the problem remains that the check-in agent cannot obtain a final invoice without entering the time of return into the reservations system.

Check-in can be delayed, but you won’t then get the car signed back in with final clearance on the damage report – which is always a risk as new scratches might be found.

If you find yourself having to proceed with an early check-in and are required to pay an extra charge, Avis says it has told its customer services team to show more latitude and provide a timely refund on application.

– Gill 

Gill takes on a different case each week – so please send your problems to her for consideration at asktheexperts@telegraph.co.uk. Please give your full name and, if your dispute is with a travel company, your address, telephone number and any booking reference. Gill can’t answer every question, but she will help where she can and all emails are acknowledged.