How Rental Car Companies Try to Charge You for Free Upgrades You Already Got

I rent cars pretty often and I usually rent the smallest size possible.  They are the cheapest, I tend to pack light, and hey–small cars are easier to parallel park.  Of course, when the rental car companies want to upgrade me to a muscle car, who am I to say no?

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No, they never gave me a GT.  But I have gotten a Charger before.

But I think it’s a little dirty when the rental car companies know they are going to upgrade you but pressure you into buying an upgrade so they don’t have to give it to you for free.

I never take the upgrades.  Usually, it’s an off-hand “oh, would you like to upgrade for X dollars?”  But when they continue arguing the benefits of having an upgrade, I realize something–they are out of economy cars.

Sure enough, after putting the high-pressure tactics on, the agent will inform me that they are out of my car type and I’ve been upgraded to a standard size car.

Of course.

Unless you have a lot of people and lots of bags, you probably don’t need a large car for anything other than comfort.  So if you are a solo traveler with a roller board, the economy car will be just fine.

I’ve become a little snarky (in a friendly way) in response to the high pressure tactics lately.

For example, last weekend, the conversation went like this:

  • Ma’am, I notice you have an economy car, would you like to upgrade to a larger vehicle for more room?
  • No, thanks.  I’m happy with the car I selected.
  • Ma’am, let me show you a photo of the typical vehicle in that class.  As you can see, there isn’t that much more room.  You’d probably be more comfortable in a standard size car.  Here’s a photo of that.
  • Nope, I like the tiny cars.  Plus, they are easier to park.
  • I don’t think that’s actually true.  Standard cars are easy to park as well.  Look, I’m just saying, I think you’d fit better in a larger vehicle.
  • *gestures at self* Are you saying I’m too big for an economy car?

After he froze for a second, he said, okay… economy car.

Then started explaining how they are out of economy cars and that all they could give me is a standard–free of charge, of course, since the car I booked isn’t available.


So if you are at the car rental place and the salesman is being a bit pushy, ask yourself why and what his incentives would be.  He probably doesn’t actually care about how comfortable you are in an economy car.

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Yes! I just wrote about this a few weeks ago – Why you’re foolish to rent a standard car

    My reasoning is pretty much exactly the same as what you said – car rental places never seem to have the cheapest (sub economy) cars available, so you usually end up getting upgraded for free

    What also annoys me is that typically I am taking long roadtrips in these cars and would prefer the extra MPG of a smaller car, so I get annoyed that I’m going to have to pay an extra $10-$20 in gas to get their “upgrade” 🙁

  2. haha 🙂


  3. I love bigger cars or suv’s as I’m tall and tend to drive rentals long distances. My favorite is renting small cars in Denver in the summer. I always seem to end up with a suburban or some giant tank. They have a bunch for winter ski trip crowd’s but cant give them away in the summer.

  4. Or when they won’t give you an upgrade
    for free, don’t have any in the size you rented and will only give you smaller cars than what you rented. Oakland Airport Hertz is one to avoid.

  5. I’ve been using Avis primarily (10 years, about 40 rentals a year, so about 400 rentals) – I’ve had to talk to a clerk maybe 5 times of the 400. I really do like just walking to the car without having human contact other than the security guard after driving off.

    Since the program is free and has no minimum to sign up I really think everyone should be in the preferred program to skip the clerk.

    Oh – and upgrades – most of the time it’s a Ford Explorer or VW Tourag, I pay for the Intermediate (Chevy Impala). I use the Exchange lot when it’s a bad car for me (Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Kia, Jeep) – there is almost always a nice vehicle in that lane which is free for those in the rental category of mid-size or higher.

  6. Similar thing happened to me at AVIS in London a few weeks ago. Sir, wouldn’t you like to upgrade to a diesel model; it is much cheaper on petrol [gas] and it is only $10 a day more. As the rental only cost me $13 a day to start with, I thought that was a bit cheeky. And what I saw coming did; the agent just pushed the key and agreement at me with an “I’ve upgraded you anyway”; i.e. we don’t have what you ordered. On this particular occasion I really didn’t mind as I had a long journey to make and the fuel economy was great – but not worth the $10 a day I was asked for!

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