Here's how the scam works:
1. On their home page, Dollar guarantees you a Compact car or larger vehicle for the price of a Compact car.
2. Click "Learn more," and you see that Dollar defines Compact car as a vehicle that has room for, and seat belts for, at least five passengers.
This sounds good. You see that you can save even more money by paying in advance. So of course that's what you do.
3. You go to the Dollar counter at the airport, and the agent offers you a Chevy Spark.
Now, I love Chevy Sparks. I own one, in fact. But a Chevy Spark has four seat belts, not five, and is by no means a compact car. At 144.7" long, it is 15.3" shorter than a Honda Fit, 12.6" shorter than a Prius C, 10.8" shorter than a Toyota Yaris, and even 6.4" shorter than a Mini Cooper 2-door hatchback.
4. Realizing that your three passengers and their bags can't possibly fit in a Chevy Spark, you protest that such a small car must certainly be an Economy car, not a Compact car.
"Yes, I know it's small," the agent says, "but Dollar classifies things differently, and we call it a Compact." You dispute this with her for five minutes, but she will not budge. No other Compact cars are available, she says.
5. The agent tells you that you have only two choices: take the Chevy Spark, or pay more for a larger car.
She offers you a Midsize car for $10 a day, plus airport taxes and fees, which increases your total by $52.54. You argue some more. Nothing can be done. You are traveling to an important appointment. You do not have time to continue the discussion. You have already paid for a Compact car, so you can't just step over to a competitor's counter.
6. You take the larger car and agree to the added $52.54. What else can you do?
7. Later, you go back to Dollar's website. You reaffirm that Dollar's Lock Low and Go promotion guarantees a Compact, 5-passenger car or larger. You also confirm that Dollar considers the Chevy Spark an Economy car, not a Compact car.
You note the descriptions of Economy cars (4 passengers), Compact cars (5 passengers), and Lock Low and Go cars (5 passengers).
8. You call Dollar's customer service department, repeatedly.
They are closed for the weekend. So you call back early Monday morning. In fact, you call three times and talk to two agents.
9. The agents tell you that you must try to resolve this with the manager where you rented the car.
You point out that it is most likely the manager who caused the problem in the first place. You remind them that you will be there to catch a plane and won't have much time. No matter. That's the only way you can do it.
10. You go to the airport three hours before flight time in order to talk to the manager. The manager refuses to refund the money you should not have been charged in the first place.
You show the manager that Dollar's website guarantees a Compact car or larger. You show him that Dollar's website classifies the Chevy Spark as an Economy car. He acknowledges both facts, but he says that, as manager, he has the right to offer you any car he wants. He says that you agreed to take the Midsize car instead of the Economy car (even though the Economy car was inferior to what you had reserved and was unusable), and that therefore it was correct to charge you extra.
11. Without your consent, the manager credits your bill with $20 (because he's a nice guy, he says) and tells you he has closed your account.
Frustrated, you phone Dollar's customer service department right there. After a long wait, an agent comes on line and asks you for a lot of numbers. You give them, and the agent then asks for them again. Eventually the agent transfers you back to the phone tree that you got when you first called. You wait a long time again. The second agent also asks for your numbers twice. She speaks softly, and you can't understand her. You ask her to speak up, and she says she can't or she'd disturb other agents. You stay on the line and listen as hard as you can.
12. After several calls and long waits, a customer service agent tells you that your account has not been closed, so she can't help you.
You have a plane to catch. You take the bus to the terminal.
13. You turn to Twitter.
You: Hours spent trying to resolve @DollarCars scam at MDW. Avoid Dollar everywhere? Or just at MDW?14. You have already spent many hours trying to get Dollar to honor their guarantee, to no avail. You decide that $34.54 (the extra charge minus the credit) is a small price to pay for what you have learned: You will no longer rent from Dollar or Thrifty. If they are blatantly dishonest and unhelpful about this, can you trust them with anything else? And you will warn your friends about them too.
Dollar: @[You] Hi [You], very sorry to hear of this. Please DM us your reservation number and rental record number so we can take a look. - TC
You: @DollarCars my res no: [...] & my RR: [...].
Dollar: @[You] Were you able to rent a vehicle today? Please dm us for further assistance.
* I do not know if Dollar is a dishonest company that intentionally scams its customers. All I know is that this is what happened to us at Chicago Midway's Dollar counter, that several employees at Midway told us confidentially that we are not the first to be so scammed by Midway's Dollar, that it would be a very easy scam for any rental car agency to pull off, and that Dollar's customer service department has been completely useless in resolving it. If they do eventually resolve this to our satisfaction, I will certainly post an update. Meanwhile, let the buyer beware.