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March 30, 2015

Hertz Hides the Lowest Priced Cars

Filed under: Autos,Internet,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:26 am

  It is not easy to find the lowest price on a rental car because companies don’t automatically incorporate discount codes into their displayed rates, so you have to keep trying different codes and different companies’ websites. And even when you think you have found the lowest price, some rental companies have some tricks up their sleeve to bamboozle you.

Case in point: A friend is coming to Boston this week to visit, and MrConsumer agreed to help him find the “best” car rental rate. After using a number of travel sites that compare the prices of various companies, it became pretty clear that Hertz was offering the lowest prices depending on which coupon code promotions you entered into their website.

Here is the top portion of the results search on Hertz’s webpage:

Hertz top 4

It seems pretty clear that the best price turned up by this search is $162 ($170.73 including taxes and fees). It even says at the top “The rates listed represent the best available rates based on the information provided.” So a booking was made for this $170 car based on MrConsumer’s recommendation.

After a little more poking around, MrConsumer learned that this $170 rate was not in fact the cheapest rate that Hertz was offering.

Here is the (almost) full list of cars and prices on Hertz’ website at the time the above four prices were extracted:



Scroll down the list.

The nearly complete list appears just as it does above with the $162/$170 rate apparently the least expensive option. But if you scroll down to the bottom of the list, to the 10th car listed, a $153 rate appears! What, where did that come from?

It appears that Hertz deliberately creates the impression that the lowest rate appears first at the top of the list, but in fact tucks the best rate farther down the list. (Testing other rental dates and locations, the lowest price was not always on the bottom, but it was never the first, second, or third listing which appear in increasing cost order.)

Mouse Print* wrote to the PR folks at Hertz asking why they did this, whether they recognized the deceptive nature of this ploy, and if they were going to fix it.

The company did not respond.

Just imagine if Hertz can grab an extra $7 or $10 on each car rental by upselling customers one car class above the cheapest car… times how many million rentals a year…

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  1. I don’t understand why they would do this. Is Hertz assuming that most customers are lazy an will only click on the top cops thinking they are cheapest? Sort of makes sense, but if someone really wanted the cheapest car they would keep looking.

    I also find it funny how often these stories start with Mr. Consumer doing something normally and then running into a Mouse Print story.

    Edgar replies: Wayne… MrConsumer gets into pickles just like average consumers, except he’s got a place to tell people about it. In this case, if I was taken, believing the top-most search result was the cheapest car, other people had to have experienced the same “gotcha” too.

    Comment by Wayne R — March 30, 2015 @ 8:25 am
  2. I would be curious to know if the lowest priced option stays away from the top slot if the user explicitly clicks the “Sort by: Price” option at the top of the screen. It’s deceptive as-is, but would be *greatly* more deceptive if choosing a price sort didn’t fix it, either.

    Edgar replies: Todd, if you click “price” to order by price, the $153 number does come to the top. But, some may have thought the list was already in price order, as noted above.

    Comment by Todd Vierling — March 30, 2015 @ 11:22 am
  3. What about the “sort by price” selection at the top of the screen shot? Maybe their arithmetic needs a brush up? It’s hard to verify that the sort selection was made.

    Comment by bobl — March 30, 2015 @ 11:32 am
  4. Using a service like Costco Travel is an easy way to find the lowest price among competitors at your destination.

    Comment by Robert — March 30, 2015 @ 11:58 am
  5. I ran into a Hertz rate problem when traveling last month. Weeks ahead of time I’d arranged rental on a compact car, and when I stopped at the rental desk, all was still going as planned. But when I went out to get the car, it was “gone”. They instead gave me a Jeep, for the same rate, they said. But when I returned the car the next day, they tried to charge me the Jeep rate. I eventually paid less, but not as little as promised, so I had to complain through customer service to get my refund. I’m not sure whether this happens regularly.

    Comment by Shawn — March 30, 2015 @ 3:17 pm
  6. Wayne: They no doubt know that many people will see past the ploy and find the cheapest rate. But for them to make extra money from it, they don’t have to fool everyone, just enough people to make a difference.

    Comment by Tony — March 31, 2015 @ 6:08 am
  7. So, when you clicked on Sort by Price the list was sorted correctly in ascending order of price, and the link to select that option was clearly visible, and nowhere did it represent that the list was sorted in any specific order initially?

    Then as far as I’m concerned, they are doing nothing different than virtually every other shopping web site on the Internet.

    For example, the Dell website defaults its lists to Most Popular. You must select a different sorting method (such as by Price, Lowest to Highest) if you want to see something different.

    This is nothing more than a “First World Problem” directly related to the laziness of the consumer in not doing their due diligence.

    Comment by Phil, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. — March 31, 2015 @ 10:48 am
  8. It looks like “Sort by Price” would solve this problem. Online shopping of this form has been available for at least 15 years now; surely, it has become ingrained in people to sort by price if you’re looking for the lowest price? I always assume that the data that comes back from the search is either unsorted or sorted according to some criteria that makes sense for the merchant.

    Another point to consider for rental cars is the quality of the car and the amenities available in it. Sure, by the rental price alone, you could “save” 9 dollars per week by going for the cheapest car, but look at what you would get for that price: a Kia Rio! I would have personally opted for a slightly more expensive option with more creature comforts. An extra 9 dollars per week for the rental is not much when you look at the total cost of the rental, hotel stays, expenses, flights, meals, etc.

    Comment by morlamweb — April 6, 2015 @ 2:36 pm
  9. If I had to guess, I would say this was intentional deception. Even if the sort option is there, the furst few items were probably added to look sorted to trick peple.

    Comment by robs — April 11, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

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