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Thrifty says offer of free rental car was mistake

By David Koenig

AP Airlines Writer

LAST UPDATED: 04:44 a.m. HST, Jun 18, 2013

DALLAS » Thrifty Car Rental says it's sorry, but many customers who were offered a free one-day rental won't be getting that after all.

The company says the offer was intended for a select group of top customers but was sent accidentally to many other people.

"We're very sorry for any confusion our eagerness may have caused," the chain, which is owned by Hertz Global Holdings Inc., told customers by email.

Airlines, hotels and stores occasionally post incorrect prices. When they do, they must balance the cost of honoring the mistaken price against the potential to offend bargain-loving customers.

When the dollar difference is huge, "smart companies offer an apology with some sort of salve — 'Here's a gift certificate,' or 'Here's a 10 percent-off coupon' to demonstrate their remorse," said Mark Cohen, a longtime executive at Sears and other department stores who now teaches at Columbia University's business school.

Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera said the offer sent out Friday night was meant for "select" members of Thrifty's frequent-renter program, called Blue Chip. They were offered a free day after 16 days of paid rentals.

By mistake the offer went to other customers who had merely signed up to receive emails from the company, Rivera said.

"Unfortunately, this was a human error and as soon as we became aware of the mass email distribution, we took steps to correct the situation." including the follow-up email on Saturday, she said.

The company did not say how many customers received the offer in error, so it's impossible to estimate how much it would cost Thrifty to make good on the free rentals.

Customers who thought they were getting a nice freebie were disappointed by the reversal.

"I was kind of shocked that they rescinded the offer, even if it was a mistake," said Alison McCarthy of Brooklyn, N.Y., who works in digital marketing. "They should have honored it — it's just one day."

McCarthy said last year she lucked into a mistake airfare to Israel on El Al. The airline blamed a contractor for accidentally posting fares of less than $400 instead of the usual $1,000 to $1,600 per round trip but honored the lower price. "It was awesome, and it was positive PR (public relations) for them," she said.

Such airfare deals are less common now because the company that airlines use to publish fares has made it easier for the carriers to spot unusual prices before they're made public, said Gary Leff, a travel blogger and co-founder of Milepoint, an online forum for frequent fliers, who avidly swap tips on mistake fares. Hotels might be more fruitful hunting ground.

Leff said that a few years ago he jumped on a nightly rate of 66 cents for a beachfront villa at a Le Meridien resort in Thailand. The hotel company had loaded the price in Ugandan shillings instead of U.S. dollars. He said the hotel gave him the room for $33, "and that included tax and a free breakfast."

Leff's advice: If you see a deal that sounds too good to be true, go ahead and book it but don't be too disappointed if the company rescinds the offer.

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samsdad wrote:
I got one of those free car rental day via e mail. Even before their apology, I was wondering why I received it. I've rented cars fro them in Vegas but not enough to warrant a free dya.
on June 17,2013 | 07:05PM
koolau wrote:
The 10% off their retail rate is not only a joke, but an insult to the knowing public. One can confirm this by online shopping for car rental deals.
on June 18,2013 | 04:43AM
krusha wrote:
They should have honored it anyway, since the bad publicity isn't worth the trouble.
on June 18,2013 | 07:05AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Correct. Once you turn down a customer, they will never return.
on June 18,2013 | 07:27AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Just like the TV Informercials that say the product is free, just pay for the shipping.
on June 18,2013 | 07:26AM
cojef wrote:
YEp, so it is not really free, and moreover that's how they get our name and address and then market the info to marketeers.
on June 18,2013 | 08:06AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
That's just not good PR for the company when the deny customers an offer that were straight out of an e-mail. If a company did that to me, I would blacklist them permanently. And I would tell all my fellow consumers of their bad behavior. A friend of mine had an experience with United Airlines when he went to the mainland to have a heart procedure. He had to unexpectedly stay longer and so the surgeon wrote a letter to United Airlines to allow him to reschedule his ticket. They got the shock of their lives when they were told that they would not reschedule the ticket and that he would have to pay a penalty just to fly back home. To add insult to injury, it would have cost more to fly home via United Airlines than by flying with another airlines. And that's what he ended up doing. So if you are flying via United Airlines to get a procedure done on the mainland, consult with the airlines first regarding their policies with hospital delays. My friend learned the hard way. But the "We don't participate in the offer" saying is very common here in Hawaii. So we are not new to this. From that pizza offer on national tv for ten dollar pizzas to that ninety-nine cent burrito to that five dollar for two burgers, we are ripped off by our local "kama'aina" businesses. When businesses do this they lose customers. How can you justify a pizza costing double here? How did they come up with that figure to increase their price by? They it's shipping as if they shipped each pizza via FedEx. Or they say that it just costs more to make that product here when we all know that flour is relatively cheap. The costliest item on the pizza is the cheese and that is very sparse on the pizza. They must think us consumers are too stupid to know any better.
on June 18,2013 | 11:19AM
Keonaona1212 wrote:
Thrifty Car Rental (San Antonio) fraudulently charged me $116 via their employee forging my signature for overcharges. It took several months for American Express to finalize my dispute with the car company.
on June 18,2013 | 11:26AM
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