Posted by: joannabrandi | April 11, 2010

$9 A Gallon? Puh-leeze

It’s Saturday and I’m still shaking my head. On Wednesday I was up in CT and needed to return my rental car by 6PM. At 4:15 or so I set out for what should have been about 45, maybe 50 minute drive away from rush hour traffic to the Westchester Airport. My plan was to get off the highway in Rye, drop off my things at the hotel where I would be staying at that night, get gas and head for the airport to drop off the car. With me so far?

A friend was picking me up for dinner and then would drop me back at the hotel. That would save the extra charges on the car, and in the morning I would cab it in for the flight. It was a good plan until half way through the drive; traffic started to back up and then slowed down to a real crawl. We inched along until I could see the problem, a major accident with lanes closed for an ambulance and a fire engine.

Slowly traffic moved until I was finally past the wreck – just at about the point where I could continue on and head for the airport or make the turn to look for my hotel. The clock was ticking and it looked like I wasn’t going to make that 6 o’clock deadline as planned, and since I really didn’t know how far I was from the airport or the gas station I decided to go straight in and take the chance that there might be a station right at the exit.

There wasn’t – it was 5:47 – and I was a quarter tank down and quickly made the decision to go straight into the airport to be on time since I knew there was a steep hourly charge if it was late.

I carefully checked my mileage and the gas and wrote down the particulars since I couldn’t find the attendant and was headed for the rental desk as she finally approached. Just in time, it was almost 6PM. I apologized for not filling the tank and told her of the big accident on the highway. I offered to go back out and get gas if they wouldn’t charge me for the extra time. Nope. They were going to just charge me for the gas – and that will be $9 per gallon.

You can imagine my surprise. Gas in the area is about $3 a gallon. I asked nicely if she would please reduce that fee in light of my good intentions and the accident that prevented me from getting there.

“That’s why you should have prepaid.” She said to me in stern drill sergeant fashion.

“But I knew I wouldn’t be using a whole tank or near it since I was only driving an hour away, that would have been quite wasteful, don’t you think?”

“You should have prepaid,” she said while shaking her head and issuing my receipt which strangely felt like a summons.

“Look,” I began, “this doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m sure once in a while you make an exception.”

“No – you prepay or we charge you $9 a gallon, didn’t you READ the sign on the wall?”

“Okay, I said in defeat, “but I’ll tell you one thing – I will NEVER rent from Hertz again. You have lost my business.

She shrugged and walked away.

So what is it Hertz? The person or the policy? Is it so tough out there that you have to grossly overcharge someone  (read: punish) for getting stuck in traffic?

PS The next day I hear that Spirit Airlines is going to charge for putting your luggage in an overhead bin. I think that loyalty expert Fred Reichheld calls these BAD PROFITS.

My list of people I’ll do business with is getting shorter and shorter. Believe me, I know times are tough – that’s the mantra so many businesses are using these days to do stupid things.

How about we keep the customer facing people educated in how much it costs to get a good customer in the first place, and how easy it is to lose them because of dumb policies and their empathy-free front line enforcement. Let’s make sure we stop EDS – Empathy Deficiency Syndrome!



  1. I think you should contact Hertz main headquarters – they had come out awhile ago saying they weren’t going to gouge their renters on the gas – it’s worth an email or even a 44 cent stamp!

    The Hertz Corporation
    14501 Hertz Quail Springs Parkway
    P.O. Box 269033
    Oklahoma City, OK 73126-9033

  2. Great post Joanna! Love your bottom line “times are tough” giving businesses reason to do stupid things. LOL and you’re right. As Forrest’s Mama always said “stupid is as stupid does.” we had a near miss that sounded similiar at a furniture store called The Dump recently. Their error and mistaken SKU became our fault due to firm policy about returns, and since they had it in writing there was zippity do dah to the customer all the way to the top. “That’s our policy” becomes just another place for stupid to hide. In our case thankfully a last ditch plea to the in store manager after 3 hours of fruitless interactions with headquarters – PLUS my secret weapon – a barage of cell phone pix of the correct item taken on the day of purchase – allowed a quiet inhouse exception to the stupid rule. In this case, person not company saved the day. PS my own new word to the wise. Cell phone pix.

  3. LOL Gael! There are a few lessons here and I think the first one is to avoid shopping at any place that calls itself the “Dump.”

    I love the idea that “That’s our policy” becomes another place for stupid to hide. I’m going to think on that phrase. You’ll see a blog entry soon about that.

    I was once in a hotel where everyone wore buttons that said 100% friendly. Which was great – until after repeatedly trying to get the boxes that had been shipped to me with the materials for the two day workshop I was doing. Finally at 11 PM at night I had to talk the security guard into letting me into the storage area to find them myself. The next day I told the whole group that 100% friendly was only so valuable when you’re 75% stupid!

    Uh… don’t get me started!

    Thanks for the comment – keep in touch!

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