Monday, September 27, 2010

Avoid: Ace Rent-a-Car

As lightly described in this post, I recently rented from Ace Rent A Car in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend.  It wasn’t what I would call a great experience.

When I looked for rental cars on Kayak, Ace came up as cheapest, by a factor of almost 1/2.  Their cheapest rental was a smart car at about $12 a day, with tax and fees, about $50 for the Friday–Monday rental.  I typically rent from Alamo, but since I needed the car just for in-city driving — you can’t get anywhere in Los Angeles without a vehicle, and cabs can be way too costly as I found on my last trip, two years ago — so I gave them a try.

Ace is located off-airport, at the nearby Sheraton.  These days, you have to catch a shuttle from most any airport to the car lots, so that was no big deal.

At the rental desk, they had terminals for up to three agents working.  One customer was being served, and one return was being processed.  A third agent came up and helped the one person in line in front of me.  When the return was done, that agent left for the back room.  (On break?  I don’t know.)  The first rental was having issues of some sort.  When the second rental was done, that agent also left.  Once they finally helped me, it had been 45 minutes from when I arrived at the rental desk (an hour from when I caught the shuttle) until they got me the car, with only one person in line in front of me.  Fortunately I had no particular place I needed to be until that evening, so the delay was mostly annoyance, but it would have been bigger had this been a trip where I had a meeting to get to or where I was flying into Los Angeles and driving to Palm Springs.

(In comparison, at Alamo I would have walked to a kiosk — which probably wouldn’t have had anyone in line at it, since most people don’t seem to know to use them — and since I’m a Quicksilver member, I would have spent about 3 minutes at the kiosk, walked out to the parking lot, grabbed my car, and been gone in total time of less than 10 minutes, max.)

I had to fill out more than one form, including manually transcribing my insurance number twice.  They required a $250 deposit to do the rental, so I had to put it on my debit card rather than the credit card I wanted to use.  (This was indicated in the details on their web site, so I was fine with it.)

(In comparison, just a couple initials — checkboxes on the kiosk UI — at Alamo, and I could have paid with the debit card in advance, with no deposit.  In positive comparison, though, I refuse to rent from Thrifty because of their forms: the last time I rented from them [about a decade ago, so it may have changed], their agents had to verbally read you the entire text rather than letting you read it, making the rental process about 5 times as long as it needs to be.)

Because it was a holiday weekend, I didn’t get the car I had reserved, but I ended up with a larger one at the same price.  (That’s fairly standard.  I once ended up with a huge Lincoln or some such huge beast at compact price point because they oversold all their lower classes of car.)  The car was not well cleaned inside, including what looked like shoe marks on the passenger seat.  I got the impression that, as a second or third tier company, Ace probably gets last year’s models from the first tier companies and then doesn’t put much into maintenance and cleaning.  Or else people who rent from them don’t take care of the rentals very well.  (Or I could have just got an undertended one due to the weekend’s pressure to turn things through quickly, an exception.)

The car worked fine for the weekend.

When I returned it on Monday, I fortunately didn’t have to wait 45 minutes to be served.  But during the check-in, the agent sat behind his terminal and clicked this, paused, clicked that, paused, click the other, paused.  After what felt like 15 minutes of whatever he was doing (was probably only 5), he told me that his computer had frozen, but my deposit would be refunded.

(The mainline rental companies check you in when you drive up.  They check the gas and mileage and look for any damage, give you a receipt, and you’re done.  I have no idea what all he was entering, why he was so slow, or how long he was trying to do something with the frozen computer, nor why he didn’t ask anyone for help.  Implication: this isn’t a quick process for them and the freezes happen often enough to not be remarkable.)

After returning home, I monitored my checking account to see when the deposit would free up.  Usually the rental and deposit will be issued separately, with the deposit being an account hold which will free in a maximum of 72 hours because it wasn’t actually charged.  Since I brought the car back fine, the rental charge would go through and the hold would be allowed to expire.  Not with Ace: on Wednesday morning, the entire $300 had been deducted from my account!  I called them up and they said this was standard practice and the deposit would be refunded.  On Friday, it still had not, and a call said 3 to 7 business days (and thus maybe not until the next Wednesday); at this point, I had my suspicions that I might have to fight them over things.  Fortunately, end of day Tuesday (6 business days out), the $300 was refunded to my account.

Notice what didn’t happen: because the two charges were lumped together, by refunding it, they didn’t actually charge me for the rental at all.  So I lost access to $250 for a week, but ended up technically ahead of the game.  (But with a bad taste for the company in the process.)

So, in summary:
  • Very slow check-out service
  • Dirty car
  • Slow and uncommunicative check-in service
  • Deposit not done as an account hold and only refunded over a week later
  • Ultimately, they couldn’t even process the rental fee correctly and lost their money
Conclusion: a company that doesn’t deserve the business.  I would have spent $100 on renting from Alamo rather than (expecting to spend) $50 at Ace, but I would have had a much better experience.  If I had been under any sort of deadline or distance pressure for the weekend, the $50 difference would have been totally worth it.  Lesson learned.

Updated on October 14, 2010
Turns out that the rental fee did eventually show up, charged to the original credit card I had made the reservation with.  The computer freeze had blocked me from getting a close-out receipt, so I couldn’t know that at the time.

Following my rental, they sent me an online customer service survey request, and I took the opportunity to rate them pretty poorly.  (I refrained from outright cussing the out.)  A couple days ago, I got a letter thanking me for taking the survey and expressing that they were sorry that I didn’t have a good rental experience.  They also included one of those ubiquitous grocery tote bags.  Wonder if I can turn it inside out so their logo doesn’t show?

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