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You've booked a rental car that fits your needs and budget. But, alas, when you arrive to pick up the vehicle, the type of car you reserved is unavailable. What are your options?

First, you should know that if the rental car company can't give you the vehicle you reserved, you should be upgraded to a nicer car in the same category or a higher category at no charge. That's easy enough if you booked an economy or full-size car. You drive away in a nicer car and everyone is happy, right?

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But what if you booked an SUV or a luxury vehicle? If you are forced to accept a vehicle that is at least one category below what you reserved, then you deserve some compensation. Here are a few options:

  • Ask for a credit toward a future rental.
  • Ask for a price cut on your current rental.
  • Ask the agency to search nearby locations for a suitable vehicle and either have that vehicle brought to the pickup location or provide you with reimbursement for transportation to the other location. This may not be possible if you are on a tight schedule.
  • Accept whatever vehicle they have on hand for the moment, but insist that they find a suitable vehicle for pickup later that day or a subsequent day and you can swap. Again, depending on your travel plans, this might not even be possible.
  • Accept whatever vehicle they have on hand but you can drive to a different location of the same rental company and swap your current vehicle for something that better meets your needs.

The truth is, there is no official protocol for these situations, so you can and should negotiate with the manager or staff member at the rental location. In most cases, you'll have more success in getting what you want by being pleasant and reasonable.

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If all else fails, you can escalate the matter up to the corporate office with a phone call or email. Calling out the rental company on social media—particularly on Twitter—often works because companies really don't like unhappy customers to vent in public forums. (Again, be pleasant and reasonable.)

But here's a warning: One thing that you should not do is file a dispute with your credit card company. This is a surefire way to end up on the rental company's dreaded Do Not Rent list.

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