Its name promises low rates, but Payless Car Rental has earned a dubious reputation for sticking it to consumers with hidden fees and high-pressure tactics at the rental counter.
Should you give Payless a try? Here's our take on the good, the bad and the ugly.
Who Owns Payless Car Rental
Payless has been around since the early 1970s. In 2013, it was acquired by the Avis Budget Group. Payless is part of what the industry calls the "deep-value segment," which means it focuses extensively on cutting costs, often by renting older or higher-mileage vehicles, using off-airport locations that require a shuttle bus, and high-pressure sales tactics to push consumers to opt for add-on services, which they may not need or want. Payless has about 120 locations nationwide, and you'll find them at the biggest U.S. airports.
We know renters are looking for the absolute lowest rate on rental cars, and the base rate for Payless frequently is substantially lower that the rates provided by other firms.
Without a doubt, we receive more complaints about Payless than any other rental company. The objections are rather predictable and almost always related to hardball upsell customers receive, including for the "optional" Roadside Assistance. According to the Payless website, this service is optional:
Once you opt for the Roadside Assistance service, AutoSlash is unable to intervene if you are unhappy with the steep upcharge. Depending upon the Payless location, a week of Roadside Assistance coverage can approach the annual cost of a reputable service like AAA.
"The pattern of unlawful and fraudulent conduct is almost unlimited in its creativity. The scams take every imaginable form."
This is an excerpt from a 52-page class-action lawsuit submitted September 26, 2016, against Payless Car Rental and parent firm AvisBudget Group in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey.
In January 2016, the New York Times reported that it was nearly impossible to file complaints . And even when complaints were successfully filed, Payless tended to ignore them.
In July of the same year, the NYT reported that Payless charged customers for refueling vehicles, even when the vehicle was returned full and even when customers could prove that the car had been refueled based upon published policies.
In August 2016, the NYT reported that Payless played nasty during credit card disputes . When customers won credit card disputes against Payless, the company ostensibly followed up with letters of "Debit Advice" demanding that customers send the awarded amount to a dubious address: 32961 Collection Center Drive, Chicago, Illinois. Payless then cashed those checks to recoup the cost of their lost credit card disputes.
As David Segal (The Haggler of the NYT) noted at the time, "if Payless is still demanding that customers send money they don't owe to a street called Collection Center Drive, it has problems that Avis Budget isn't eager to solve."
A class-action lawsuit was filed a month later in September 2016. . The business practices alleged in the filing were truly damning; the lawyers claim a "concerted, organized enterprise" of Payless (and parent firm Avis) to repeatedly bilk their customers.
The allegations include:
- Telling prepaid rental customers that a failed "credit check" made them ineligible to rent cars and forfeited their rights to refunds,
- Collecting security deposits but not returning the deposits after rentals,
- Describing optional services as mandatory charges,
- Adding optional services even when customers decline those services,
- Billing base time/mileage charges multiple times, and
- Charging customers for roadside assistance against their will, then making the service impossible to use when needed.
Jonathan Weinberg, founder of AutoSlash, notes, "The class action lawsuit certainly has merit based on the extensive negative feedback we have received from Payless customers over the years. One of the challenges facing the plaintiffs will be that a signed contract is often hard to dispute. While the lawsuit makes numerous claims that optional services were added without customer authorization (a claim we have absolutely no doubts about), the fact remains that the rental contracts do show the customer having signed for said services as evidenced in the filing. The key will be to prove that customers were intentionally misled in order to get them to sign the contracts as written, an assertion which the lawsuit clearly alleges."
In any instance where a contract is being signed, we hope that travelers understand each of the terms and conditions being listed. If the rental agreement charges don't match your guaranteed rate without additional/optional services, we encourage you to speak with a station manager before signing.
The full text of the Payless Unauthorized Charges Class Action Lawsuit is Bacon, et al. v. Avis Budget Group Inc., et al., Case No. 2:16-cv-05939 , in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.