Can I bribe the car rental clerk for a sweeter ride?
June 2, 2009 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Can I bribe the car rental clerk for sweeter wheels?

I have an upcoming trip where I'll be renting a car (from Alamo) for an extended drive. I've reserved a medium-grade car, but would love to have something that makes me excited for driving halfway across Michigan. Would bribing the clerk get me a free upgrade that's worth the bribe? How much I have to offer?

In the past, I've been bumped up for seemingly no reason, so I assume the clerks have some leeway when assigning vehicles.
posted by There's No I In Meme to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
I have no direct experience, but The Consumerist just posted this, which makes me think no.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:41 PM on June 2, 2009

Bribe? I wouldn't, but there's nothing stopping you from asking, "is there anything you can do to put me in a better car for the same/a simlar rate?"
posted by plinth at 12:42 PM on June 2, 2009

Yes, I've been bumped up for no reason also -- i always put it down to being really nice and conspicuously patient. And sometimes, just asking in a friendly, what-the-hell kind of way. A bribe would not work, I think.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:44 PM on June 2, 2009

I've been bumped up when I was with a pretty girl and we both seemed really excited about hitting the road. Just try to build a rapport with the person helping you and ask what cooler, roomier, or sporty models are on the lot.
posted by vrakatar at 12:50 PM on June 2, 2009

If by "bribe" you mean "pay for an upgrade," then yes, bribing will get you a better car.

I've always heard that if you wait until later in the day to get your car (after all the other cars have been rented out) you stand a better chance of getting bumped up a class or two, but in practice I've been bumped up at all times of day. Just be nice and patient, and it doesn't hurt to ask.
posted by arco at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My cousin worked in car rental, and she told me that the whole business exists to sell ultra-profitable rental car insurance. That's what the managers keep tabs on; that's what the clerks try to push.

Knowing that, I would try for a quid pro quo—if she agrees to get you a better car for a lower rate, you'll take the optional coverage in a way that makes her look good.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:10 PM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I negotiated an upgrade to a convertible, getting it for more than I'd reserved my car for, but less than the clerk originally offered. It's standard negotiation tactics that works, nothing magic, and it only works if they've got the car, obviously.
posted by Capri at 1:18 PM on June 2, 2009

That Consumerist link notes "4. Regarding availability – right now, a lot of car rental places are very tight on inventory because of the credit crunch, the general state of auto manufacturers, etc., so finding that "perfect" rental car might be even more difficult." And that has been my experience in the past six months or so. Not only have I not gotten an upgrade, I've had to accept a lesser car on two occasions.
posted by mattbucher at 1:30 PM on June 2, 2009

You've got to sell the salesperson. Chat him/her up. Offer quid pro quos (infinitewindow's sounds excellent, esp. if they are commission based).
posted by stratastar at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2009

I always ask for a better car. I'll just make a couple of jokes and then just drop in "You got any sweet convertibles back there?" It's worked several times. If you're going to bribe the guy you might as well just pay for the real upgrade.
posted by trbrts at 1:34 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be nice. Dress nice (not like suit-up nice, but don't expect anything if you're wearing sweats and a hat). Endear yourself to the clerk. Never underestimate the power of these things.
posted by pdb at 1:59 PM on June 2, 2009

In the past, I've been bumped up for seemingly no reason

Customers often get bumped up "for free" because the cheapest option is usually the most popular and likely to be overbooked.
posted by randomstriker at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2009

Sweetly tell the agent, "You look like you could use a cup of coffee. Can I get you a Starbucks?" Even if you don't get the upgrade, you'll totally make someone's day. I bet it's a miserable job.
posted by theora55 at 2:42 PM on June 2, 2009

Nthing that there's no magic formula that I know of, and I've been "upgraded" probably 80% of the times I've rented a vehicle. I don't know why. Were they really short of mid-priced cars, and I looked more trustworthy than the tatooed guy with the backwards baseball cap? Did I live in a better zip code? I have no idea. I've never accepted any of the insurance "extras," but yet eight times out of 10 when I've shown up at Budget or whatever Rent-A-Car, they were out of mid-sized sedans and gave me either a mini-van or luxury vehicle at the same price. (Maybe it helps to appear slightly put out at the "inconvenience" - "Oh, my, I was really looking forward to driving all the way from Detroit to Atlanta in a Taurus, but if I have to take a Crown Victoria, I guess I can make do...."
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:08 PM on June 2, 2009

I've been "bumped" to an SUV for no reason other than the small car they were expecting back hadn't arrived yet. I wasn't paying for it, though, it was the person who hit my car's insurance footing the bill, but a lot of time these things are luck of the draw. I actually didn't want the SUV because the gas=$$$, so I waited until the lil hatchback arrived.
posted by ishotjr at 4:36 PM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: Tom Chiarella offered the following tidbit in Esquire back in September of 2003:
In Salt Lake, the twenty won't get me upgraded to a Jaguar. But when they ask if I have a Triple-A card, I root around in my pocket, come up with a twenty, say, "Wait, here it is," and the discount is mine.
The article (hilarious and well worth the read regardless) is all about what he can get by offering $20 to all the various people in service industries that he encounters - waiters, bellmen, car rental clerks, etc.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:16 AM on June 3, 2009

I get upgrades every time, and I wish there was a way to bribe the clerk to NOT give me a damned upgrade.

I prefer small cars and I always try to rent the compact/economy class. The last few times I've ended up with an SUV, a mustang (nice!), a Pontiac G6, and a Chevy HHR.

I firmly believe there isn't really a Chevy Aveo at any rental car lot in the country.
posted by mmoncur at 2:01 AM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: I usually get upgrades, either by asking at the counter or using a coupon from a site like this (here's the direct link to Alamo with discounts). If you've already booked online, you should be able to modify the booking with the coupon code, and if you can't change it, you should be able to cancel and re-book with the coupons.

Another good source for current rental discount codes is the fatwallet forum.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:40 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hertz Gold rules all of car rental world. You get upgrades all the time. And it's just there like magic, in your little parking space when you walk out of the airport.
posted by Zambrano at 8:57 AM on June 3, 2009

I can't recommend Hertz Gold hard enough. I spent years with Avis on a weekly basis for work, left after a multitude of bad experiences, and never looked back. If you get Gold with Hertz, you get fairly regular upgrades. If you get President's Circle Gold, you are guaranteed an upgrade (in fact, if they accidentally don't upgrade you for some reason, they pay you $100). I got in a regular habit where they were upgrading me to crappy full-size cars that I didn't need, so I'd actually down-grade to a Mustang convertible. Once in a while I'd end up in an Audi or a Volvo. Some countries I've traveled in, Hertz doesn't even have the full-size option, so when I reserved a mid-size, I was upgraded straight to luxury - BMWs and Benz's, no joke.

The best thing you can do for regular upgrades is to rent regularly with the same company and be part of their frequent renter's program. If you're not a frequent renter, I'd say the best thing you can do is be personable, smile, and ask politely if they have anything else available at a similar price that might be a bit more fun to drive. Hell, I've even done that with my status - got upgraded to a Nissan 350z in LA once and that was trouble if ever I drove it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:52 PM on June 3, 2009

I brought a six-pack of cold pop on the hottest day of summer, three years ago, and the agents at that location have upgraded me consistently ever since.

If you rent regularly at a smaller location (i.e. not an airport) call the night before and reserve the smallest, cheapest car. Chances are they won't have this class in stock, and you'll get a mid-size for the subcompact price. However, you do run the risk of actually having to drive a Kia with no cruise control.

Once, it happened to be my birthday, and I ended up with a little red convertible. Yay!
posted by Sallyfur at 10:24 PM on June 5, 2009

« Older Were charges filed after an accident?   |   Which DSLR would you pick? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.