Holiday Travel Hell Part 3: If you book with Payless Car Rental, make sure your flight is on time

As I’ve written over the past few days, my and my sister Ali’s trip to Tampa started about fairly rocky. There was the disinterested and blatantly untruthful American Airlines customer service agent, and then the lost car rental reservation with Expedia and Payless Car Rental (we still don’t know who to blame, but Exepedia eventually worked it out for us).

But while I sat around the Payless Car Rental office, watching a TV blaring Fox News and learning new swear words from Ali, I witnessed half a dozen clients come to Payless to pick up a car, only to learn that their reservation had been cancelled because the customer was late. Payless employees maintained that reservations are only held for four hours after the original booking time. No cars were left once the reservation was cancelled, so travelers had to take the shuttle back to the airport and start over with a different agency. This was December 28th, right in the middle of the holiday season, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for travelers that were late for their reservation through no fault of their own — flights were delayed and connections missed, as I knew well. One couple was late because their luggage was lost, and they had even called Payless to let them know they’d be late.

On the other side, I witnessed Payless employees take abuse after abuse, when I’m certain many of the situations weren’t directly their fault. To their credit, they handled each outraged customer well, moving on to deal with the next one after the previous stormed out. That’s got to be a job that requires a strong cocktail at the end of the shift just to get your blood pressure down near normal.

So what’s going on here? It’s hard to say — Payless cars seemed to be the cheapest, and judging by my experience there, it’s a bit of a fly-by-night operation. I doubt the employees were getting paid enough to handle the kind of abuse they received — but it also seems completely ridiculous to cancel a reservation if a customer is late. I can’t imagine how many reservations were lost in 2007 when flights were delayed.

Is it possible that Payless profits from canceled reservations? That’s definitely worth looking into.

Has anyone out there had this kind of experience with Payless Car Rental? We’d love to hear about your experience.