KAILUA-KONA — Dennis Schuerman knew something was amiss when his family of 20 reached the Budget Car Rental office on Dec. 26 where he’d reserved four cars eight months prior for the family trip.
“I could tell something was up,” he said. “And then I kind of asked what was going on and the person ahead of me in line said, ‘I just heard they don’t have any cars.’”
Schuerman, a resident of Mead, Washington, was one of many people who reported not getting their vehicles — often reserved months in advance — when they went to pick them up on arriving at the airport, throwing a wrench into their holiday season travel plans.
It’s a fiasco that has led to a cascade of one-star and “doesn’t recommend” reviews on social media pages registered to the local branch of Budget Car Rental as well as some for Avis Car Rental, both of which are owned by Avis Budget Group.
“I recommend you stay away from Budget, even if you have to pay more to use other agencies,” said one Yelp review of Budget Car Rental from Dec. 23. “As with others, we made a reservation months ago and showed up and were told no car was available that day, or for the foreseeable future.”
On a Facebook page for the local branch of Budget Car Rental, each of the seven most recent reviews posted between Christmas Eve and Jan. 7 “doesn’t recommend” the rental car company — among them one review consisting only of 27 consecutive “thumbs down” emoji.
In a statement, Avis Budget Group attributed the issue to “an extremely rare and unforeseen situation involving new vehicles getting delayed due to the intensity and duration of the hurricane season.”
The company said it has worked with affected customers to get them where they needed to go and deliver vehicles to them.
“The situation has been resolved,” the statement concluded. “We have cars available and are open and ready for business.”
When asked for additional details about how the hurricane season impacted the availability of cars, the company did not respond despite two separate emails seeking clarification. The company also didn’t respond to questions about how many reservations were affected or the span of time the delay affected customers’ reservations.
But some of those whose plans were turned on their head shared their experiences.
“The only one thing they’ve done that’s halfway decent is they got a van for me to take 14 of the people from the airport to Paniolo Greens,” Schuerman said of his experience after being told there weren’t vehicles available at Budget. “And then I had to rent a taxi to get another six of us to Paniolo Greens for $100.”
It was at Subway in Waikoloa Village, he said, that he found some relief from the debacle, where an employee of that restaurant offered to have her mother help the family with getting them around the area until Schuerman was eventually able to rent a truck from a separate company and finally a 15-passenger van, which even then required them to run relays to get the whole family from one place to another.
Schuerman said that family, the Webbs of Waikoloa Village, were guardian angels for those first days of the trip, taking them everywhere from Costco to the beach.
“The family that adopted me, adopted my kids and all our family were just absolutely beautiful people,” he said.
Kennedy Webb, the employee with whom Schuerman spoke, said offering a helping hand is just part of how her family tries to live their lives.
“It’s something that my parents have always told me,” she said on Friday. “When somebody’s in need you help them. You do what you can when you can with what you have.”
Schuerman’s family wasn’t the only one forced to improvise travel plans on the spot.
Lisa Rouff, whose family was left without a rental when they arrived in Kona Dec. 28 despite reserving a vehicle with Avis 10 months prior, said even alternatives like Uber were hard to catch, especially given the number of visitors who were in a situation just like hers.
And quickly, she said, the family recognized the need to arrange transportation in advance and give themselves plenty of time to get from point A to point B.
“With something that might have taken us 10 minutes to get to in a rental car,” she said, “we had to allow like an hour, an hour and 10 minutes.”
The family finally got a car about two days after they got to the island, but Rouff said that was only after a lot of time on the phone with Avis and getting her case escalated up the chain of executive management.
“I don’t know what would have happened had I not just kept fighting with them about it,” she said.
Eddie Rowe of Austin, Texas, and his girlfriend also found themselves without a car when they arrived on Dec. 24 despite reserving a car with Budget in November and even getting a notice the day prior to their arrival saying his reservation was ready.
In addition to their plans to stay in Kona, they had also prearranged lodging in Honokaa and Volcano, making a reliable rental crucial to their plans.
“We were completely dependent on it, really,” he said.
And while they were able to use Uber to get around town locally, not having the rental car they’d reserved meant they had to take a Hele-On bus to get to Honokaa and hitchhike to and from Waipio Valley.
“We were kinda just living like basically, ‘Let’s see what happens next,” he said.
Eventually they made their way to the Hilo Budget office, where they were again told there were no cars available.
After pleading with staff there, the manager — who Rowe said “was awesome” — offered the couple a Nissan Sentra with a “check engine” light that staff wasn’t able to clear.
Saying they “would take a horse at that point,” Rowe and his girlfriend finally had a car and were able to follow through with the rest of their trip.
Even after getting their cars, however, customers said their issues still haven’t been fully resolved.
Rouff said it’s been difficult submitting her receipts for reimbursement to Avis, telling her for example that everything needs to be converted to PDF or they won’t pay it.
Altogether, she estimated that she’s out about $200 spent on alternative transportation during the time her family was without a rental, and she’s not giving up.
“Because at this point it’s the principle of the thing, right?” she said.
Rowe, meanwhile, said he’s still never been contacted by the local Budget branch, and said when he contacted the corporate office the day after they arrived in Kona, corporate told him they hadn’t heard anything about an issue at the local branch.
Schuerman said in addition to trying to get back the more than 25,000 condo points he spent on the reservations, he also wants to be reimbursed for the taxi fees and the extra money he had to spend to rent elsewhere — saying the situation put him out easily over $1,000.
He also said he would need assurance that the issue wouldn’t repeat itself for him to come back to Kona.
“And my problem is I don’t know if I can get that assurance,” he said. “Because I have four pieces of paper, I have four confirmation numbers, I have everything paid for and I walk up to the counter and they say ‘There’s no cars.’”