Avis, Budget reservations go unfulfilled; companies attribute problem to hurricane season

  • Visitors enter the Budget Rent-a-Car at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport.

  • A rental vehicle drives off the Budget lot at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

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.’”

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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.

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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.’”

  1. Old Man January 12, 2019 1:00 am Reply

    Welcome to Hawaii. Worst than a third world country.


  2. briala January 12, 2019 5:40 am Reply

    Did the “hurricane season” also prevent them from communicating about the problem as it happened, so that affected reservation holders could make alternate plans?


  3. Michael M January 12, 2019 6:36 am Reply

    I will never use Budget again after hearing this and all the similar problems we have with them on the mainland. Sorry these people had to deal with that mess.


    1. blunt TrUth January 13, 2019 4:21 am Reply

      Glad to hear, as they completely shafted me and my family on Kauai last spring. Completely unprofessional and bogus operation. Good riddance! Get your sheisty front out of the market, and don’t let the 4-door hit you in the ass!


  4. Graystash January 12, 2019 8:11 am Reply

    ” That’s how we do it in Hawaii”


  5. Uncle Kokomo January 12, 2019 9:15 am Reply

    “We have cars available and are open and ready for business.” – Kind of a moot point now, isn’t it?


  6. LimeyinHi January 12, 2019 9:21 am Reply

    Nothing new, this happens every year.


  7. Big ideas January 12, 2019 10:31 am Reply

    That excuse sounds like some local style BS!
    The Hurricanes were in August and September.
    It took you that long to get things right?
    NONSENSE!


    1. blunt TrUth January 12, 2019 12:23 pm Reply

      no, they are just an entirely illegitimate rental company…


  8. Buds4All January 12, 2019 1:33 pm Reply

    This should make it clear for the Jack Ass Kim to leave Uber drivers alone. They are more vital to saving the tourist industry on our island than the stick up men know as cab drivers.


  9. Michelle January 12, 2019 3:40 pm Reply

    We too made a reservation with Budget 9 months prior and when we arrived in Kona on December 23rd, they told us they had no car. They told us a barge was missing and that they would drive a car to us the next day or by Christmas at the latest. We found out later that they knew they would have no cars for days. They left us stranded in a condo with no access to food. They gave us a card for a cab company and told us they would pay for them to take us grocery shopping, but when we called the cab, they wouldn’t come. Budget would not answer their phone for days. We spent hours on the phone trying to find a car, but there were no cars available on the entire island due to Budget’s massive overbooking. Worst experience EVER. What Budget did to us and others is criminal and immoral. We will NEVER rent with them again.


  10. Walter Neary January 13, 2019 3:49 pm Reply

    Thank you very much for posting this story. I read it Saturday in the San Francisco airport before we left for the Big Island, and so was much more prepared than I would have been otherwise. We noticed from the shuttle that the line for Budget was super long. The day your story came out, that night Avis had exactly one employee working in the office. I felt so bad for her. They gave me a much smaller car than I had reserved but thanks to your story, I knew to just be glad I got a car and then probably choose another rental place next time.
    Thank you for your committed community journalism which I enjoy reading in your daily alerts even when I’m not on the Big Island.


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