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We’ve all been there, stuck at the airport still waiting to board that delayed flight – this isn’t the way you wanted to start your holiday, right? But amongst all of the complaints you may have, have you ever stopped to think about what it might mean if your flight delay pushes you into a late pick up of your hire car?  

Unforeseen fees

The question might be, why would you have? The delay isn’t your fault so why would you be charged? But it seems car rental companies are providing inaccurate information around fees for picking up your vehicle and you may be exposed to charges you weren’t even aware of. We conducted a mystery shopping exercise of some of the largest car rental companies and found that many couldn’t give a consistent answer as to whether you would be penalised for picking up your car late after a delayed flight. 

Landed and stranded car rental

The method

Our mystery shop analysed customer service responses from seven major car hire companies. Each representative was asked, if a flight were delayed, whether the car rental would remain open to hand over the car and, if so, whether an out-of-hours fee would be incurred. The calls were repeated three times – to make sure we were getting the right answer consistently.

All seven companies gave conflicting information over the three calls, in particular about how late they stayed open, how long they would wait for delayed flights and, importantly, whether a fee would be charged for an out of hours pick up. So what do the results show?

Landed and stranded car rental

Inconsistent information

When asked how late they would stay open after hours in the event of a delayed flight, one company, across three separate calls, changed their response from one hour to staying open indefinitely. Only one company was consistent in claiming that no out-of-hours fee would be charged for those who arrived late.

Four out of seven car rental companies said that they charged an out-of-hours fee if employees had to wait after normal opening hours for customers to pick up their reserved rental car after a delayed flight. However, in contradiction to this, across three separate mystery shopper calls, the same four companies gave different responses, claiming on at least one occasion not to charge any fee. There wasn’t even consistency for how much they would charge; one company claimed that the charge would be £40 in one call, £60 in another and no charge in the third call.

Landed and stranded car rental

Only one of the car hire companies mentioned an out of hours charge in its online terms and conditions. However, no customer service representative at this company mentioned the out-of-hours fee in any of the calls to the firm.

We also found that there was a large difference in the fees charged for out of hours service. From the companies we spoke to, these ranged between £25 and £60 – not something you need when you’ve already saved up for your holiday. So all in all, you may very well feel in the dark.

Simon McCulloch

Simon McCulloch



"Many rental companies track flights and may stay open if they see you’re delayed so it’s important to include your flight number on a car reservation. However, many companies don’t seem to have a clear policy on out-of-hours activity, which could leave holidaymakers stranded. For the most part, charges are not mentioned in the T&Cs of the rental agreement, meaning customers turning up late and tired after a delayed flight may find themselves facing an unexpected fee. If you are forced to pay extra for an out-of-hours collection or drop-off, see if you can claim the money back on your travel insurance. Check your T&Cs carefully to confirm if you’re covered for expenses incurred for a delay which wasn’t your fault.”

So next time you’re booking your rental car for your hols, make sure you check the T&Cs of the agreement and get your travel insurance in good time to give you the cover you may need if you’re flight’s delayed. It could save you money and stress!

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