Back in June, consumers were puffed up with pride when Hertz announced it was ending its policy of overcharging customers for gas. If you returned the car without filling the tank all the way again, Hertz gave customers the option of pre-buying gas set according to the going rate at the pumps in that city, plus a $7 fee. Considering that before then, it was gouging us for twice the market rate of gas, or some $8 a gallon, the policy revision was a breath of fresh air.

We're gasping again. A few weeks ago, with none of the P.R. fanfare that accompanied the policy's implementation, Hertz quietly eliminated them. We're back to square one. As gas prices became more manageable, the rental car company's panic evaporated, and now that it isn't so desperate for our business, its true colors are returning.

Hertz's policy, poorly disclosed to customers, has also been that if you drive less than 50 to 100 miles during your rental, you are automatically charged a refueling fee. Even if your tank was returned full. That policy, too, seems to live on, unchanged. (I've asked Hertz to tell me if it does. No response so far.)

In early summer, the Maryland Attorney General was threatening to sue car rental companies over practices like these, and some bystanders thought that the legal pressure was what convinced them to relent. Something must have changed behind the scenes -- back-room deals, perhaps? -- because Hertz is no longer playing ball.

Holiday Travel = Waiting?

    Passengers wait at the Budapest airport during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions December 10, 2008 . The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    A passenger waits at the Budapest airport during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions December 10, 2008 . The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    Passengers wait at the Budapest airport during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions December 10, 2008 . The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    Passengers waiting at the Budapest airport during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions December 10, 2008. The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    A passenger waits at the Budapest airport during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions December 10, 2008 . The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    A passenger sits in front of an airline check-in counter at the Budapest airport December 10, 2008 during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions. The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    A passenger waits at the Budapest airport on December 10, 2008 during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions. The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    A passenger sits in front of an airline check-in counter at the Budapest airport on December 10, 2008 during a strike by two trade unions over demands for improved labour conditions. The unions launched an indefinite strike, causing flight delays and cancellations at Budapest's biggest international terminal. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh(HUNGARY)

    Reuters

    Holiday travelers at Northwest McNamara Terminal in Romulus, Mich. on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Velvet S. McNeil, The Detroit News)

    AP

    ONTARIO, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Travelers line up at the Southwest ticket counter at L.A./Ontario International Airport where holiday travel is expected to plummet 30 percent from last year, on the eve of Thanksgiving November 26, 2008 in Ontario, California. In addition to the loss of ExpressJet and JetBlue, a faltering economy and higher airfare prices are keeping many people from taking to the air at Ontario. At Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), a drop of 14.3 percent from last year is expected. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Getty Images



Base rates have also returned to ridiculous levels, proving yet again that the biggies aren't going to do us any favors if they don't have to. As of Dec. 1, Avis has hiked rates $3 a day and $20 a week on most rentals. To rent a car in the days after Christmas in South Florida, even an economy class clunker will set you back $110 to $130 a day. A week's worth of wheels could cost you nearly as much as you pay to rent your home for a month.

I know that the rental companies got slammed last summer, when the price of gas kept lots of people from renting, but is this the way to win back customers? (Of course, go somewhere less alluring, like Indianapolis, and you'll pay for a week what Boca Raton charges you for a day.)

Back in July, working the media to promote the reduction in charges, Hertz's chairman gave an interview to the New York Times and said, "The unfortunate thing is that when you look at the rental industry at large, people have a tendency to believe that rental companies have all kinds of hidden charges. We're trying to show people that we don't."

Well, you didn't. For five months, anyway.

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