The Associated Press‘s David Koenig covers last week’s marketing debacle where Thrifty Car Rental sent al of their frequent rental members an email saying they qualified for a free rental day .. by accident.

I haven’t rented from Thrifty for years (a decade ago they were exceptionally generous with mileage-earning in their partnership with America West). I got two copies of the email, which tells me I probably have two accounts in their database and also that those accounts must still exist.

Apparently it was just the wrong data pull.

hrifty Car Rental says it’s sorry, but many customers who were offered a free one-day rental won’t be getting that after all.

The company says the offer was intended for a select group of top customers but was sent accidentally to many other people.

… “Unfortunately, this was a human error and as soon as we became aware of the mass email distribution, we took steps to correct the situation.” including the follow-up email on Saturday, she said.

Strangely, while I received the original email twice to the same email address, I never received the followup “oops” note. Perhaps another incorrect data pull.

Unsurprisingly they’re not honoring the mistake, although I rather expected them to send out a coupon good towards a future rental as a simultaneous apology and way to earn future business.

The piece concludes with my advice and context on mistake deals — that they are less common for airline tickets than they used to be, that hotel mistakes happen a bit more frequently, and that it’s best to book a deal in case a travel provider wants to honor it but not to be disappointed if and when they don’t.

Such airfare deals are less common now because the company that airlines use to publish fares has made it easier for the carriers to spot unusual prices before they’re made public, said Gary Leff, a travel blogger and co-founder of Milepoint, an online forum for frequent fliers, who avidly swap tips on mistake fares. Hotels might be more fruitful hunting ground.

Leff said that a few years ago he jumped on a nightly rate of 66 cents for a beachfront villa at a Le Meridien resort in Thailand. The hotel company had loaded the price in Ugandan shillings instead of U.S. dollars. He said the hotel gave him the room for $33, “and that included tax and a free breakfast.”

Leff’s advice: If you see a deal that sounds too good to be true, go ahead and book it but don’t be too disappointed if the company rescinds the offer.


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  1. Tony said,

    Gary there are reason why I stopped renting from Thrifty, they nickel and Dime you to death and customer service is horrible and the company does not care. I travel for work and rent between two to three car rentals a week. I have switched to national, and the difference is like FC on United vs Singapore. Cars are clean and no funky smells and employees who really care how my rental experience was. Thrifty and Dollar are bottom feeders in the rental car market, and it shows. BTW, I got the first e-mail about the free rental but like you never got the second one.

  2. DJP_707 said,

    I’m not so sure they actually sent the second email.
    I to got the first one but not the “oops” one.

  3. Sean M. said,

    I used to rent from Thrifty at Gatwick about 30 times a year. Then one day they got a new manager who decided that my airline employee discount rate was “too low” and simply refused to honour any further bookings. All attempts to resolve the matter with corporate went nowhere, so I moved one desk over to Europcar instead. Thrifty really doesn’t care about customer loyalty. I got the emails from them and deleted without even reading. It’s gonna take more than a free day to get me back into one of their cars.

  4. SAPMAN said,

    I got two “free” emails and then 2 “oops” emails. My Thrifty rental in Reno was great car and great service. I usually pick the cheapest if more than a few dollars difference

  5. Jon said,

    I got the “free” e-mail and the “oops” e-mail. Check your spam folders just in case. The “oops” e-mail, while harshly worded IMO, still offered the option of contacting Thrifty customer service via e-mail. I did just that, and explained this was a frustrating experience and that I wouldn’t mind giving Thrifty a try again sometime if given the opportunity. I received a response back reiterating that I wasn’t eligible for the free day, however as a goodwill gesture they are mailing me a $25 coupon. Might be worth a shot for others in the same boat (though don’t expect anything going into this as this was an honest mistake on Thrifty’s part…just ask nicely and see what happens).

  6. LarryInNYC said,

    The thing I don’t understand about this event is that the offer isn’t particularly special. One free day after sixteen paid days is a 7% discount (less if you qualify with more than sixteen paid days).

    Considering that only a small number of recipients are likely to take advantage of it, offering (for instance) the $25 discount to anyone who even received the email strikes me as more expensive for them.

  7. Marlene said,

    Also thought I’d get a coupon as compensation for the mistake. Really changed my opinion of Thrifty.

  8. Jim L said,

    FWIW, Hertz bought Dollar-Thrifty and they are in the process of consolidating operations. Hertz had been pursuing them for several years, which may explain the penny pinching approach – doing everything possible to pump up the bottom line.

  9. Mike said,

    LOL, got both free and oops emails. I thought that I was the only person.

  10. Sue said,

    I received both the offer and the “oops” email. When I got the offer, I clicked it immediately (I need to rent a car in Seattle soon), but could not get the ‘free’ day. It said the “Offer was not valid.” So, while the email was a mistake, the site did not seem to recognize the offer. At least for me. When I received the “oops” email, I did expect at least some sort of discount, or offer – it felt a bit cheesy and poor business practice not too (I am sure that many have a poor brand association now…) They had an opportunity to save face, but they chose not to. That is just plain bad business/PR.

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