As many of you know, I gave up my car when I moved to the city in 2014. I primary walk or use mass transit to get around, but there are times when I do need a car. There are a few car options available where I live: Car2Go, Enterprise CarShare, Zipcar and traditional car rental agencies.

I decided to book a car a few weeks ago to take a day trip about 30 miles from where I live. The rates were especially low on this particular weekend, which was the primary reason I decided to travel.

When I arrived at the airport to get my car, I let the agent at Budget know that I only needed the car for a few hours and would return it later that day. To my surprise, she informed me that the rate I secured with my reservation through Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards would not be available if I did not keep the car for 24 hours, the full duration of the one day rental.

In other words, Budget will assess a penalty if you return your car EARLY.


As I was discussing this policy with the agent, she told me everything would be okay if I returned the car at 10:30 the next morning. I said, “What if I return it at 9?” She replied by telling me that my discounted rate would not be valid. She told me to return the car at exactly 10:30 a.m.

I decided to take the car anyway because I had somewhere to be. On the way out, I asked the man who checked my ID if he had heard of this policy. He said that he did not think I would be charged for an EARLY return, only a LATE return.

The rental terms and conditions for Budget confirm what the agent told me:

“If you return it [the car] earlier or later, a different or higher rate may apply and, if returned later, you may be charged late return fee.”

To avoid paying the fee, I ended up garaging the vehicle overnight, which cost me $30. The rental was only $18. I am pretty sure that I ended up paying more than any sort of fee that Budget would assess, but I did not want to take chances.

This policy is not fair and makes no sense. If someone flew into town for a funeral and returned the car the same day in order to catch a flight back home, they would be charged the fee under this policy.

I truly hope that Budget does not enforce this policy on a regular basis, but I have learned my lesson. I will not be renting from Budget again.

Read more about Budget’s policy: