There's a huge rental car shortage that's disrupting vacations. And travelers, who are desperate for a rental car, are finding new ways to get one, like using a car sharing app. But our I-Team learned one popular car share app could blow up your budget.
Meghan Price-Wlodarczyk planned a Hawaiian vacation for her family months ago.
"With Covid-19 and everything, we were just ready to travel somewhere," she said.
When booking the two rental cars the family needed for their two-island trip, Price-Wlodarczyk chose the car sharing company Turo, where travelers rent a car directly from the owner, or host, as the company calls them.
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"We like supporting local," said Price-Wlodarczyk. "And Turo allows us to support a local family."
But just days before their trip, one host canceled Price-Wlodarczyk's reservation. Soon after, the other host canceled too. Price-Wlodarczyk scrambled to find replacements, but with the nationwide rental car shortage, it wasn't easy or cheap. Price-Wlodarczyk says Turo gave her a few hundred dollars in credits, but the new rentals still cost her an extra $1,200.
"I kept thinking, not every family is in the position we're in," said Price-Wlodarczyk. "What if another family had this happen and didn't have the money?"
Turo confirmed to the I-Team that one of the hosts canceled Price-Wlodarczyk's reservation to rebook a different one. According to the company's policy, that move cost the host a $25 cancelation fee. Price-Wlodarczyk questions why the cancelation cost her so much, but the host so little. It's a problem she likely wouldn't have faced with a traditional rental car company.
"I'm just not interested in doing business with a company that isn't protecting the buyer at all," she said.
Traveler advocate Christophe Elliott says the cancelation fee isn't enough.
"It's just not enough, it's not enough of a deterrent," said Elliott.
Instead, Elliott says Turo should stand behind its product, and when a cancelation costs a traveler extra money, Turo should eat the cost.
"Turo created this mess, Turo needs to clean it up," said Elliott. "They should have covered the difference between her first car and second car."
The I-Team asked Turo if it's considering this. It didn't answer the question, but said the company just announced a new policy: when a host cancels at the last minute, it now issues the traveler a credit equal to the cost of the original booking.
While the policy is an improvement, Price-Wlodarczyk says it still wouldn't have been enough to cover the cost of her rentals. And she wants fellow travelers to know that a Turo host could break their vacation budget.
"I'm not saying don't use Turo, but just be aware that this could happen to you and your family as well," said Price-Wlodarczyk.
Turo also said if a host cancels a reservation to book a different one, the host can pay penalties or may be banned from the app.