Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Customer service in Las Vegas

Our long weekend trip to Las Vegas was great. Between hiking in Red Rock Canyon, taking in a Cirque show, gambling and drinking on the strip, and lounging by the pool, I think we did just about everything we wanted to do. And while all of those experiences were fantastic, we both agreed that there were two customer service experiences – one good and one bad – that really left an impression on us.

Bad Customer Service: Hertz Rental Car

hertzWe decided to rent a car while in Vegas so that we could go on a day trip to Red Rock Canyon. But words cannot express how horrible our experience was dealing with Hertz.

When we got to the car rental building at McCarren airport, there was a massive line-up at Hertz. No big deal, we thought. We have a reservation for a car, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Right?

The woman we dealt with took us to a video kiosk where an agent would guide us through our booking. We got about 10 minutes into the booking process when we were informed that it would be a 3-4 hour wait for a rental car. They had no cars to give anybody. Remember that old Seinfeld episode when the same thing happened to Jerry? Yeah.

Since we didn’t want to wait around at the airport for 3-4 hours, we asked if we could pick up our car the next day. No. Our names would be put on a wait list, and if we weren’t present for our name to be called, the car would be given to someone else … and we would end up at the bottom of the wait list again.

I turned to the customer service woman and asked what the point of a reservation was, if it didn’t actually reserve anything. She said in a very condescending tone: “it’s just like an airplane – just because you pay for a ticket doesn’t mean the plane is going to fly on time.” Wow, thanks.

We asked if we could cancel our car reservation and get a refund. Nope. No refunds allowed. Then we asked how many people were ahead of us on the waiting list. The answer? 44.

So we waited. For over two hours. Some people had waited much longer than us. Not a single Hertz employee apologized – except for the gate attendant in the parking lot once we did actually get our car – he seemed to be embarrassed about the whole thing.

If Hertz overbooked their fleet, fine. But they should have 1) told us ahead of time, 2) offered to refund our money, and 3) acted like they cared about the inconvenience they were causing to hundreds of people who were waiting around for hours when they were supposed to be on vacation.

Great Customer Service: Cirque du Soleil

cirqueBack in February, we bought tickets to see the “O” Cirque show at the Bellagio. At $150 each, they were not cheap. But we were really excited and looking forward to it as the highlight of our trip.

Our show was Saturday night, so around noon on Saturday we wandered over to the Bellagio to pick up our tickets, knowing the line-up would be really long come show time. The woman at the counter was having a hard time finding our tickets, until she realized that we had actually booked our seats for the Friday night snow. And the Saturday shows were now sold out – it had been for a while. We royally screwed up! :(

I almost cried. We were in shock, and extremely disappointed. We had just assumed the tickets we bought were for the Saturday. It didn’t even occur to us to check our e-mail confirmation. I was so mad at myself.

She said what most people in customer service would say: “let me see what we can do” and left to go to the back room.

When she returned, she was holding two tickets to the 7:30pm show. Not only that, but they were better seats than the ones we had originally paid for! “We managed to find something for you,” she said. (We realized at the show that she had gotten someone to wheel in two additional seats for us).

She could have easily done nothing. They could have just kept our $300, and that would have been our own mistake. But instead, she went out of her way to create seats for us to a sold out show. The rest of the trip, all we could talk about was how lucky we were. We even went back to the Bellagio a couple of times to see if we could thank her properly (with a tip), since we were in such shock at the whole interaction we didn’t even think about it. But we couldn’t find her… so if for some reason anyone from the Bellagio or Cirque du Soleil is reading this – thank you so much. That woman really made our trip a memorable one. :)

Anyone else have any recent customer service wins or fails while on vacation?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. ournashvillelife says:

    I worked in Customer Service for years. I can’t even count the number of times the businesses I worked for would royally screw over the employees (advertise a big sale and then give us a very small inventory of the actual item….know that a huge holiday is coming up but only budget enough hours to have a handful of people working that day). When you work for a company that doesn’t care for it’s employees by giving them the resources they need to succeed, the employees are going to do a bad job. I bet those employees at Hertz hate their jobs and are super stressed every single day. They probably write emails to their district manager constantly asking, “If 100 people have reserved a car today, why are we only being given 20 cars for the day? What are we suppose to tell our customers when their cars aren’t here? What are we suppose to do with the 100s of people that walk up and are needing to rent a car?” At least, that’s what I was like when I worked for crappy companies. So when I see another CSR worker struggling, I never think they have bad customer service skills. I realize that they are probably at their wits end and have learned not to care because they don’t have control over anything.

  2. Car rental companies are the worst! The only one I’ve had a good experience with is Avis. When I traveled in February, I rented a car with Budget and because my flight was 20 min late, they gave my car away. Unbelievable. Then they tried to give me a 2 door Jeep, yea NO. Then they gave me a 4 door 4X4 Jeep Wrangler…ummm NO. Try getting your 72 year old mom up into that…then driving it. I have never in my life felt more uncomfortable driving a vehicle.
    AIrlines are the same with reservations….on a flight to Paris that I booked the ticket for 6 months in advance, when I checked in, they put me on Standby and told me that it doesn’t matter that I booked a ticket, they can bump anyone. Thanks…that’s great…why reserve a ticket and pay for it months in advance then?

  3. sunk818 says:

    Sometimes they have self service kiosks where you can retrieve the car before those in line. That’s essentially what the counter does except you can do it yourself. That’s what we try to do because it’s silly to not use them if there are no lines for the kiosks. We did this in sfo and made a one hour wait into 5 minutes.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yeah, we were actually at one of those self-service kiosks, but there was a line-up for those too. When we got to talk to someone at the kiosk (they were video kiosks), our session actually froze right at the end, so we had to start all over again with another video kiosk agent. :( Both lines – the counter and the kiosk – were putting people on the same waitlist for cars.

  4. Wow! I sure hope someone from both the Bellagio and Hertz is reading! Such a difference! My current customer service drama is over our vehicles hitch. We had it installed at a UHaul and when it was in for service with Ford, we found out that it was a crap job. We brought it back to get fixed, they said they did…but, they didn’t!

  5. Andrew says:

    We were in Vegas a few weeks ago. I always over-research for my holidays and decided this time to book at two different car rental agencies, in case one was sold out (Vegas conventions can have that effect). As long as you book with the agency and not through something like Priceline, you can cancel the second reservation to free it up for others. Anyway, had no problems renting my Suburban at the National counter, so I abandoned my Alamo reservation.

    We saw Mystére, being much cheaper than O. My in-laws had purchased their tickets for the wrong night as well; they were allowed to buy tickets on the spot but had to pay full price… again. They could have seen O for what it cost them in the end :).

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yeah, we booked with Priceline, and won’t use them again because of this. Many others used Priceline and Hotwire as well, and were really upset that they couldn’t get a refund, even though there were no cars available. Next time will be with the rental car company for sure.

      How was Mystère? I’d be interested in seeing another Cirque show the next time I’m in Vegas, since O was so fantastic!

      • Andrew says:

        Mystère was great for the price; it cost my wife and me $150, after discount, fees, taxes and foreign exchange. I chose it because of the decent reviews… and the price (compared to O) didn’t hurt. Mystère is a bit of a disjointed collection of events, but the amazing acrobatics and feats of strength blew me away. I have no previous Cirques experiences with which to compare though.

  6. Jennie says:

    We saw “Le Reve” at the Wynn a couple of weeks ago, absolutely amazing, gorgeous show, I highly recommend it. Got the tickets the same day,from one of the discount theater tickets kiosks right on the Strip. It cost us, us$ 250, for two tickets. Worth every cent!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Ohh thanks for the recommendation. We saw that show advertised at Wynn when we walked through it, and it looked fantastic. Will keep that in mind for the next time I go down. :)

  7. LoonieLover says:

    I have to say that I’m a little disappointed that someone who owns a blog called, “Give Me Back My Five Bucks” wasn’t able to squeeze a refund out of Hertz. Not tryin’ to make you feel bad or anything. I’m just sayin’ :-)

    Seriously, though, it sounds like you just got unlucky at Herz. We rented from them (also in Vegas) in December, and everything was tickety-boo. Luck of the draw, I guess. (Which somehow seems fitting in Vegas.)

  8. Richard says:

    Did you pay for the car rental with a credit card? You could always find another alternative and then do a chargeback if they won’t give you what you paid for. I’ll always try to work with a merchant first but if they aren’t helping it usually just takes a reminder that I know I can go around them.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      That’s true! I did pay with a card and didn’t really think of that option. I’d be worried that the credit card company wouldn’t side with me and then I’d be stuck with two rental bills.

      • Richard says:

        I’ve only done a chargeback once or twice in the last 10 years and it was effortless. You could always call the card issuer while waiting in line to confirm that it’s valid before you go and spend more.

        Just bringing it up changes things. Last year I subscribed for something online and got charged twice. When I talked to their support about it they started spouting things about some agreement to subscribe to a second service. As soon as I mentioned a chargeback the person I was talking to got really scared and refunded everything I had paid which was better than what I asked for. I think that particular company gets a lot of complaints.

        As long as you aren’t yelling it out to the other hundred people in line it is usually cheaper for them to go to some extra length to give you what you want than to get a chargeback.

  9. We had a similar experience at the Hertz location in the Planet Hollywood hotel (on the strip). We rented a car from there and signed all the papers. When we went to the parking lot to get into the car it was actually gone. It was at a different location and they had to go get it. Luckily it was from their exotic collection (Corvette) so they gave a discount and apologized, but the entire process still took almost 2 hours

  10. Anonymous says:

    You paid $150 for a show ticket and didn’t check the date on your confirmation? Any you write a financial blog?

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yep, that’s right. :| Just because I write about personal finance, it doesn’t mean that I never make money mistakes.

  11. getting there says:

    We always make our car rental reservations on They don’t requiire pre-payment or even a credit card number to secure the reservation. You pay at the counter when you pick up your car. So it’s no ‘financial’ loss’ if there is a problem with the reservation.

    We were in Las Vegas in November and made our car reservation with a company called E-Z Rent through travelocity. We had booked a compact (Nissan Versa or similar). At the counter we were told that they didn’t have any compacts available so they upgraded us to a Volvo SUV for the same price. FYI, E-Z Rent is a small company for sure, but they are at the McCarran care rental facility so they are a reputable company. LOL it’s not some dive of a place way out in the outskirts somewhere.

  12. I went to Vegas a few weeks ago for my birthday and, like you, I had both a great experience with customer service and a terrible experience as well. Our terrible experience was with our car rental place, too (Budget)! Car rental business are just not fun. I wish we went to a show, but you’re right – those tickets are not cheap!

  13. Wow. The lady from Bellagio was super nice!! Glad to hear it worked out.

  14. Coolfam says:

    Thanks for writing this! It’s good to know that info about refunds and car rental policies. We rented a jeep in Hawaii last month but they didn’t have one when we got there so they tried to get us to pay more for a convertible mustang. We didn’t budge so they finally gave us the mustang for the same price. We did look at various options like priceline, hotwire etc but my husband somehow found a car rental company (can’t remember which one) that was even cheaper.

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