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Rent A Clue

February 24th, 2005 · No Comments · Internet, Stupidity

There’s an Avis not far from our apartment, so we’ve been using them when we need a car. (Believe it or not, like a lot of people who live in Manhattan, we don’t own a car of our own. But even if we need a car once a weekend every month, our annual car costs are around $3,000. That’s for 12 three-day rentals of an intermediate-size car.)

Like most major rental car companies, Avis has a web site where you can make reservations. And it isn’t bad. I’ve used it to make (and cancel) reservations a few times, and it’s relatively easy to do.

Last time I was doing this, I noticed they allow you to become a “member,” which lets you set up a profile using the “My Avis” program, to make the process easier. For us, this could make a lot of sense, so I signed up. It is a relatively simple process, though sadly, the profile doesn’t let you define a default rental location (which most people wouldn’t need, but us New Yorkers would like.) No big deal, though, until the little gotcha at the end.

Avis, who’s motto is “We try harder!” obviously feels its users should have to try harder too. Very hard. The My Avis profile system doesn’t let you pick a login, nor does it let you use your email address. It makes up a random alphanumeric “Wizard Number” which apparently you must carefully etch into your spellbook after it is displayed to you on the screen. Never lose this number! It’s mystical, arcane power is a precious thing, and if you lose it, you’re screwed.

And don’t think Avis is going to send that sucker in any confirmation email. Why would you want some sort of record of such a precious piece of information? Wizard Numbers are for wizards, after all.

Next time you visit the Avis site and try to log in to your profile, you’ll see a link to retrieve your password if you forgot it, but no such link for your Wizard Number. Those of you who can’t recall your Wizard Number will have to Try Harder.

Hidden elsewhere on the site, actually on the page for people considering getting a profile is an encouraging option: “I have an Avis Wizard Number but can’t remember it.” Choosing this option requires you to enter your first and last name, and the credit card information you used when you set up your profile. But it only works for “Preferred Members” (who apparently don’t have to Try So Hard). Us plain-ol’ folks just trying to use the Internet to save everyone time and labor have to dial a toll-free number which is only staffed from 8AM to 5PM EST to get our Wizard Number. Very Wizardly.

If you happen to commit the stupid error of having a reservation that you made prior to having a My Avis profile, but you then login to your profile (or more correctly in my case, remain in the same browser on the same computer that you signed up with) you can’t look up the old reservation any more. Why? Because once you are logged into My Avis, it is absurd to think you could ever possibly want to look up any other reservation. I thought I could work around this problem just by logging out of My Avis, but Avis Trys Much Harder Than Me: the log-out function on the site does absolutely nothing (with Safari, anyway.) I had to launch another browser to look up the earlier reservation.

All I can say is if you are looking for a way to make renting a car Much Harder Than It Should Be, use the My Avis program on the Avis web site, which I know I never will do again.

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