The early bird gets the car he's paid for, writes Grant Bradley after an odd exchange in Hawaii.

It was positively Seinfeldian.

Through a travel agent we'd booked (and paid for) a mid-size "intermediate" SUV from Alamo Rentals six months before travelling to Hawaii. We had enthusiastic shoppers in our group, but we were confident we would squeeze in.

The day before we were due to pick up the SUV, my wife and I had rented a smaller car for the day and when we returned that vehicle we casually mentioned we'd be be back the next day to pick up the family wagon (our three teenagers were arriving).

We were taken aback when the car checker said we'd have to be there at dawn.


Why? we asked.

The SUVs go really quickly, he said.

But we've booked an SUV, we replied.

But we can't guarantee that there'll be one here, he said.

Is there a manager we can talk to?

Yes, but we discovered inside the office it was the same story.

"You have to be here when we open at 7am — there's others wanting for these SUVs too," said the supervisor.

But we've booked a mid-size SUV — can't you just get one here and hold it for us? we asked.

No, they go really quickly, it's a busy time of the year, he said.

We well understood that we would not necessarily have the make of vehicle that was on the booking but we still wanted the "similar" part of the contract honoured.

And so our circular discussion about bookings and availability went on and on with our agitation levels growing and the supervisor's defences up.

"I don't like my job," he said, hoping we'd empathise.

No dice — we enjoy ours, so "not our problem", we replied.

In a futile bid for sympathy, he said: "You're making me feel bad."

We weren't feeling crash hot either, imagining having to squeeze five people into a micro car for nine days and gobsmacked at how the system had gone so wrong in the land of the automobile and in a state that sells itself on service.

We had rented cars in the US before with no problems, including from Alamo where we were cheerfully sold into a bigger vehicle than booked for many hundreds of dollars more and everyone felt great about the transaction.

Of course we were up the next day hours before we really wanted to, we joined the queue and, sure enough, we got an SUV that was just fine.

It was just like we'd booked it.