No one does fees like a European car rental company — no one

dashIf you think fees are outrageous here in the United States, may I suggest a European vacation?

Minisha Kochar recently visited Spain, where she rented a car through AutoEurope. Before her trip, the company quoted her a “guaranteed” rate of $818.

Needless to say, that’s not the rate she found on her final bill.

She describes what happened next.

When I was handed a bill for $1,032 at the Santander Airport in Spain — $208.81 in excess of the agreed upon amount — I refused to sign it, showing the agent the invoice that I had received from AutoEurope.

The agent attempted to call his superior without luck, since it was Easter weekend. He told me that he was not authorized to let me call AutoEurope from his telephone. After 30 minutes of discussion and attempted phone calls he refused to accept the car back until the invoice was signed. He told me to call AutoEurope from the States and they would resolve the dispute.

As I was late for my return flight and wanted to avoid late penalties on the car, I signed the invoice.

Immediately upon my arrival in the US I called AutoEurope. They agreed that the charges seemed inflated and would looked into this. They subsequently emailed me the original invoice that had been sent prior to the trip. I emailed their customer service twice and both times they responded by saying that the prices had changed since the original invoice was sent as well as an additional 2.75 percent currency conversion charge was added as well as an additional VAT charge.

This was all contrary to the original invoice.

I have since disputed the charge twice with my credit card company, both times with resolution in AutoEurope/Europcar’s favor.

I contacted AutoEurope to get its side of this dispute.

This is by no means the level of service which one can expect of Auto Europe, neither prior to the rental – during the rental nor post rental.

It is a source of deep distress that this was not handled in the proper fashion. And I take personal responsibility for the lack of service which you received from this department.

The billing is itemized below. The total as per the Auto Europe voucher was $818. Please note that the original pre-payment of $100 paid to Auto Europe has been taken into consideration prior to departure. However, as the Auto Europe voucher suggests, this amount may not show on the final invoice, only the balance due, in order to avoid paying surcharges on that amount.

The balance due then would be $717 or €545. In addition to this the supplier has billed for items which Auto Europe is not authorized, by the supplier, to include in the Auto Europe rate. These are listed on the Auto Europe voucher’s in the “Terms & Conditions” under “Your Rental Does Not Include”.

The supplier’s charges were as follows (incl Vat):

€655.14Euro = $902.59USD Balance Due
€ 35.76Euro = $ 49.76USD Rail Station Pick Up Surcharge
€ 8.68Euro = $ 11.96USD Road Fee
€ 15.00Euro = $ 20.67USD Ecological Surcharge
€ 35.00Euro = $ 48.22USD Additional Driver

€749.58Euro = $1032.70USD Total

Whoa. Road fee? Ecological surcharge? Rail station pickup surcharge?

That’s ridiculous.

But let me allow AutoEurope to finish.

Of course, it is glaringly obvious that there is a discrepancy on both the Euro and USD amount for the “balance due” portion of the billing.

The Euro amount should have been €109 (or $151 based on the exchange rate which Europcar used) less than that which was billed. We have now processed a refund in the amount of $151 to the credit card which we have on record.

Due to fluctuations in the exchange rate, the “Balance Due” portion of the billing, for the rental itself, was $33 more than the Auto Europe quote. As we guarantee this portion of the billing in US Dollars, Auto Europe has refunded $33 to the credit card on record.

Also, as the local fees came to $130 and even though these are approximations only – we have refunded an additional $25 to compensate for the exchange rate difference there as well. This credit should post at the same time to the same credit card.

AutoEurope also offered a 10 percent discount off a future rental, which is a nice gesture. The company isn’t responsible for some of these creative surcharges. It’s the car rental company in Spain that imposed these fees.

I’m troubled by Kochar’s rental experience. She was hit by surprise fees, subjected to the fluctuations of the currency exchange rate, given the runaround by her car rental company, and abandoned by her credit card company.

Renting a car in Europe sure can be an adventure.

(Photo: Thruhike98/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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