Patryk/Shutterstock

Patryk/Shutterstock

The car rental insurance scam is a fairly well-known “gotcha” for international renters, and it’s a trap Doreen Murphy believes she walked right into when she rented a car from Budget in Northern Ireland recently.

Murphy wants my help in sorting out a surprise upcharge from Budget, but I’m not sure if I can — or should — try to unravel this for her.

Northern Ireland has its own pecular car rental insurance requirements, and apparently only one brand of MasterCard coverage meets its strict criteria. In other words, if you’re not renting with a MasterCard, you have to buy extra insurance.

Murphy had a price quote from Budget through its U.S. website that included taxes and insurance: 10 days for 230 pounds for a Skoda Octavia “or similar.”

“When we got to the rental desk in the airport they claimed there was no record of it,” she says. “I showed them my copy and still they would not honor it. We were stuck, and thinking that I would complain to the main office in the city of Belfast within 24 hours, we
signed a new agreement.”

The new rate for the same car was $471 more than the one originally quoted to her.

“I complained to Budget in Ireland as well as Budget in the U.S. when I returned home. I also complained to MasterCard. All to no avail,” she says.

Murphy feels as if Budget pulled a fast one and that she had no choice but to pay whatever it asked her to.

“What should I have done in this situation?” she asks.

In hindsight, there was probably a better way to handle this. Murphy appears to have had the MasterCard coverage for her insurance, and a printout of her reservation that specifically said insurance was also included in her rental. If the local Budget office didn’t honor the price, she could have phoned the number on her reservation — and failing that, she could have taken her business to another car rental company at the airport.

A review of Budget’s written response suggests there was a small misunderstanding. Far from losing her reservation, Budget did in fact honor her original price. But its records show she opted for more expensive “cross-border” coverage — which neither her credit card nor the original quote covered — and a charge for an additional driver.

Hence the extra $471 — it’s almost all insurance.

I’m disappointed by the way this one turned out. Budget could have done a much better job of explaining its charges and the mandatory insurance she would have apparently been required to carry by crossing the border.

Then again, another part of me suspects that the folks at the car rental counter saw someone with an American passport and thought: “We can easily double our income from this rental — watch this!”

Heck, you don’t even have to be visiting another country for that to happen. I’m dealing with another car rental case where someone was asked to pay for “required” car rental insurance right here in Orlando. She did, even though there is no such requirement.

The question is, what should I do about it? If I take this to Budget, I’m almost certain I’ll get exactly the same response. I’d love to retrieve Murphy’s $471, but I fear this one may be a lost cause.

“I really believe that it was a plain old-fashioned scam,” she says.

Should I mediate Doreen Murphy's case?

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