I’m excited to bring back a weekly feature that probably belongs on every consumer advocacy site: “Is this a scam?” It really needs no introduction. By the way, I’ve also re-launched a related column, That’s Ridiculous!, on our sister site, Consumer Traveler. It’s definitely worth checking out. Here we go …
Budget wants Guilhem Ibos to pay $3,000 for damage to his rental car. But wait! Is that Ibos’ rental car in the photo? No, it isn’t.
Question: I recently rented a car from Budget in Nashville and returned it to New Orleans. It was in perfect shape when I brought it back.
A few weeks ago, I received a damage claim from the company. They asked me to pay more than $3,000 for repairs.
I’m not responsible for the damage. How do I know? Well, I can tell you that I returned the rental undamaged. But there are two things about Budget’s claim that don’t make sense, either.
First, I returned the car at the Budget Rent-a-Car agency in New Orleans, specifically on Canal Street. Canal Street is in the middle of town, surrounded by buildings. But the landscape in the pictures on my damage claim is completely different. There are no buildings at all. They must have moved the car before taking pictures of it. Who’s to say it wasn’t damaged then?
I did not cause this damage and told him I wanted to dispute the claim. He gave me a form to complete and told me not to do anything — including notifying my insurance company — until I heard back from Budget.
I received a letter from Budget in February, stating that I would be held responsible for the damage. I immediately notified my credit card insurance company, through which my rental was covered.
To make a long story short, my credit card company is denying the claim because it was filed on the 46th day after the incident, even though I filed the claim the same day that I was notified I was being held responsible.
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.
Anyone who reads this site probably knows my position on rate errors, which is to say I think it’s wrong to take advantage of someone else’s mistake, even if it’s made by a big travel company.
So you can imagine how dismayed I was when I got a call from Howard Steinberg, who owns several Budget car rental franchises in the United States. Not only had one of his customers exploited a rate error, he says, but I had helped the traveler do it.
Well, to get up to speed on this story, here’s the Q&A column that started it all. It involved a reader named Brandon Chase who had received a mysterious phone call from Budget’s auditing department, notifying him of a billing error. Budget re-charged his credit card $85, apparently not giving him a discount it had promised.
Question: I’d like to share my recent Budget Car Rental experience with you that has me committed to never doing business with them again.
A couple weeks ago I received a voicemail saying the Budget at the Kansas City airport would be charging me an extra $104 because an “internal audit” found they gave me too much of a discount. My receipt shows the $85 discount, which seemed right since there was an advertised discount.
So, they billed my credit card without my authorization, and then added in all the additional taxes and fees to bring the amount up to $104. I called Budget corporate and the franchise, but nobody would help fix the issue, even though I had a receipt to prove we “agreed” on the lesser amount.
For starters, the car didn’t appear to be the one that Bitting, an account executive for a federal agency in Washington, had rented. The dates when the damage occured didn’t match the dates on which he’d driven the Mazda 3. The pictures were taken weeks after he’d returned the car. And questions to Enterprise’s damage recovery unit, asking for an explanation of the inconsistencies, were met with silence.
“I told them that the damages were not there when I picked up the car or dropped it off,” Bitting says.