Answer: Budget shouldn’t have charged you for an extra day. But is this a scam? I’m not sure I’d go that far.
Terry Boyle rented a car from Budget in Edinburgh, and when he got home, he found an unpleasant surprise from his car rental company: a $422 repair bill.
Did Boyle scratch up the Passat he’d driven around Scotland? He denies it, insisting a Budget representative had done a pre-rental check, found the scratches, and noted them. (The photo above is not his car.)
On March 6, 2008, we returned the undamaged (by us) vehicle to the airport terminal at 7 a.m. The slot the vehicle was to be left in was occupied. The rental was left in the next parking slot.
No one from Budget was at the kiosk. We went to the Budget counter. The agent was occupied on the telephone. After waiting for some time, we had to leave to catch our flight back to the United States.
While still on the telephone, the agent indicated we did not need anything else and waived us on. We have not receive a final bill explaining the charges.
In retrospect, Boyle probably should have waited for a sign-off and a final bill from Budget. The best time to resolve any problem is while you’re still at the car rental location — not after you’re home.
I asked Budget to review the case. Here’s what it had to say:
During a full post-rental inspection at the location, it became apparent that Mr. Boyle had returned his vehicle with scratches to the drivers side front and rear doors that were not evident during the pre-rental inspection. As per his signed customer rental agreement, Mr. Boyle was therefore liable for the cost of the repair.
The total charge of US $1,374 to Mr. Boyle’s credit card included the cost of the actual rental as well as the necessary repairs (GBP £274.47 – approx. US $422.)
We have thoroughly examined Mr. Boyle’s case but found our decision to charge him to be entirely correct.
On return of any rental vehicle, we highly recommended that all customers allow enough time to be present for a post-rental vehicle inspection by a Budget representative. This ensures that any issues can be immediately highlighted whilst the customer is present.
So Budget is not budging. What are Boyle’s options?
1. Pay up. He can pay the credit card bill and Budget wins.
2. File an insurance claim. Boyle can file a claim with his auto insurance or credit card, but chances are, he’ll still have to pay $422. These claims are typically just under the deductible to avoid getting an insurance company involved.
3. Initiate a credit card dispute. If Budget’s documentation is inadequate, his credit card company might side with him and reverse the charges. But it’s a long shot, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the rental happened in Europe. Banks often frown on long-distance disputes.
My opinion? I don’t like any of these choices. A car rental repair bill that comes just shy of the typical insurance deductible is highly suspect, and if I had the resources, I would hire an attorney in the U.K. and get to the bottom of this. But it would almost certainly cost more than the bill.
Here are two recent stories of car rental employees going the extra mile for their customers. I’m sharing them with you for two reasons: First, because car rental employees rarely get any recognition for a job well done; and second, because I just filed a column that’s critical of certain car rental franchises. Maybe I’m feeling a little guilty.
Jim Lockard recently rented a car from Hertz in Pittsburgh through Hotwire.
When I got to the car, the fuel gauge was somewhat below full, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. Some gauges don’t move up as well as they should, some don’t move up quickly. In short, I didn’t say anything.
When I came to fill the tank before returning the car, the amount of fuel required showed that a Pontiac G6 got less than 10 miles per gallon. That seemed totally impossible, so I concluded the fuel tank truly was well below full. I mentioned this to the lady who checked the car back in and she said to take my fuel receipt to the counter and explain the issue. There wasn’t time, so I just let it go again.
Under most circumstances, Lockard would have been charged for the full tank. Not this time.
A few days after returning home, I received a customer satisfaction survey in my email about this transaction. In the comments, I indicated that I was disappointed that Hertz gave me a car with less than a full tank of gas. I assumed that was it. However, within about 10 days, Hertz sent me a check that may or may not have really covered the “missing” gas, but regardless, it was a gesture that I will not forget when I next need a rental car. I might even go to them directly, rather than using Hotwire. They handled the situation exactly right in my view and deserve recognition.
His experience is a sharp contrast to other Hertz customers who have complained loudly about some of its fees. But I’ll get to those in a future story. For now, though, let me just say: Good job, Hertz.
It’s not alone. Consider what happened to Shoaib Junaid when he rented a car in Salt Lake City.
I had booked an SUV from Budget. We had four adults and a 14-month-old in our travel group. I called the local rental office and they assured me that all their SUVs are Explorers and Highlanders and that made me very comfortable since I own a Honda Pilot and they are very comparable in size.
When we landed at SLC and checked in with Budget, we were offered some sort of a Ford Taurus station wagon with 2 -2 seating configuration. There was no way four adults and a child seat along with three ski bags and other luggage were going to fit into that vehicle, upon my request they changed it to a Dodge Nitro and that wasn’t enough either.
Budget told him to come back the next day to see if they had any larger vehicles. So he decided to take his chances with another car rental company, Avis. (Both are owned by the same company.)
[A representative] listened to my situation carefully and then found a Nissan Armada for me. This was a huge upgrade from Dodge Nitro and I was expecting to pay a premium price for the SUV.
Sympathetic to our situation, she gave me a great rate on the SUV. You cannot imagine the joy and relief that this act of kindness brought to me and my friends. We were extremely worried about the situation and I was thinking about the vacation getting off to a bad start. We loved our Nissan Armada and had a great time skiing throughout the week. This was our first of hopefully many trips to SLC and it was made memorable by one of your valued employees. It has been almost a month since our vacation ended and we still talk about that day and how she saved our vacation.
I’m sure the next time I have to book a rental car for personal trip, I will definitely be considering Avis.
I’m encouraged by both of these stories. Despite the severe downturn being experienced by the car rental industry, it’s nice to know customer service isn’t dead.
Poof! There go your hard-earned points. Employees at budget hotels are using a variety of strategies to deny travelers their rewards, including typing the wrong name in a guest’s reservation or failing to include important frequent-stayer information.
Robert Duval has experienced the point-taken scam twice in the last month.
Both times, the desk clerks checking me in have entered my middle name on the hotel bill without entering my first name. In both cases the desk clerks were taking the information from my driver’s license, which clearly states my full name. In both cases, the desk personnel also failed to enter frequent stayer information into the record.
Interestingly, these incidents happened at hotels owned by different chains.
The first case was at a Travelodge in Amarillo, Tex. Although there was a brochure right next to the counter that said you could sign up for Trip Rewards at the front desk, the desk clerk insisted that you could not — even after being shown the brochure.
The bill was issued without my first name, and Trip Rewards has given me the runaround ever since, to the point that I told them to close the account I had created, and that I would avoid their properties in the future.
When they were informed of this interesting pattern of front desk personnel using middle names to avoid issuing stay points, the customer service supervisor I spoke with got defensive, told me that I could not claim it was pervasive as the other instance was at another chain, and that each property was individually owned and that the owner was responsible for training desk personnel.
The second case took place at an Econolodge property in Bay City, Mich.
Exactly the same situation, except that I am a long-time Choice Rewards member and also gave him my Choice Rewards card at check-in. Again, middle name on the bill and no credit for the stay. I have not yet contacted Choice Rewards, but expect them to be much more interested in sorting this out than Trip Rewards was.
Duval doesn’t think these slip-ups are a coincidence, and wonders who else has had a middle name problem.
Why would a hotel deny guests their reward points? There are several possible explanations. Franchises may shoulder some of the costs of the points, and by making the rewards difficult to get, they may be saving money. Historically, travel companies have too many unredeemed award points and are constantly trying to reduce their liability by offering customers many ways to redeem their awards.
Either way, there’s no good reason for playing name games with guests.
Update (5/2): A Choice Rewards representative contacted me after reading this post. “We have researched this and found that we received the stay without the member number in the stay record and added the points into the account on 4/30,” the representative told me. “We have also contacted the hotel to coach them on proper procedure.”
Question: My wife and I were overcharged for our rental car when we vacationed in Italy last summer, and we need your help getting a refund.
I had reserved an Opel Astra online through Budget Rent A Car, for a guaranteed rate of $361 a week. But when we arrived in Naples, the staff at the car rental counter told us they had been informed about the reservation, but not the firm price quote. They had also run out of Astras and offered me a Lancia Musa, which is a smaller car.
Their attitude was, “We don’t care about that fixed price confirmation you are showing us. We charge what we charge. Now sign here if you want to get a car.”
Having little real choice, I signed the agreement they put in front of me. But at the first opportunity, I sent Budget an e-mail requesting that they sort out the apparent miscommunication with the Naples office.
Budget acknowledged this e-mail a few days later and promised to get a response from its location in Naples. None ever came.
When we returned to the states, we found that our Visa account had been billed for almost twice the quoted amount – $686. A few weeks later, Budget credited my card for $146, which I assumed was an adjustment for my involuntary downgrade. I’ve written two more letters to Budget over the last six months, with no luck. Is there anything you can do?
– Douglas Hawkins, Minneapolis
Answer: Budget should have honored the first price you were offered. And if for some reason the Naples location couldn’t give you the rate to which you had originally agreed, the company should have fixed the misunderstanding by issuing a quick refund. I don’t consider six months of foot-dragging an acceptable response.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem. A few weeks ago in this column, I wrote about another European rental in which a motorist had been billed more than 2-1/2 times the original rate after his car rental location ran out of the vehicles he’d reserved (coincidentally, an Opel Astra) and offered him an “upgrade.”
If I were to give Budget the benefit of the doubt, I might note that you made your reservation through Budget, but actually rented at an Avis location. (Budget and Avis are owned by the same parent company, Avis Budget Group.) I might speculate that the Italian location had become confused about currencies – believing, maybe, that it quoted your rate in euros, not dollars.
But I’m not inclined to be so generous. I’ve heard more than enough stories about car rental companies in Europe figuratively – and sometimes literally – tearing up the American contract, doubling the price, and telling travelers they can “take it or leave it.”
If that ever happens to you again, politely ask to speak with a manager. If that fails to clear up the misunderstanding, call the company’s reservations number and explain the situation. If you’ve made the reservation through a travel agent, phone your adviser and ask for help. A good agent will make sure the mix-up is taken care of before you return the vehicle.
If none of those strategies work, you should consider walking away from the car rental counter. You might do better elsewhere.
E-mailing Budget wasn’t a bad idea, but a car rental problem of this nature is best cleared up sooner rather than later, and e-mails can sit in the queue for days or weeks before you’re sent a form response.
I contacted Budget on your behalf. It turns out the extra charges were for insurance, an extra driver, and a quarter tank of gas, according to a representative who contacted you. But no one had bothered to explain those fees or to give you the option of not paying them. Budget refunded you another $239.
Here’s a story with more disappointments than the college basketball invitational. Shortly after Mary Van Veen returned her Budget rental in Ireland, she discovered a surprise $174 charge on her credit card. She contacted the car rental agency, which told her “the car was extremely dirty and they had to pay a valet to clean it.”
Did Van Veen trash her vehicle? She says she didn’t.
The car was in normal condition when returned. Not spotless, but certainly not excessively dirty. We emptied all trash prior to returning it. There was no mention of any abnormal conditions when the car was returned.
Van Veen asked for evidence that the mess was her fault. Budget sent her a receipt for a valet cleaning service that was dated several days after she had returned her car. She forwarded a copy of the handwritten invoice to me. It says:
Found interior of car to be very dirty. Both seats and carpets. Wash both seats and carpets. Clean interior.
Van Veen said she didn’t do it, and Budget agreed to cut her bill in half. Which struck me as a strange thing to do. Either she trashed the car, or she didn’t.
I also found the timing of the invoice to be a little odd. Did Budget wait several days to clean the car, and if so, can it be certain that Van Veen was the responsible party?
Van Veen thinks it’s a scam. “In my view, this is a fraudulent practice by Budget designed to take advantage of consumers who are obviously not resident in UK and who do not have the time and resources to fight back,” she told me, adding, “Any advice would be appreciated.”
My view? It’s not a scam. I think Budget probably doesn’t know exactly who messed up the vehicle, only that it needed to be cleaned. It probably made a guess. Why else would it reduce the bill?
I would dispute the full charge on the credit card bill. The invoice is insufficient proof that Van Veen was a messy motorist.