When renting a car, no good deed goes unpunished

Henry Lien/Shutterstock
Henry Lien/Shutterstock
After Chandra Bhandaru points out a few scratches on a Hertz rental, the car rental sends a bill — and then another bill. Now the company wants to refer the matter to a collection agency. What happened?

Question: I tried to be a good citizen when I rented a car recently, but I guess it backfired. I have been a longtime gold customer with Hertz. On a recent trip to Hawaii, I rented a vehicle from Hertz. I had a little accident and had scratches on the rear. When I returned the car, the agent did not notice anything, but being a loyal customer, I volunteered information to the agent and filled out a claim form.

Four months later I got a letter from Hertz regarding damages, and paid those through the insurance coverage on my American Express card. But now I’ve received another letter from Hertz claims services, saying that I still owe $420 in damages.

American Express is willing to pay the amount and is requesting proof of payment to the body shop, but the claims person is not willing to provide it. I am at a loss here.
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Billed twice? There’s a fix for that, travelers

Mattes/Shutterstock
Mattes/Shutterstock
Glenn Rossi’s recent Avis car rental had him seeing double. Literally.

He’d prepaid for a vehicle in Vienna, Austria, through Expedia. When he picked up the car, Avis also swiped his credit card. Within a week of returning the vehicle, Rossi, a retired telecommunications consultant who lives in Kelkheim, Germany, saw two charges for 333 euros (about $460) on his MasterCard: one from Expedia and one from Avis.

He’d been billed twice for the same car.

“I sent my contract and payment records to both Expedia and Avis but still have no refund of my double payment,” he says.

Rossi’s experience is common in one respect: Small billing errors happen routinely when you’re on the road — a currency conversion error, a fee added to the final bill or a room charge that belongs to another guest. But in another sense, it isn’t. Double-billings are relatively rare. Fortunately, they’re also relatively easy to fix.
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They underestimated us – their mistake!

Golden Pixels/Shutterstock
Golden Pixels/Shutterstock

Richard Barnes wishes he hadn’t rented the car.

The vehicle, which he reserved for on a business trip in Atlanta, was absolutely fine. It’s what happened afterwards that makes his blood boil.

Barnes picked up the vehicle at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He drove it to the Hyatt in Atlanta. The next day, he returned it to the airport without a scratch.

“Four months later I received a bill for $12,000 for an accident and damage to the car I had rented,” he says.

Say what?

Yep, $12k for a rental car returned undamaged. I recently wondered how careful you have to be in order to not get scammed as a consumer.

But there’s another side to this issue: How careful do businesses think we are?
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You deserve a refund for those junk fees

Diego Cervo/Shutterstock
Diego Cervo/Shutterstock
What if they had to give it all back?

Imagine if someone forced airlines, hotels and car rental companies to return every penny they took from you under questionable circumstances. The checked-bag fee, often poorly disclosed. The resort fee billed to your room, whether you used the “free” wireless and unlimited local phone calls or not. The license recovery fees that pay for your rental car’s plates — as if that were optional.

These extras, which most travelers call junk fees, aren’t just expensive annoyances. Vast sectors of the travel industry have made them a cornerstone of their business operations, with airlines leading the way down this ethically troublesome path.

It’s a practice the industry delicately calls “unbundling,” or removing often essential components of a product from the base price to make it look deceptively cheaper.
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Losing it over car rental “loss of use”

Oilly/Shutterstock
Oilly/Shutterstock
After Ben Harris dropped off his Mazda 3 rental at the airport in Maui last December, a Hertz agent pointed to some scuffed paint on the underside of the front bumper. Although the employee asked Harris to fill out an incident report, he assured Harris that it was just a formality and that he wouldn’t get a bill for the damage.

But six months later, Harris received a repair bill for $570. Among the charges was a $62 fee for “loss of use” – a fee that Harris, a physician from Chicago, considers “unreasonable.”

Some drivers agree. Rental companies used to write off the time a car spent in a garage as an expense. But shrinking profits forced them to add a loss-of-use charge to their repair bills, which allows them to recover the revenue they would have collected if the vehicle had been rented.

“Car rental companies were leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table by not collecting loss-of-use charges,” says Neil Abrams, a car rental consultant. “I think there’s a recognition that there’s a legitimate responsibility of the renter that extends beyond the rental of the vehicle.”
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Can technology help you turn the tables on your car rental company?

Peshkova/Shutterstock
Peshkova/Shutterstock
If you’re tired of technology being used against you — and how can you not be after the the latest NSA spying allegations — then you’ll probably appreciate this man-bites-dog story.

It comes to us by way of Bryan Lawver, who recently rented a car in Florence, Italy. When he returned the vehicle, an associate told him he was “one minute” past the grace period and would be charged an extra day.

“The agent refused to give us a return receipt, but rather penciled info on our original rental agreement,” says Lawver, who works for the federal government in Livermore, Calif. “I found that peculiar, but I lacked the language skills to explain my complaint.”

Fortunately, Lawver had a more high-tech answer. He used his Sony DSC HX10v, which has built-in GPS and resets its clock to local time, to take a timestamped photo of the car — which, by the way, is always a good idea.
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