Extreme card confusion on my rental car

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Harold Nagase tries to add a day to his Hotwire car rental, but when the vehicle is damaged, his credit card company won’t cover it. Why not?

Question: I recently rented a car from Hotwire for a one-week visit to Kauai, Hawaii. I had to move my flight up by a day, but that created a problem, since Hotwire doesn’t allow changes on its rentals.

Seeing that the car rental agency was Alamo, I decided to rent a car for one day from the same company. I happened to use a different credit card than the one I used to pay for my Hotwire rental.

When I arrived at Alamo, I mentioned my situation to an attendant. She said that she could resolve my dilemma; I would just pay a little more and keep the car that I was to pick up the following day. I was elated! Now I did not have to return the vehicle early.

While I was parked at a shopping mall, someone dented the car. My car insurance covered the damage, leaving me to pay $200 out of pocket. I think my credit card company should cover the cost, but neither it nor Alamo will do anything to resolve this. Can you help me? — Harold Nagase, San Francisco

Answer: Hotwire’s rentals — referred to as “opaque” purchases in the travel industry — can offer a significant discount, but there’s a tradeoff. Your purchase is nonrefundable, and it can’t be changed. You should not visit an opaque site when you want flexibility.

It was nice of the Alamo agent to try to fix the rental situation, but in order for your credit card company to cover the car, the entire rental needs to be billed to that card. Only part of your rental was paid for with it, which left you with no coverage.

By the way, I’m pleased that the claim process worked as intended. You appear to have acknowledged the damage to your car, filled out all necessary forms, and were willing to pay for the dents. As someone who deals with hundreds of questionable damage claims, I think that’s encouraging. I’ve seen so many of these claims go wrong, I’ve lost count.

In hindsight, the best way to have avoided this situation would have been for you to use the Hotwire rental as intended. Had you done that, and the car had been damaged, then your credit card company would have covered the repairs. Apart from that, you could have purchased Alamo’s optional insurance policy, but those can be pricey.

I asked Alamo to check its records on your rental. It showed that part of your rental was paid for with one credit card, and the other part was covered by a Hotwire voucher, which was purchased with a different card. Therefore, your credit card insurance claim was unsuccessful. You disagree with that assessment and maintain that the payment method used for your car was an error by Alamo.

“Our local branch office in Hawaii has offered to waive the remaining $200 that Mr. Nagase owes as a matter of customer service and hopes he will return next time he’s in Hawaii,” an Alamo representative said.

Who is ultimately responsible for this mix-up?

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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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  • sirwired

    I’m a little fuzzy on how the incorrect payment method could possibly have been Alamo’s fault. How on earth could Alamo have gotten the incorrect credit-card information unless that was the card she pushed across the counter? They have no idea which credit card she used to buy the Hotwire voucher; how could they? They probably receive a check from HotWire.

  • Jim

    Wow! We will waive the $200 in hopes that he will use Alamo next time he visits…

    If they would have said this before Chris became involved I might be impressed.

  • FQTVLR

    My first thought was “WOW, someone taking responsibility for something”, until I reached the end of the LW’s story saying that Alamo made a mistake with the method of payment. How could that have happened when Mr. Nagase is the one who gave the form of payment to them at pickup? Still, I admire the LW for taking responsibility for the damage that occurred and think Alamo was generous in waiving the additional money due.

  • Eighmeagh

    Yes. And the OP admits that he used a different credit card: “…I happened to use a different credit card than the one I used to pay for my Hotwire rental.” So how then can OP “disagree” with the assessment that two different cards were used?

    That said, if one of the credit cards used does include insurance coverage, it seems a little bit ticky-tack not to cover the damage (did the damage occur during the Hotwire period or the “extra day” period, and which period was paid for by which card?) but I can also see that the CC company would want to avoid people charging something like $1 of a rental to the card with coverage, just to receive the coverage, and the remainder to another card.

  • John Baker

    I happen to agree with everyone but the LW on this one …

    His credit card company requires that he pay for the entire rental with his credit card. He didn’t. He paid for a portion of it with his hotwire voucher and then extended the rental on his credit card. Since it was one rental, not two, everyone but the LW is correct.

    I hope he saved at least $200 extending his rental instead of moving into a new rental / vehicle. Otherwise, he should have cost himself money …

    Of course this just begs the question… what did he do for insurance the rest of the time he had the car?

  • MarkKelling

    Rules is rules. All credit cards I am aware of say the entire rental has to be on the same card and it must be the card used to book the rental or the insurance coverage does not apply (so you can’t book the rental with one card and then change it at turn in to the one with the best insurance coverage if you have damaged the vehicle). So why wasn’t the same card used to extend the rental? Alamo used what the renter provided at the time of rental. I guess a better option if a different card was to be used would have been to rent a car for just the one day, return it and pick up the other rental. Not optimal, but would have satisfied the rules the credit cards have because each portion of the rental period would have been a separate rent fully paid by only one card. Just be glad your personal auto insurance covered most of the claim.

  • The Original Joe S

    I WAS impressed until I read YOUR posting.

  • Bill___A

    Read your credit card agreements and coverage. To the best of my knowledge, ALL of the charges have to be on the same card. That goes for when you are flying and purchase an upgrade too. This is 100% the customer’s fault.

  • dave3029

    I must admit, I’ve never rented a car and then (A) extended the rental period, or (B) paid with a different card at the counter than the one I registered online.

    I don’t see anything in the OP’s story that indicates in which period the damage occurred. If he had a week rental paid with credit card A, followed by a one-day rental paid by credit card B, aren’t those two separate contracts? Wouldn’t whatever contract/card was in play on the day of the damage be responsible?

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Why should the rental company pay for the customer’s mistake?

  • Cybrsk8r

    It sounds like his personal auto coverage took care of the repair but he has a $200 deductible. The trouble here is that, even if both cards used had that “deductible waiver” feature, or whatever it’s called, Neither card would cover it since the rental was not fully paid for with either card.

  • Asiansm Dan

    All of the aboves.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    The company I used to work for was in Enterprise family so I know exactly what happened as I know how the system (Odyssey) is set up.

    When a customer comes in with a prepaid Hotwire rental, the “voucher” information is passed along in Odyssey, so the rental company can bill Hotwire for the rental. No CC info from Hotwire is passed along to the rental company and as such the rental company has no way of knowing which CC was used on Hotwire. And since the rental company has no CC info they ask for a CC at the counter in case of rental extensions, gas, unpaid tolls, damage, etc. Therefore, it is 100% the responsibility of the customer to know:

    1. The terms and conditions of the CC CDW. Rental agents will try to explain it but most people will simply shut them out.

    2. Which CC they need to use to preserve the CC CDW.

    Sorry, but this is 100% the customer’s fault. If you are going to rely on CC CDW you need to know EXACTLY what rules you need to follow.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Because Alamo is a rental company. That’s why.

  • Jim

    I agree with you totally. But Alamo wasn’t going to do anything until Chris stepped in, they just don’t want bad press…

  • Jim

    Wow you can insult someone on the Internet. Congratulations. Go back to your mothers basement.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    But why would/should Alamo do anything? The customer erroneously believed that by paying for his rental with a CC he was magically covered for everything. He was wrong. Why should Alamo pay $200 for the customer’s mistake?

  • sunshipballoons

    what mixup?

  • Bill___A

    A real problem is where the customer has been not treated the way they should be – the vendor has not adhered to the rules, or did not follow good business practices. Now we seem to have mostly people who are trying to get something they are not entitled to.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    No, the system is set up so any extensions are billed by the rental company to the CC the rental company swipes at the counter. It’s all under one RA #. This is to maximize convenience to all parties, since your scenario would require a new contract be written, and would require the customer to return to the rental office to sign a new contract.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    WHY?!?!?! Why should the rental company be held responsible because the customer didn’t follow the T&C of his own CC?

  • Jim

    They shouldn’t. As I said I agree with you, but it’s funny to see Alamo jump all over the good publicity bandwagon by waiving the fee.

  • The Original Joe S

    I wasn’t talking about being unimpressed with YOU, MR THIN-SKIN. I was unimpressed about Alamo’s giving the $200 only after Chris got involved.

    There’s a never-ending stream of people who love to take offense at anything and everything……
    And, thanks for the insipid insult from YOU, MR THIN-SKIN.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The OP should have used an AMEX card with thier rental insurance program. You’re 100% covered for up to $100,000 and 42 continuous days for a flat $24.95. Once you sign up, it’s automatically billed whenever you rent a car. If you only have liability on your personal vehicle, this takes it’s place. I’ve used it many times in the past.

    However, expect rental agents to outright lie and tell you the coverage isn’t good in their state, in order to sell their overpriced CDW coverage.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thanks for the explanation. I was thinking of using Hotwire for a rental car reservation for this fall and paying for that with my Amex, but it looks like that would void my Amex rental car insurance policy, so I wouldn’t end up saving any money in the end. I really learn a lot from the folks on here, so thank you.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    @disqus_kkCWuCb5ez:disqus posted that the system used by Hotwire might cancel out that protection from Amex, and my policy sorta kinda reads that way. “Sorta kinda” in insurance talk means no coverage when push comes to shove. So – am thinking I will skip Hotwire for my next car rental, negotiate directly with the car rental agency and use my Amex car to get my insurance properly activated.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve done the former. I simply had my contract in front of me and called in. Three times. And got the same operator all three times. However, it wasn’t quite what the subject of this article did, which was try to get an additional day before the prepaid rental period.

    I did change the car during the middle of the rental. It was a big car and I didn’t like the way it handled/braked. I’m not sure if it was considered a separate contract, but I did get new paperwork (might be needed to show to law enforcement).

  • nyctraveler

    The OP clearly stated that he “happened to use a different credit card than the one I used to pay for my Hotwire rental”. He can’t later then claim that ” the payment method used for your car was an error by Alamo”. And if you knew that the CC you used for the Hotwire rental provided CDW, why give the Alamo rep a different CC at the counter? He could have avoided the entire issue by simply using the original CC. He’s lucky Alamo caved in under pressure and waived the $200 he owed.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    AMEX T&C state you must use AMEX for the ENTIRE rental so he would be in the same situation. Part of the problem with CC CDW is when misinformed people say things like, “You’re 100% covered” without mentioning the caveats. Like what happened to the OP.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Well, you helped me out a couple Fridays back so I’m always happy to return the favor :) And I think using AMEX on a hotwire rental does NOT inherently mean that AMEX CDW is invalid. The problem the OP is having is that he either didn’t use his AMEX card on Hotwire or didn’t give it to the rental agent. Thus, when he extended the rental, part of the rental was not on the AMEX card. That’s what messed everything up.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Tone it down, dude.

  • Guest

    If I’m reading what you wrote correctly, it means that the entire rental – – the extended day and the original Hotwire deal – – should have all been on one card. But the OP said he used a different card at the counter than he’d used for the Hotwire deal. If the entire transaction had to be on one card, the error is on the part of the rental agent who should have insisted on the card used for the Hotwire reservation.

  • The Original Joe S

    I did. I was agreeing with him, but he chose to become insulted, and THEN made a NASTY comment to me. Too bad……

  • Thoroughlyamused

    To the people on here who say rental companies only drop damage claims when the claim is bogus, this article proves different. A little media pressure can go a long way.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Nice try. As I said in an above post, I know exactly which system was used in this situation and have used it myself. Hotwire rentals appear as a prepaid voucher in Alamo’s system, but Hotwire does NOT pass on any CC info to the rental company. And there are legitimate reasons why a customer might use a different card to pay Hotwire then to put down for a rental deposit. For example, many people like using debit cards which would be fine to pay the cost of the rental on Hotwire but might not be suitable for a rental deposit.

    The rental agent had no way of knowing which CC was used on Hotwire and most likely had no idea what AMEX T&C are. If you are going to smugly declare at the rental counter, “I have MY OWN insurance”, then you need to actually understand how said insurance works (shocking, I know). Like it or not, a main purpose of rental agents is to sell you ancillary services and while outright lying is not OK, you shouldn’t expect the rental agent to advise you on a competitor’s product. If you walk into Best Buy do you expect the guy there to inform you that Wal-Mart has a lower price?

  • AH

    not that i rent cars very often, but i appreciate your comments, and those of jeanne_in_NE, which helped clarify how this kind of situation works. (aka, moral of the story, don’t book thru hotwire if you’re planning on using your AMEX ins coverage!)
    thanks, y’all!

  • The Original Joe S

    I didn’t mean to insult you. I was agreeing w/u. However, I can see how you could have assumed I was insulting ur post. Sorry.

  • JenniferFinger

    Stop the back and forth insult exchange, please. Name-calling and cutting each other down are against the rules of this forum.

  • The Original Joe S

    I did. I apologized. See above.

  • Bill___A

    Please explain exactly how this is “extreme card confusion”? I think everyone, including the OP is very clear on what cards were used. As to the coverage, ,there should be no confusion about that whatsoever.

  • Mel65

    Seriously? He wants one credit card to cover him for a purchase made with another credit card? If you want to use the benefits of a credit card, then … use that credit card. D’oh.

  • Mel65

    No, it’s on the customer who should know what card he used and what card he wants to take advantage of the benefits of.