Travel Solutions: Car agency tacks on extra charges after rental cancellation mix-up

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z Travel Solutions: Car agency tacks on extra charges after rental cancellation mix-upChristopher Elliott Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Q: My husband and I recently rented a car from Auto Europe for a trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. We received a prepaid voucher for a rental from Hertz.

When we landed in Munich, Germany, a Hertz representative told us our reservation had been canceled. After some delay, checking on his computer and his garage, he assured us that we could obtain another, smaller car. He said it would cost slightly less than our original rental amount, but that we would have to take up the refund of the original reservation with Auto Europe.

My husband signed a new charge slip (of course, all in German) and we were glad to finally be on our way. The Hertz agent only gave us a credit card receipt, but no rental agreement.

While still in Europe, my husband sent an email to Auto Europe, letting it know about the cancellation. We returned the car without incident.

Now, both Hertz and Auto Europe are charging us for the car. After several months of multiple emails and phone calls, Auto Europe advised us that their original charge indeed was for our reservation, which they state was not canceled, and that the Hertz charges were not for a new rental but for unrequested extra insurance, a car return relocation fee, entry to Czech Republic fee and a winterization fee.

I am so mad and offended by the dishonesty of the Hertz agent in Munich and the collusion of Auto Europe. Do we have any recourse? - Pat Shopher, El Macero, Calif.

A: Auto Europe's voucher should have worked. But instead of taking the next rental, you should have contacted Auto Europe immediately and asked it to fix the problem with Hertz. That way, this misunderstanding could have been avoided.

I've dealt with a few cases like this, where reservations for international rentals were canceled and then rebooked at a higher rate. Usually, customers end up with an extra fee or two, but I've never seen it rise to this level.

Some of the fees charged by the Hertz location in Germany seem suspicious. If you never asked for insurance, why should you pay for it? A winterization fee? (That would be for winter tires, which should come standard with any car driving in winter conditions.)

Why did you sign a contract that you couldn't understand? You have the right to ask for a contract in a language you understand, or at least for a translation. But instead, it looks as if you assumed the terms of your rental were the same as for the Auto Europe rental, and they weren't.

The vouchers issued by a company like Auto Europe should include all mandatory charges, and if Hertz had accepted it, you probably wouldn't have had any surprises on your credit card bill. You made a valiant attempt to dispute this with each company, short of taking this matter up with your credit card.

Fortunately, that wasn't necessary. I contacted Hertz on your behalf. It refunded 251 euros, the full amount of Hertz's optional services.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at celliott@ngs.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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