Travel troubleshooter

Aren Elliott took this photo of his dad, Christopher Elliott, at the German Clock Museum, in Furtwangen im Schwarzwald, Germany. When booking flights or stays in Europe, Christopher notes, be aware that the date format is different than in America.

Q: I rented a car from Budget last summer in New York. After I returned, I received a bill from the Highway Toll Administration (HTA) for $729, which was automatically debited from my credit card.

I paid for all my tolls in cash. I’m sure this is a mistake.

Unfortunately, I do not have any toll payment receipts. I did not ask for a receipt, and they normally do not give them unless you ask. I’ve rented cars many times in New York, and I’ve always paid my tolls with cash. I have never had any problems, until now.

I am requesting that either HTA or Budget investigate these toll charges and refund the $729. Can you help me? — Jamal Alqiwani, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

A: If you paid for your toll with cash, you shouldn’t have been charged the $729. But beyond that, how could your bill be so high? You’d have to cross an awful lot of bridges and tunnels.

Turns out, HTA adds a service fee to your toll fees ( In New York, its transponders automatically identify the car and charge the standard cash fee for toll roads as published by the toll authority, plus a “convenience fee” of $3.95 per day, to a maximum of $19.75.

Two decades ago toll violators paid hundreds of dollars per violation, at least when a car rental company was involved. You could have been on the hook for much, much more if HTA didn’t exist.

Budget’s page is clear on how to avoid the charges: You can either pay cash or avoid toll roads entirely. You were just following the company’s advice.

This case is a real head-scratcher. There’s no way you should have a $729 bill, unless your transponder was working improperly. And if that was the case, then HTA or Budget should have quickly assisted you. Instead, Budget referred you to HTA, and it did not respond to your request for help.

You could have avoided this by keeping better records, specifically those toll receipts. I know it’s a hassle, but in this age of automation, an old-fashioned paper receipt is your trump card for resolving disputes.

You might have appealed your case to someone higher up at your car rental company. I list the names, numbers and email addresses for Budget’s customer-service executives on my consumer-advocacy site: http://www.

I contacted Budget on your behalf, and it refunded the full $729.

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Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his forum,, or by emailing him at