Tuesday Travel Trouble: car rentals gone awry

Today we launch a new series: Tuesday Travel Trouble.  We’ll share some travel-gone-wrong experiences, some tips on how to avoid similar situations, and in many cases, a good laugh (at least in hindsight).  If you have similar experiences of travels gone awry that you’d be interested in sharing, send them our way at news@familyexplorers.com.

We rented two cars during our Paris adventure–first for an escape-the-heat-and-flee-to-the-mountains Swiss getaway, and second for a visit to the beaches of Normandy.  I wrote a few tips regarding car rentals here, including a bit near the bottom about the perils of using a lesser known car rental company.  I also mentioned that Hertz has generally been good to me.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  And as luck would have it, we experienced TWO issues that we’re still working to fully resolve.  I figured it’d be worth a share for those who find themselves in similar situations in the future.

Billing error at Hertz

Hertz, which previously had never let me down, broke their perfect record with our Swiss rental.  I had redeemed points for the rental (reminder: you can get a LOT of value for your points when renting a minivan), which left just taxes and fees to be paid at the time of the rental/return.  The taxes and fees came to about $150.  Pretty great for a week-long minivan rental in Paris.  My interactions with the Hertz personnel in Paris were very good.  Quick service, no complaints.  Regrettably, it wasn’t until Hertz emailed me a receipt that I started to scratch my head about the charges.  It looked as if they had charged my credit card $974.  Huh.  Unsure whether it was just confusion derived by a funky way in which they account for rentals when using points, I decided to wait and see whether the charges showed up on my credit card statement.  Sure enough, $974 on my card.  Gratefully, Hertz’ customer service didn’t let me down.  I picked up the phone to call their billing department, told them that I’d used points for a weekly rental (which were indeed deducted from my account), but that it looked like I’d been charged the full dollar value of the rental, as well.  Fortunately the rep immediately confirmed the error and said it would be reversed.  After a week, the reversal still wasn’t showing up on my credit card, so I made another call, and the rep confirmed that the refund had just been processed that morning.  It looks like I’m now in the clear on this one.  And I’ll probably still keep Hertz at the top spot in my book.  WHEW.

Minivan-less Enterprise

As if that weren’t enough car rental woes for one trip, we ran into more trouble when we planned our Normandy excursion.  This trip was a last-minute decision.  We’d talked about possibly going to Normandy, both for historical reasons (D-Day beaches) and for summertime beach fun, but it wasn’t until an issue at the apartment arose that we decided to make it happen.  So we found ourselves on a Wednesday day afternoon trying to find a minivan at a reasonable price that we could pick up that same day for our latest out-of-town adventure.

Paris locals FLEE PARIS in late July and August.  It’s just what they do.  They take their congés annuels (yearly vacation/leave) and head to the beach, to the mountains, to the countryside—wherever they can relax and/or be with family.  Since most Parisians don’t have cars, this means rentals are tough to come by.

My search yielded almost nothing—especially at the in-city rental locations (we preferred not to have to trek out to Charles de Gaulle Airport for the vehicle).  In the eleventh hour (i.e. just as naptime was ending), I found a surprisingly well-priced minivan via CarRentals.com at Enterprise’s Porte Maillot location—just a bus-ride from our apartment.

Much to my chagrin, when I got there the agent told me they didn’t have the vehicle I’d booked.  In fact, he said he’d seen the reservation come through that afternoon, recognized that they wouldn’t have such a large vehicle, and called their I/T support team to fix a bug that had allowed it to be booked.  Unfortunately, his next move wasn’t to contact me to let me know.

Minivan wild goose chase

Minivan wild goose chase at Porte Maillot

So there we were at the agency, suitcases in hand, hungry boys at our side, with no car.  After some additional searching by the agent to find something at another Enterprise agency, he told me that if I could find a same-sized vehicle from another rental company, Enterprise would pay the difference.  I’d heard of this happening before, but it had never happened to me.  He quickly explained where all of the nearby (competitor) agencies were located, and I left Emily, the boys, and the suitcases at a nearby park to see what I could quickly find.  First stop?  Hertz, of course.  After some very courteous and willing efforts from the agent there—and my hopes raised a bit higher than they should’ve been—I had nothing to show for it.  I headed next for Europcar.  It turned out they had closed about 5 minutes earlier, and despite my loud knocks on the door, I had no choice but to head next to Avis.  No luck there.  Then a bit more of a hike (well, a jog, really—it was getting late, and the kids were getting antsy and very hungry) over to Sixt.  I’ve rented happily from Sixt a couple of times before in Europe, and I was hopeful.  Not only were they still open—they also had a brand new Volkswagen van ready for us.  Even though I hadn’t filled anything out online beforehand with Sixt, the process was quick, and within a few minutes I was on my way to pick up the family before heading out of town.  One final stop before doing that, though—I ran into Enterprise to let them know that I had found something, and to give them a copy of my rental agreement and invoice.  They made copies for themselves, got my contact info, and handed me a form that both the agent and I signed, letting me know (in writing) that they would reimburse me the difference between the Sixt van and the one that I’d reserved at Enterprise.

Now, I wish I could say this book is closed, and that I have my Enterprise reimbursement in hand, now three weeks later.  Thankfully, I was contacted by someone at Enterprise working on my case.  She requested a bit of additional information, and then informed me that my reimbursement had been processed and I should receive it within 10-14 business days.  The very unfortunate part?  Well, she told me the value of the reimbursement, and it was much lower than expected.  So I’m still waiting to hear back from her on that (it looks like they miscalculated the conversion between Euros and USD).  But at least I have a person who is listening, and they’re willing to resolve the problem with money.  That’s encouraging.  It just takes time and hassle—plus persistence and attention to detail—to resolve the issue fully.

The moral of the story?

First, check your receipt and your credit card statements carefully.  Keep receipts on big expenses like rental cars until everything is as it should be.

Second, if you get to a rental agency and find they do not have the size of car (or bigger) that you reserved, request (and expect) that they provide you a written voucher stating that they will pay the difference if you go to a competitor for your vehicle.  It’s a regular occurrence and can save you several hundred dollars if you got a good deal on your original rental.

Third, stay civil and polite.  This is something I’ve heard again and again in the travel world, and I’ve seen it in action.  Everyone I’ve worked with on these two car rental issues has been courteous and helpful.  No doubt the response would’ve been different if I’d started the conversations in anger or without respect for the person on the other end of the line.  Remember that it’s not that person’s fault—and that person is here to help.  A little bit of kindness goes a long way.

Good luck, and happy renting!

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] the apartment for 3+ days.  The rush to get out of there led to some unexpected challenges, both with the rental van and with the lodging in Normandy.  But in the end, we were thrilled with our visit to Normandy, […]

  2. […] add-on to our adventures in France.  But it sure started out rocky!  First there was the car rental snafu, but once we made it out of Paris in the rental, we figured we were home free.  If only we’d […]

  3. […] (August is a month off for many, if not most locals), but we were still able to find a rental van (with some hassle) and a two-bedroom vacation rental that would fit the whole […]

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