The ex­pert view

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - CONSUMER ADVICE -

Once again, car hire is in the news. I was asked to com­ment on the sub­ject on Ra­dio Four on Wed­nes­day be­cause the con­sumer pro­gramme You and Yours was high­light­ing com­plaints from lis­ten­ers who’d had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence with ren­tals this sum­mer. It spurred me to think again about the feed­back we re­ceive from Tele­graph Travel read­ers and whether a new trend is de­vel­op­ing across the in­dus­try.

It feels as though con­sumers are be­com­ing more savvy about avoid­ing high pre­mi­ums charged at the pickup desk for waiv­ing the in­sur­ance ex­cess. Many are buy­ing much cheaper in­sur­ance in ad­vance in­stead (see tele­graph.co. uk/tt-carhireguide for ad­vice), or tak­ing the risk and cov­er­ing the ex­cess with their credit card. This is per­fectly le­git­i­mate, but rental com­pa­nies hate it be­cause the cars are of­ten of­fered at an ar­ti­fi­cially low price and they need the money from sell­ing their own ex­pen­sive in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums to com­pen­sate.

Staff on the pickup desks seem to be re­spond­ing in two ways. First they are be­ing far tougher on the re­quire­ment that the credit card used to guar­an­tee the in­sur­ance ex­cess is held in the name of the per­son who made the book­ing. If you can’t pro­duce this card – per­haps be­cause the book­ing was paid for by a friend or rel­a­tive, or you hap­pen to be trav­el­ling with a dif­fer­ent card – they shrug their shoul­ders, point out the small print that says it is a com­pul­sory re­quire­ment, and in­sist you buy their own in­sur­ance cover. Sud­denly the rental has cost you per­haps £200 more than you were ex­pect­ing.

Sec­ondly, at the re­turn stage there seems to be a grow­ing in­ci­dence of com­pa­nies charg­ing cus­tomers who don’t take out an in­sur­ance ex­cess waiver very large sums for “dam­age re­pairs”. This dam­age is of­ten mi­nor and not reg­is­tered on pickup – a chip on the wind­screen, or a scratch or a dent on some ob­scure part of the body­work. Even if you were re­spon­si­ble for the scuff, you have no con­trol over the cost of re­pair. In fact, you have no way of know­ing whether the re­pair was done or not. In many cases, the com­pany is prob­a­bly just billing for a write-down in the re­sale value of the car.

But who is to say the write-down is a fair re­flec­tion of the dam­age or the re­pair bill is rea­son­able? Cer­tainly not the cus­tomer: you’ve had to au­tho­rise the agent to debit your card up to the to­tal of the ex­cess and you are in a weak po­si­tion. In the­ory, if you have bought your own in­de­pen­dent in­sur­ance, you should be re­im­bursed by that. But many cus­tomers don’t have cover, and in ei­ther event, it is clearly an un­sat­is­fac­tory sit­u­a­tion – a charge is be­ing made with­out proper jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, and there is no way of chal­leng­ing it.

As we have said too of­ten, con­sumer con­fi­dence in the car hire in­dus­try is al­ready at a low ebb. Rather than im­prov­ing, things seem to be get­ting worse.

a le­git­i­mate claim for a re­fund of all the ex­penses we in­curred, to­gether with stan­dard EU com­pen­sa­tion, for the de­nial of board­ing by Vuel­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, I am hav­ing no suc­cess in com­mit­ting any of the var­i­ous par­ties in­volved to ac­cept li­a­bil­ity.

CheapOair says it has ful­filled its obli­ga­tions, as does Bri­tish Air­ways (which re­ceived the orig­i­nal pay­ment from CheapOair), Ibe­ria (whose flight num­ber fea­tured on the re­turn e-ticket) and Vuel­ing. My strong sus­pi­cion is that the fail­ure to recog­nise the book­ing at Florence Air­port was due to a flight sched­ule change made a month af­ter we had booked. We were no­ti­fied of this by CheapOair, which sent us a new itin­er­ary with a dif­fer­ent book­ing ref­er­ence.

Seven months have now passed since the in­ci­dent and we are no fur­ther for­ward. Can you help? TIM PERKS

AAs the flight was booked through CheapOair, the travel agent should have taken on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of find­ing out what went wrong and who was to blame. In­stead it sent Mr Perks off on a wild-goose chase around the air­lines con­cerned.

Fi­nally, in Fe­bru­ary, CheapOair asked for de­tails of his ex­pen­di­ture. Mr Perks in­voiced for the re­place­ment tick­ets, the ho­tel bill in­clud­ing din­ner, as­so­ci­ated taxi fares and an ex­tra day’s air­port park­ing. He also re­quested EU De­nied Board­ing Com­pen­sa­tion of €250 each. CheapOair ac­knowl­edged re­ceipt but its agents con­tin­ued to claim it wasn’t re­spon­si­ble for the er­ror.

I asked Vuel­ing for a re­view but it said that, as it was only the op­er­a­tor of the flight, it couldn’t “dive into” the com­puter book­ing sys­tem of ei­ther BA or Ibe­ria. BA and Ibe­ria both con­tin­ued to deny re­spon­si­bil­ity. CheapOair is a trad­ing name for Duke’s Court Travel, a Lon­don­based sub­sidiary of US flight bro­ker Fare­por­tal. I found email ad­dresses for sev­eral of the com­pany’s directors and got in touch. Within 24 hours a se­nior US man­ager had tele­phoned Mr Perks, apol­o­gised, and agreed to pay his claim of £1,407.

A spokesman for CheapOair said that when the in­bound ticket was reis­sued a “highly un­usual tech­ni­cal er­ror” oc­curred be­tween BA and CheapOair’s reser­va­tion sys­tem, which caused the air­line to can­cel the seats.

Ev­ery flight book­ing is given a Per­sonal Name Record (PNR) which lists all the flights in the itin­er­ary with de­tails of all the e-tick­ets – even if they are for dif­fer­ent air­lines. It’s im­por­tant to check the book­ing is still live a few days be­fore travel, es­pe­cially if there has been a sched­ule change. This is im­por­tant if the PNR has changed, which is what hap­pened here. This can be done through the air­line’s own book­ing man­ager or by sign­ing up with check­mytrip.com.

Ques­tions should be sent by email to ask­the­ex­perts@ tele­graph.co.uk. Please pro­vide your name and near­est town and, if your query is about a dis­pute with a travel com­pany, your full ad­dress, day­time tele­phone num­ber and any book­ing ref­er­ence. We re­gret that we can­not an­swer all the emails we re­ceive.

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