The expert view
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.