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Car rental boss in the hot seat
This week, I finally found myself face to face with the head of a car rental company, with a chance to grill him on why there is so much dissatisfaction with the way hire cars are sold. This wasn’t just any company. Juan Carlos Azcona is chief executive of Goldcar, one of the names that often crops up in readers’ complaints. He had flown from Spain, and was keen to explain what he is doing to improve Goldcar’s customer service.
One of the problems raised by readers is the way agents at the rental desk often try to bully them into buying additional insurance. This is to cover the “excess” amount – in Goldcar’s case between €1,100 and €2,000 (£870-£1,575) – which you must pay in the event of damage to the car. It’s almost always very expensive, usually over £100 per week in addition to a basic rental charge, which might be as low as £20. Many customers prefer to live with the risk, or buy much cheaper top-up insurance elsewhere (see telegraph. co.uk/carhireguide).
Not surprisingly, car hire companies don’t like it when customers do this – firms set their headline prices artificially low, so they need the extra revenue from the insurance payment to make the hire profitable. But I asked Azcona if staff sales incentives were also a big part of the problem, with customers put under pressure to buy insurance they didn’t want. He said all hire companies offered such incentives, but he was trying to improve service at the desks by also rewarding staff for high customer satisfaction ratings. (Every customer is emailed when they return from holiday, and their responses are logged.) If they leave a customer feeling unhappy, it could hit the desk clerk in the pocket.
He also believes that the biggest cause of issues at the pickup desk was poor communication – many customers fail to realise that if they don’t buy the hire car company’s top-up insurance, they have to leave a deposit to cover the excess. Customers without a credit card or with insufficient credit available are unable to take the car unless they buy the company’s own insurance top-up.
Azcona said that he is trying to improve communication about this and other points of potential friction, such as fuel charges, with better information on the Goldcar website. It’s a step forward, but I’m still not convinced the issues are made clear enough – the two new videos on the site, for example, are more about promotion. See goldcar.es/en, then judge for yourself.
There is also still a problem, as Azcona concedes, with sales made through third-party agents and brokers, where he can’t control so easily the way that details are communicated.
On the upside, Azcona is also introducing more “fully inclusive” offers, where everything, including all insurance (with no excess), is covered by the initial booking price. Ultimately, I think this is the way forward. If all hire car prices were set on such a basis, there would be better transparency, fewer delays and less stress at pickup, and much more effective price competition.
Meanwhile, Azcona assured me that customers who had the means to pay the deposit would not be unduly pressured into taking out excess policies when they picked up a car.
If that does happen to you, note the staff member’s name, be sure to respond to the customer satisfaction email with your rating, and use asktheexperts@ telegraph.co.uk to tell us.
Nick Trend is Telegraph Travel’s consumer expert