Billed for in­sur­ance that was pre­sented as op­tional

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - TRAVEL - By Christo­pher El­liott Christo­pher El­liott is the om­buds­man for Na­tional Geo­graphic Trav­eler magazine and the au­thor of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Trav­eler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, el­liott.org, or email him at [email protected]­liott.org.

I rented a Dol­lar car at Frank­furt air­port through Auto Europe. When I made the reser­va­tion, Auto Europe im­me­di­ately charged me $213, and I re­ceived a voucher for the sixday rental. On the first page of the voucher, high­lighted in blue were the words: “IN­SUR­ANCE OP­TIONAL.”

Af­ter a 14-hour flight from Cal­i­for­nia to Ger­many, I ar­rived at the Dol­lar counter in Frank­furt, which was closed. A sign di­rected me to the Hertz counter next to it. I pre­sented my voucher, but a Hertz em­ployee told me that I could not rent the car with­out pur­chas­ing a col­li­sion-dam­age waiver (CDW) and theft in­sur­ance from Hertz.

Ini­tially, I re­fused be­cause the Chase Sap­phire Visa card I use to pay for rental cov­ers CDW and theft world­wide. But Hertz would not rent me the car. I told them I had rented cars all over the world, from South Africa to Costa Rica, with­out prob­lems, but they did not budge. I was forced to ac­cept the in­sur­ance.

I could not walk away be­cause I had al­ready pre­paid for the rental. The ex­tra in­sur­ance cost 246 eu­ros and the theft pro­tec­tion cost 106 eu­ros. Af­ter taxes, that came to $510 on top of the ini­tial rental charge.

I’ve asked Hertz and Auto Europe for a re­fund, but they won’t budge. Can you help?

— Sil­via Restelli, San Jose, Calif.

ap­pears you’re in an on­line chat with Auto Europe. In one mem­o­rable ex­change with Hertz, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive de­clares, “Sil­via, we are show­ing that the CDW and TP are manda­tory in Ger­many un­less you have a let­ter from your in­sur­ance com­pany stat­ing that rental cars in Ger­many are cov­ered. Did you have this let­ter? All reser­va­tions with Dol­lar/Thrifty in Ger­many have this re­quire­ment.”

You ask why the re­quire­ment wasn’t dis­closed. Then Hertz says, “The charges are valid.” Your re­ac­tion is price­less: “Am I talk­ing to a bot?” It wouldn’t sur­prise me if you were. If Dol­lar, which is owned by Hertz, re­quires in­sur­ance and theft pro­tec­tion for its ve­hi­cles — and it’s well within its rights to do so — then it must say so.

Up­front. Quot­ing $213 but charg­ing $723 is wrong.

I pub­lish the names, num­bers and email ad­dresses for the Hertz and Dol­lar cus­tomer-ser­vice ex­ec­u­tives on my con­sumer-ad­vo­cacy site: www.el­liott.org/com­pany -con­tacts/hertz/. I also have the con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the Auto Europe ex­ec­u­tive con­tacts: www.el­liott.org/com­pany -con­tacts/auto-europe/.

I con­tacted Auto Europe about your case. The com­pany agreed to re­fund your in­sur­ance charges.

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