Rented car online for Heathrow


I had to fly urgently to the U.K. on family business and so made arrangements over the Internet to rent a car from Dollar Rent A Car at London’s Heathrow Airport, Feb. 10-20, 2007. The total price I was quoted on Expedia was about £110 (near $219).

On arrival at Heathrow, I could not see a Dollar representative or booth anywhere. After going to information, I discovered that the Dollar Rent A Car (and, for that matter, Thrifty Rent A Car) agent was located at the Sheraton Hotel, some distance from the airport. There was no shuttle service provided by the company from the airport; I eventually managed to catch a bus going there, which cost £4 ($8) one way.

This is about a 25- to 30-minute trip, so bear this in mind if you are on a tight time schedule either going or coming back. On return, the traffic was bad even at 8 a.m.

Once I arrived at the agency, they confirmed I did indeed have a car booked and proceeded to process the paperwork. I noticed that the amount charged was substantially higher than that quoted on the online booking form. The reason was they added a daily charge of £13.75 ($27) per day for insurance. I explained that I was going to pay with my MasterCard Platinum Business card and that that should cover the basic insurance for the car.

I was then told that they would not accept this without a written letter or “hard copy” of proof from the credit card company that they would cover this. Of course, I did not have anything like that to hand over, having never been asked for that before. I had no option but to agree to the payment.

Later, while in the U.K., I called the MasterCard customer support center and was told that, yes, the card covers basic insurance for the car but not personal liability. When I asked if they would e-mail me proof of this to supply to the car rental company, I was told that they would not do this, instead supplying a phone number for the car company to call. Of course, the rental agency said this was not sufficient and insisted on some kind of letter.

At the end of the day, I paid an additional £151 ($300) for the car than I was originally quoted on the Internet.

I also was charged an additional fee of £12.77 ($25) for picking up my car at a “premium location” —

totally laughable as this was probably the most inconvenient pickup and dropoff location for a car rental company that I have ever used.

Regarding their needing a letter of proof of insurance, other than the charge shown on the bill I never got a separate note of insurance coverage. By the way, this coverage has a £500 ($1,000) deductible, or “excess” as they call it, so a renter would probably end up paying for a small ding anyway.

The total amount I actually ended up paying for the rental was £287 ($571).

I highly recommend all visitors to the U.K. to double-check with their credit card companies as to the exact insurance coverage they supply.

LEE HOLIFIELD

Placerville, CA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to the U.K. and U.S. offices of Dollar Rent A Car and to the credit card company Citibusiness (Box 45205, Jacksonville, FL 32232-5205). The latter did not reply, but ITN did receive the following.

We sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or inconvenience suffered by Mr. Holifield whilst renting a Thrifty vehicle.

All of the issues that are addressed in Mr. Holifield’s letter are listed clearly under our Terms & Conditions on our website, www.thrifty. com. It is unfortunate that Mr. Holifield made a booking through an Internet booking agent who did not provide Mr. Holifield with all the information he would require. If he had made the booking direct with Thrifty he would have had to read our Terms & Conditions, providing information on our policy on insurance, the information regarding the shuttle service to our site, and the premium location charge.

We would suggest, if you would like to take the matter further, you contact Expedia.com directly.

Once again, we apologize to Mr. Holifield for the misunderstanding.

JENNIFER SINGER, Customer Services, Thrifty Car & Van Rental, Scot Group, Ltd., Flightform House, Halifax Rd., Cressex Business Park, High Wycombe, Bucks HP12 3SN, U.K.

After sending copies of the above letters to Expedia.com, ITN received the following replies, one to ITN and one a copy of a letter to Mr. Holifield.

Thank you for your letter of March 22 concerning our customer Mr. Lee Holifield. Customer service is a core value at Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group and we truly appreciate every opportunity to address a situation where we have fallen short of customer expectations.

Since receiving notification of your letter to Expedia, we have taken the following actions:

1. Contacted the Managing Director of our Dollar Rent A Car location in the U.K. He responded and forwarded his apologies for the miscommunication to Mr. Holifield.

2. Fully refunded Mr. Holifield’s rental and sent him a formal apology for the continued frustration he experienced while attempting to escalate his complaint.

3. Formally apologized to Expedia for a response inconsistent with our official position and business practices. The letter sent by our licensee doesn’t properly characterize our stance with our distribution partners or the great lengths we take to assure every customer has the same quality experience regardless of the channel he or she chooses.

I would also like to take a moment to address some of the specific points raised in Mr. Holifield’s letter:

1. The Dollar location is located some distance from the airport and passengers are required to take a bus to the off-airport facility. None of the car rental companies at Heathrow are allowed to run buses at the airport; the airport provides a single consolidated bus run by a private company who charges for the service, which we have no control over.

We try our best to inform customers prior to their arrival at Dollar Heathrow; it appears in our “Terms and Conditions” on Dollar.com and on Expedia, which unfortunately are often overlooked. We would caution any consumers traveling to foreign destinations to read the “Terms and Conditions” very carefully, as there are often local considerations they should understand before they arrive.

2. Mr. Holifield was upset about the £13.75-per-day insurance charge when he could not provide proof of insurance at the counter. It is our experience that credit card and insurance companies will provide a letter outlining your car rental coverage if asked.

In many instances, customers tell us at the counter that they are covered by their own insurance and we find out only later they are not, and when the customer is one who lives in a different country, it is often difficult for us to collect for damages. This is called out in the “Terms and Conditions” on Dollar.com and on Expedia.

3. Regarding the Premium Location Fee, many locations in the U.K. that are in high-cost areas (e.g., London city center or close to the airports) charge a Premium Location Fee. It is not unique to Dollar; it is common practice with other brands.

While it does not excuse Mr. Holifield’s poor experience, we hope this will at least help ITN readers to understand that the car rental process may be different outside the U.S.

Thank you again for forwarding Mr. Holifield’s letter and providing an opportunity to repair this problem and hopefully regain his confidence.

CHARLES A. CONIGLIO, Staff Vice President, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc., 5330 E. 31st St., P.O. Box 35985, Tulsa, OK, 74153-0985

We received from ITN your feedback of your recent experience using Expedia.com services. We are sorry to hear of the difficulties you experienced with Dollar Rent-A-Car. It is our goal — as well as our partner’s — to provide 100% customer satisfaction, and we are very disheartened to learn that this mark was not met in the service provided to you.

It is our hope that this occurrence will not reflect poorly on the Expedia.com experience and that you will give us another chance to prove our excellent customer service. We would like to offer you a $200 electronic travel coupon that can be redeemed on a future purchase of an Expedia Special Rate hotel or vacation package.

Should you have reason to reserve a rental car in the future, the details surrounding your rental agreement are located on your Expedia.com itinerary under a link entitled “Detailed Rental Information” and come directly from the car rental company. Although this information was provided to you in advance at the time of your reservation, we are using your feedback to reevaluate how the details are shared with other travelers on Expedia.com.

Thank you for taking time to express your concerns.

LISA CRUZAN, Customer Advisory Department, Expedia.com, 3150 139th Ave. SE, Bellevue, WA 98005