Outrageous CDW costs in Ireland

For the past 14 years, my wife, Roberta, and I have made at least one annual trip to Ireland. We always rent a car at the Shannon or Dublin airport and tour extensively.

In past years, I relied upon the international auto rental insurance provided by MasterCard, declining the expensive collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft insurance offered by the rental agencies. Then I received this statement from MasterCard: “Effective Sept. 1, 2006, US consumer cardholders no longer have core CDW coverage in Ireland, Israel or Jamaica.”

Unfortunately, virtually all major credit card companies have begun excluding a small handful of countries, including Italy, Israel and Ireland (there seems to be a distinct prejudice toward the letter “I”). I have confirmed by telephone, website or both that Visa and American Express have similar exclusions.

While complete CDW coverage is not required in Ireland, to drive without it is taking a major financial risk. Plus if you decline the insurance, the auto rental company usually puts a substantial hold (as much as $2,000 or more) on your credit card during the time you have the car.

Thus, on our most recent visit, in May ’09, we had no choice but to purchase the CDW or risk driving uninsured.

We purchased all of the auto insurance through Budget Car Rental in person upon our arrival. (In past years, I have used Budget, Auto Europe, Avis and Hertz — whichever seemed to have the best rates or a special at the moment. I have no loyalty to any particular rental company, although I have had my best experiences with Auto Europe.)

For this trip, we redeemed a large quantity of Capital One Visa mileage points, booking airline, auto rental and hotel with these points through their associated travel agency, Connexions Loyalty Travel Solutions (Eden Prairie, MN; www.cltsloyalty.com); I access my account through www.capitalone.com. I knew the flights and, from the Budget website, the type of car we wanted, and the Connexions people merely made the final arrangements.

The basic cost of our vehicle rental for nine days was €74 (about $100). However, purchasing the CDW added €171 ($232); additional insurance, both required and optional to avoid the financial unpleasantries that would result from demolishing a rental car, added €193.50 ($262), and VAT resulted in another €49.21 ($66.64). The bottom line? A whopping €414 ($560) in insurance alone — more than 5½ times the cost of the car rental itself.

It should be pointed out that I’m not talking about a BMW or Mercedes; these rates were for a tiny Nissan Micra with 40,000 hard kilometers on its odometer.

We knew the insurance would be expensive, but we were not prepared for such onerous charges. I pay less than the above to insure my personal vehicle in the US for an entire year, and it is a substantially more valuable vehicle than a well-worn Micra.

Thus, a traveler considering an auto rental in Ireland should be aware of a number of risks and potential pitfalls.

1) Many credit card holders believe the issuers will provide CDW coverage on rentals in foreign countries. This might be true in most destinations, but it is extremely important to read the fine print, since, to the best of my knowledge, there is no Visa Card, MasterCard or American Express Card that still provides CDW coverage in Ireland.

Even if CDW coverage is included when renting with a credit card, it is essential that the traveler obtain this confirmation in writing, both for his own peace of mind (do not take a verbal confirmation from a representative as gospel) and to present it to a rental car company if they question the coverage.

2) Driving uninsured in Ireland is not a viable alternative and the risk is obvious.

Even a minor accident can cost you thousands, not to mention the time and expense of arguing with a car rental agency in a foreign country.

If you should be stopped by the Irish Garda, or police (and, yes, they do conduct spot roadblocks to check paperwork), and you are found to be uninsured, your holiday will come to a rapid halt until the situation is remedied.

3) When shopping for a rental car agency online, be sure they give you both “basic” and “inclusive” rates. The “basic” generally includes liability and personal injury insurance but no collision or theft coverage.

“Inclusive,” which will be substantially higher, will usually include collision and theft coverage. However, you must again read the fine print; these coverages normally include a substantial deductible (usually around $2,000) that you must pay out of pocket in the event of damage or loss. Some agency websites list collision and theft coverages as “options.”

In the future, I will pay for the rental and insurance in advance; at least, there will be no surprises upon arrival.

Ireland rental agencies now offer “Super CWD,” which eliminates virtually all of the deductible and provides close to 100% coverage, but of course this costs even more. Either way, you will pay through the nose.

The Budget Car Rental representative in Ireland mentioned to me that Diners Club (800/234-6377) still provides auto rental coverage in Ireland.

At the webpage www.diners clubus.com/dce_content/us/club
rewardsandbenefits/benefits/carte blanchecorporate/corebenefits/
travelinsurance, it states that their Carte Blanche Corporate Card provides “Automatic primary coverage, anywhere in the world (except where prohibited by law), any time the entire cost of a car rental is charged to a Diners Club Card.”

Unfortunately, Diners Club is not accepting any new applications at this time, pending the outcome of the sale of the company. (Diners Club is now owned by Citigroup and aligned with MasterCard, so it is accepted anywhere MasterCard is accepted.) Further, Diners Club Card carries a substantial annual fee ($95 or $300), and, previously, one had to have a Diners Club corporate account to be able to get a personal card.

As recently as June 3, 2009, I called MasterCard (800-MCASSIST) and the rep reconfirmed that a standard MasterCard does not provide CDW coverage in Ireland. I was told, however, that there is a “World” MasterCard that does provide coverage in Ireland. He said these cards are issued by Chase and Citibank.

Phone calls to both Chase and Citibank led through a morass of toll-free numbers that reached individuals anxious to sell me a card but who could not answer my question about Ireland. Relative to the “World” card, the Citibank website states, “Not all vehicles and countries are covered.” Both banks’ websites state, “Details of coverage will be provided upon cardmembership.” In other words, buy the card and then we’ll tell you what it covers.

Another credit card option I found this summer is the “Premium Car Rental Protection” available to holders of an American Express business card. This is primary insurance offered at a flat fee of $24.95 for up to 42 days of coverage. It includes up to $100,000 coverage for damage or theft of a rental car plus up to $100,000 accidental death or dismemberment coverage. Coverage is also provided for medical expenses and personal property.

The cardholder must enroll in this program (no charge for enrolling, and apparently it’s not restricted to business owners), and the AmEx card must be used to pay for the rental car.

This flat rate comprises a much better deal than the CDW offered by most rental car companies, and we will be using this coverage on a trip to Scotland. But, once again, “Coverage is worldwide, except for vehicles rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand.”

I have heard several reasons given for the absurd CDW costs in Ireland, including politics, lobbying, fraud and higher-than-normal risk. There seems to be very little objection, however, because, I suspect, a) most jet-lag-suffering travelers accept this rip-off and subsequently forget about it and (b) the tourist is paying for it, so who cares?

I do not blame Budget for this, as it is the same with any car rental company in Ireland. My only complaint with Budget is that the extraordinary cost of CDW was not forthcoming on their website, though I should have investigated further.

I have sent a letter of protest to the Irish tourism board, Fáilte Ireland (Baggot Street Bridge, Dublin 2, Ireland; www.discoverireland.ie), and suggest that anyone considering a trip to Ireland do the same. Ireland invests heavily in tourism promotion, and sufficient protest might get some action.

I would be grateful to hear from anyone with experience in this area and any suggestions on how to avoid such excessive fees in Ireland while still remaining insured.

In the meantime, if you’re renting a car in Ireland, you’d best have your credit card handy. Just don’t count on it to provide insurance coverage.

Woodland Park, CO

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Avis Budget Car Rental (6 Sylvan Way, Parsippany, NY 07054) for comment and received the following reply.

We recommend that all customers looking to rent a car in a foreign country speak to their credit card company in advance of travel to obtain written proof of exactly what level of cover they provide, and then book accordingly.

In addition, we always recommend that customers check what is included in their rental rate before they travel. This ensures that there are no surprise charges when they arrive at the rental counter.

Reservations made through the Budget website (www.budget.com) offer fully inclusive, “drive away” prices in Ireland, which include Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), Theft Protection (TP), unlimited mileage and all necessary taxes and surcharges.

Any additional insurance charges, such as excess waiver (or Super CDW), are optional on collection of the vehicle. In Mr. Bulloch’s case, he didn’t pay for a fully inclusive rental in advance of travel but opted to purchase insurances on collection of the vehicle, which were charged at the current commercial rate.

Details of what is included within the rental rate and any optional charges are stated within Budget’s terms and conditions on the website at time of booking, are country-specific and are also available at the rental location. Specific charges relating to confirming insurances provided by various credit cards are also given. We advise customers to review terms and conditions before completing a transaction, either online or in person.

JOHN R. BARROWS, Vice President, Communications, Avis Budget Group, Inc.