ON YOUR SIDE

7 steps to take if Avis Car Rental overcharges you

Persistence pays when trying to get reimbursed by a company

Published: September 22, 2014 10:15 AM

Colette G. and her husband

"On Your Side” is a new Consumer Reports feature that coaches real consumers on how to solve their real problems. Our first case involves Colette G., from Bend, Oregon, who was improperly charged hundreds of dollars on her two-week car rental from Avis in Paris. Here's what she told us:

"In July 2013, I rented a car at Avis’ Charles de Gaulle airport location in France. I made the reservation from my home in Oregon and paid for it with my credit card, for a total cost of $1,232.

"When my husband and I arrived in Paris, we added additional drivers at a cost of €93 ($120), making the final total $1,353. I specifically declined the Avis collision damage waiver (CDW), since contracting the rental through my credit card made that unnecessary.

"But when I ultimately received my credit card statement, the charge was $1,763, or $410 more than the contracted $1,353. I disputed the billing error, my credit card issuer deducted that amount, and I presumed the matter was settled.

"However, since January of 2014, I have been deluged with dunning letters from Avis, mailed from Hungary (!) and France demanding the $410. There has been no human contact at all from Avis, only form letters, disconnected telephone numbers, and one working number that automatically hung up each time I dialed it.

"I did everything requested of me, whether justified or not, but I kept receiving letters from Avis threatening legal proceedings or worse. In May, 2014, because this so disturbed me, I finally sent Avis the $410. I’ve spent close to $150 to prove that I do not owe this money.

"But in August, 2014 I received another collection letter threatening to sue me and demanding another €302. I am at my wit's end and ready to engage my lawyer, who is one of the best in financial matters in the country."

To get help with your problem with a company, share your story on the On Your Side page. 

Making your situation known online could help you get some satisfaction.

Colette sent a copy of her letter to Consumer Reports. We worked with her and ultimately, she was reimbursed for the $410 overcharge. We also negotiated another $435 payment from Avis to cover the expenses of proving she didn’t owe the money and the time and trouble she spent on this ordeal. The process took her seven and a half months plus another month after we got involved.

A spokesperson for Avis, Amy Ackerson wrote to Consumer Reports about this issue: "Avis strives to provide its customers with the best service possible. Unfortunately, we failed to meet her [Colette's] expectations in this case. We hope we will be able to keep [her] as a customer."

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what you should do:

1. Keep your rental agreement. Colette laid down a strong foundation for success by hanging onto the paperwork and keeping close track of the terms she had agreed to. The error, not revealed by Avis until the end, was the rental agency’s insistence that Colette had accepted the collision damage waiver (CDW, the European equivalent of the loss damage waiver or LDW in the U.S.).

But Colette had declined the CDW and had a copy of the signed rental agreement to prove it. She sent a copy of that to her credit card issuer, which resulted in removal of the bogus charge.

2. Decline the CDW/LDW carefully. Consumers shouldn’t reflexively decline these waivers, which release you from liability for damage to the rental car—for a very high price. As we advise, Colette checked with her personal auto insurer and learned her policy’s collision and comprehensive coverage would not extend to Europe. Then, she checked the terms of her credit card, which did provide coverage. That armed her to correctly decline the waiver when she picked up the car, a black four-door Opel sedan.

3. Hunt down the top executives. Colette didn’t pussyfoot around. She found the names and went right to the top to dispute the improper charge with the Avis CEO in the U.S. and the European division’s President in France. She did the same with Avis customer care and the Marseille collection agency that was sending her threatening letters. The quarter-pound packages of documents she mailed cost her about $25 to $57 in postage with package tracking.

4. Slam 'em on their website and Facebook. Following advice she had read in Consumer Reports, Colette posted her dispute letter above on the Avis website and on her own Facebook page. Her Facebook friends in France, Los Angeles, and Oregon piled on with stories about their own difficulties.

5. Call in reinforcements. In August, Colette also sent a copy of her dispute to Consumer Reports, at which point we contacted Avis’ media relations department. "Without Consumer Reports, I would have had to use my lawyer,” says Colette, who detected a suddenly more solution-oriented attitude from Avis. Now, Avis executives were telephoning and writing Colette, but still trying to solve the problem on the cheap.

Ackerson, the Avis spokeswoman, said the matter had been turned over to an “executive escalation” team, meaning her situation had reached those in the executive suite.  

6. Demand a complete remedy. At one point, Ackerson told us that the matter had been resolved: The collection agency dogs would be called off and Colette “should receive a letter that the matter is closed,” said Ackerson.

But Colette told us that wasn't the case. So we wrote Avis a list of demands that would settle the matter, including a written release from liability for the unwarranted charge; written confirmation that the collection action would stop and a guarantee that derogatory information would not appear on Colette’s credit report; and reimbursement for $240 in expenses, including $35 for a stop-payment fee on the $410 check she had sent, which Avis had somehow lost and hadn’t cashed.

7. Get cash, not vouchers. We told Avis that Colette should also receive compensation for the 40 to 50 hours of trouble she had to endure trying to resolve this over many months. Colette picked up the ball here. After some inadequate offers, such as a €50 voucher toward a future Avis car rental, Colette pushed for $150 to be deposited into her credit card account. Avis complied.

—Jeff Blyskal (@JeffBlyskal on Twitter)


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