Monday, November 9, 2009

France on $70 a Day – Don't Believe What You're Told – Rental Car Follow-Up

For the second part of our trip to France, we needed a car to explore the Dordogne area. We arranged the rental with Kemwel, partners with Europcar, paying with a credit card before leaving home, and picked the car up in the Bordeaux Europcar office. The clerk's English at the Bordeaux office was somewhat difficult to understand, but she did make it quite clear that we were not being assessed extra fees right now. If there were additional fees, (such charges as a rail station surcharge, a daily road fee, an extra driver fee) they would be collected when we dropped the car off in Libourne.

When we returned the car to the Europcar office in Libourne, the clerk checked the car for damage, mileage, and gasoline, then told us everything was fine and we were free to go.

I asked about the extra charges that had been noted on the receipt at the Bordeaux office. The Libourne clerk insisted there was nothing to pay. Since David and I wanted to pay any extra charges with euros, rather than be billed a transaction fee by the credit card company, I asked the woman yet again if she were sure there were no additional fees. She insisted there were not.

David and I stopped in a cafe to wait for our train, but, as we sat there drinking our Cokes and going over the rental car experience, I still worried about the charges noted on our receipt. When we picked up the car, the Bordeaux clerk had said that any extra charges would be levied when we dropped off the car, but the Libourne clerk insisted we owed nothing. Were the fees noted in Bordeaux not applicable? Then why did that representative add them in the first place? Why had she kept our voucher from Kemwell which might have clarified what fees should or should not be paid?

The questions continued.  Could we rely on the Libourne clerk's word? What if the charges were mistakenly charged to the credit card? We would need some sort of proof that the Libourne representative had said we didn't owe anything. I decided to run back to the office and get the representative to make a note on our receipt that no extra charges would be billed to us.

Yet, despite David's and my best efforts to pay any additional charges and in spite of the Libourne clerk's reassurances, extra rental car charges appeared on my credit card statement just a few days after we returned home.

I have discussed the situation with Erica at the Kemwel customer service office in the United States, faxed the receipt with the Libourne clerk's notes stating that our credit card would not be charged along with a letter explaining our position, and called Kemwel three times (speaking to Shamus on October 13 and Lenora just last week) before finally finding out from Antonio today that there would be no change in the charges we were assessed.

Antonio suggested I look at the last line of the Kemwel voucher. Although our copy of the original voucher was retained by the clerk in Bordeaux, I had a copy in my computer file. Antonio insisted we should have known that we would be billed fees because of this line at the end of the fine print on the Kemwel voucher: “While you can use a debit card to pay for your reservation through Kemwel, cash deposits, Maestro, Switch and debit cards are rarely accepted locally, so please be sure to check with our agents at time of reservation if you require this facility.” Antonio says we were supposed to realize that the sentence meant we could not pay cash for any local fees we might be charged at the Libourne office.

I guess we were also supposed to realize that the sentence meant the Libourne clerk was mistaken when she insisted three times—and put in writing—that we owed nothing more that day, that nothing would be charged to the credit card, and that we were free to go.

Practicalities -

Do not rely on information given to you by European representatives of car rental companies. Read your documents carefully, especially the fine print, and clarify every detail—in writing if necessary—before you leave home.

Be sure to take two copies of your voucher, and any clarifying information, with you so you will still have a copy if the original is retained by the company representative when you pick up your car.

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