Rick Nease, Detroit Free Press

Travel Troubleshooter: Smoking mad

  • January 12, 2013 - 10:50 AM

Q My wife and I traveled to Las Vegas for a trade show. I decided to use my credit card reward points for a car from Dollar Rent a Car.

At the car rental desk I was pressured to take the optional insurance, but I told them I had checked with my insurance agent and I was covered. After I said "no" for 10 minutes, the agent insisted on making a copy of my credit card.

I rented the car for five days, drove 83 miles, and returned the car with a full tank. When I returned the car, A Dollar employee said everything was "OK."

My next credit card bill showed a $125 charge from Dollar, 19 days after the car was returned. I complained to Visa and a month later received a letter from Visa saying that Dollar claimed the car needed excessive cleaning due to pet hair, smoke and dirt. We don't smoke and we don't have a pet. Dollar refuses to remove the fee. Can you help?

A Dollar should have notified you of any cleaning charges when you returned the car, not surprised you with a credit card bill. Even if Dollar suspected that you'd smoked a pipe next to your Great Pyrenees after a day of hiking, it should have notified you promptly of the cleaning fee and offered evidence of your allegedly messy ways.

What kind of evidence? Well, photos would be a good start. A signed incident report, documenting the condition of the vehicle might work, too. You didn't get any such proof, and neither did your credit card.

But in challenging this charge, you took a shortcut, going straight to a credit-card dispute instead of contacting the car rental company directly. I might have started with a brief, polite e-mail to Dollar and, if necessary, an appeal to a local or national manager.

A credit card dispute removes an entire level of appeal. Think of it as taking your small-claims case directly to a higher court.

Speaking of court, your only recourse after losing a credit-card dispute is to go to court. I think you would have had a good chance of prevailing there, by the way. Dollar didn't offer any documentation, as far as I can tell. It simply asked you and your credit card to take its word.

I contacted Dollar on your behalf, and it removed the $125 charge from your credit card.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, or e-mail him at

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