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Travel Troubleshooter: Miffed over charge for unneeded insurance

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • August 23, 2013 - 1:46 PM

Q: I recently rented a car from Avis in Houston with a friend. A few weeks after we returned the car, I discovered a $260 charge for optional insurance that we never asked for. I need your help getting a refund.

Here are the details. We had prepaid for the car using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service, which covers the entire cost of the rental. When we got to the counter, my friend offered them his debit card — it’s all he was carrying — and an agent said they needed a credit card.

So I gave them my card. Before I handed it over, I asked if it’d be charged. The agent said “no.”

Later we looked at the paperwork from Avis, and that’s when I saw my friend’s signature to accept the optional insurance. He said he did not know he signed for it.

Why would we agree to pay $260 for insurance when we have our own? Please help me.

 

A: You and your friend appear to have experienced the “sign here” scam. That’s when someone slides a contract — and more recently, an electronic pad — in front of you and asks you to initial or sign it.

Was this a scam? I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. But I’ve heard your story before, and I know car rental agents are rewarded for “upselling” customers like you on optional, and highly profitable, insurance. At the very least, this was a misunderstanding.

It’s not unusual for a rental agent to ask for a credit card. Car rental companies need a valid card, just in case a customer damages a car.

You should have read the contract. I know you probably realize that now, but it merits repeating.

Once you saw the charges, you should have written to Avis, not called. Why? Because you’re creating a necessary paper trail so that, in the unlikely event you need to forward this to the Texas insurance commissioner, you would be able to prove that you went through all the correct channels to get this resolved. I know it’s difficult. When you see a bogus charge on your credit card, you want a resolution yesterday. But patience can be a powerful and effective tool to get this kind of car trouble fixed.

I contacted Avis on your behalf, and it has offered you a full refund.

 

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

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