Travel Troubleshooter

Travel Troubleshooter: Rental car agency tacks on ‘underage’ fee

Q: I’m an Expedia travel agent affiliate, and I’m writing to you on behalf of one of my clients for whom I booked a vacation package. I’m writing to complain about the car-rental portion of the package and, specifically, a fee imposed by Hertz on my client because she’s under 25.

While I explained to my client at the time of booking that Hertz may assess an additional charge for being under 25 – I was quoting Expedia’s language from its site – nothing was said to her regarding this charge at the time of rental, and she therefore assumed that she was not assessed this charge.

When she returned home, she found an additional charge of $73 from Hertz on her credit card. When she asked about it, Hertz said it was an ”underage” charge, for being younger than 25.

I believe this fee should have been disclosed at the time of rental. The terms and conditions of the rental suggest that the charge is discretionary and not imposed at all times, and since no mention was made of the charge at the time of rental, it was reasonable to believe that the charge would not be assessed. The charge, if applied, should have been presented at the time of rental by the rental agent, and it was not.

While I have tried to resolve this with Hertz directly, the company says I must work through Expedia. Can you help me get a refund?

Jean Zacher, Crockett, California

A: I’m sorry to hear about your client, and I’m happy to help. Travel agents advocate for their customers every day, so I consider it a privilege to lend a hand when I can.

This appears to be one of those “lost in translation” cases, with two middlemen – you and Expedia – between the client and the rental agency. Disclosure is important, and when there is none, the void often is filled with incorrect assumptions.

You’re right; Hertz’s terms say that a charge for an under-25 driver “may” apply, and since your client wasn’t advised of a fee at the time of her rental, it follows that she wouldn’t pay anything extra. Also, the price of the vacation package should have been an all-in, total rate. So I can understand how she, and you, would be surprised at the extra $73 on her credit card.

Charges for young drivers are not unique to Hertz. The rest of the car-rental industry does the same thing, arguing that young drivers get into more accidents. Mostly, though, it’s because rental agencies can charge them (and also older drivers, but please don’t get me started on that).

I would have referred you to an Expedia supervisor for a fix, but here’s the problem: At the time you wrote me, most of the executives I have listed on my site apparently had changed their emails to avoid dealing directly with customers. Here’s the page: elliott.org/company-contacts/expedia.

One executive, whose name and number still worked, emailed me repeatedly begging to be removed from the list. He insisted he was the wrong person to handle consumer complaints. As a goodwill gesture, I agreed. But that left people like you with no place to appeal your legitimate travel problems. So I’ve been getting barraged by Expedia complaints as a result.

Fortunately, I still have a few contacts at Expedia whose emails do work. I reached out to them. Expedia’s records show that your client was charged an “underage” fee for her rental, and although Expedia says it was not at fault, it will reimburse you the $73 as a “gesture of goodwill.”

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of ”How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at celliott@ngs.org

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