Q: I rented a car through AAA this summer and received a contract for $386. When I picked up the car at the Hertz rental counter in Bend, Oregon, I was charged $458 – $72 more than my contract. After the trip, I contacted AAA, and it put me in touch with Priceline about the rental.
Priceline told me to send it the contract and the rental receipt, and it would have Hertz honor the contract price. When I asked Hertz why the amount was different, a representative said my contract did not contain a summary of charges listing the weekly rate, fees and taxes. Without the weekly rate on the contract, Hertz didn’t know how to charge my contract amount.
I first contacted AAA for the details, and the company found it unusual that my contract did not have these details. Was it Priceline’s fault that the details were not included? I was in touch with Priceline a few times, and was told that it would contact Hertz. However, I never heard from Hertz. Can you help me get my $72 back? – Nancy Caruso, Lynnfield, Massachusetts
A: AAA should have quoted you a rate that included all taxes and fees. If this was an error, then your travel agent should have assumed the responsibility for its error and covered the difference. Instead, AAA punted to Priceline, which punted to Hertz – and no one took responsibility for the incorrect price quote.
In a case like this, it really helps to have a strong paper trail, including the initial price quote and the correspondence between you, your agent, Priceline and the car rental company. And fortunately, you did.
The correspondence you had suggested that everyone was confused. First, Priceline couldn’t find your reservation. Then it promised to look into the problem. Then it blamed an unspecified problem with Hertz. Maybe this is what you get when there are too many agents making your reservation. Off-topic, am I the only one who thinks it’s a little strange for your travel agent to be using an online travel agency like Priceline for car rental reservations?
Fortunately, I have executive contacts for all of these companies – AAA, Hertz and Priceline – listed on my consumer-advocacy site: http://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/american-automobile-association-aaa/, http://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/hertz/ and http://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/priceline/.
A brief, polite email to one of those contacts should have fixed this for you.
AAA should have quoted you the correct rate. But your agent made an honest mistake. This is nothing like those “gotcha” charges you find on your hotel bill, like a mandatory resort fee. Still, it felt wrong, and you were well within your rights to ask for a refund.
I contacted AAA on your behalf, and it cut you a check for $72.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.