You get what you pay for…

I am a creature of habit, and I like a good loyalty scheme, so my first port of call for hiring a car is always Avis. I use them when I fly to Nice and need a car, as it is invariably cheaper to book together as a package than just buying the flights alone (work that one out if you can!) and they offer the free additional driver through the BAEC.

I needed to hire a car for 2 days at Aberdeen airport to get out to visit relatives but public transport or taxis were not an option. I think I was quoted about £45 for the two days and, using this as my benchmark, I had a quick look elsewhere to see what else was available.

I quickly found one company, who I had never heard of before, that were offering a Fiat 500 for the 2 days for £17.80. Thinking this was too good to be true, I read the T&Cs and phoned them up to find out about the fuel policy. They said on the website that you had to pay £30 but then didn’t have to worry about filling it up. I hate this – it is a sure-fire way for the consumer to lose out! Just give me the car full, and I will return it full. Anyway, the man on the phone said I could also do a like for like and, not being able to find any issues, I booked it.

I arrived at the airport this morning in the driving rain and found the car hire office with the help of the taxi driver. It was located in the corridor of a newly opened airport hotel. The transaction started as normal, with me presenting my documents. This was about the end of the standard procedure and it went down hill from here.

I was first told that the additional fee for the insurance excess would be something like £32 a day. I politely declined, as I have an excellent policy with http://www.insurance4carhire.com that covers the excess in the event of the claim. The man was clearly put out by this, telling me that he had never heard of them, that I needed to present the documents to show the insurance and that any damage at all would result in them taking £1250 from my card to pay for repairs. Whilst I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t a car insurance policy I had, merely cover for the excess, he was very confused and adamant that I was wrong.

We got past the fact that I wouldn’t be taking his zero excess and moved onto the fuel policy. He started by saying “There is a £30 charge for fuel but it means you don’t have to go to the petrol…” at which point I interrupted him by saying that I had spoken with someone before booking who had confirmed that I could do a like for like fuelling. He was not happy and said “Well, I would have got to it if you had let me finish!” I beg to differ, as at no point had he said there was any options.

I was starting to feel that the process was not as easy as I had hoped; I had been there for about 10 minutes already and was still nowhere near completion. The next blow came when he told me that the car assigned to me was a Toyota Aygo. I had been sold on a Fiat 500. I know that the hire companies always say “or similar model” to cover themselves. – book a Mercedes E-Class and get an Audi A6 or a BMW 5-Series would be acceptable as they are all in a similar bracket. But an Aygo is in the same group as a VW Up or a Ford KA not, in my experience, a Fiat 500.

Finally, to top this all off, he asked for a swipe of the card for a deposit – £1250 to be blocked off my card. It seemed steep but I handed over my AmEx to be told that there was a 5% fee for AmEx which is not included in the refund – so £60.25 to pay on the AmEx?! No way! As I was pulling out the back-up Visa, he said that it was nothing to worry about, and that the money would be back on the card in 7-10 days assuming there was no damage.

WOAH THERE! Hold the phone! At this point I was looking for an out. I didn’t understand why he could not just pre-authorise the card as opposed to putting a block on the sum, and why, in doing so, it meant that money would take so long to return to my card. I was annoyed that my £17.80 rental would have turned into £111.80 if he has had his way. I was annoyed at his attitude and his hard sell tactics. And most of all I was annoyed at myself for skimping on the Avis option.

A quick browse on the iPhone when I was “checking to see if I had the available funds on my card” revealed that Avis had cars available in the next 30 minutes for about £40 for the time I needed. Filled with confidence that I had an alternative, I returned to the man and told him that I was not happy with the transaction, that the service was not as had been expected and that I would not be proceeding. I told his to keep the £17.80 as I knew that was non-refundable, but that I was going to hire from elsewhere. He tried to talk me into some deal of a reduced excess policy, but I said that I was finished with the transaction, thanked him for his time and walked out.

I walked out into the driving rain, through puddles and various carparks to get to the terminal building and the car hire offices. On the way I managed to loose the heel of my shoe and get soaked, so arrived at the Avis desk looking rather dishevelled. Kamila greeted me and within moments had a lovely red VW Polo signed out to me for £42.53.

I could have saved myself 30 minutes of hassle, an awful customer service experience and £17.80 had I just booked with Avis in the first place but, as I said, you get what you pay for.

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