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 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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