Potential car rental nightmare...

While in Dubai from May 21, 2013 to June 4, 2013 the time had arrived to arrange the rental of a car for the summer in Italy.   Our objective was to pick up the car at the Marco Polo Airport once we arrived in Venice, Italy by cruise ship.  Once in our possession, we'd drive the five hour journey to our awaiting home for the summer in Boveglio.

Although we weren't particularly concerned about renting a car, we had several factors to consider:

  1. When it was time to leave Italy on September 2, 2013 to fly to Mombasa Kenya, which airport would provide us with the best fares, best flights along easy access to return the car? 
  2. Which car rental companies would we feel most comfortable after reading reviews as to renting a car in Italy?
  3. The total cost for the lengthy period from June 16 to September 2, 2013, any potential "hidden" costs. (Renting a car for two and a half months isn't typical. This is a totally different scenario that the usual one or two week rental while on vacation).
  4. Which types of available cars that would allow enough room for our over sized luggage?
  5. Which cars were most economical in regards to gasoline usage, priced at roughly US $8.50 per gallon in the Tuscan region of Italy?
  6. With us no longer owning a car with it subsequent insurance that typically provides coverage for rental cars, what would we do when the average cost for the "extra" insurance is US $10 per day.
  7. The time of day we'd pick up the car and reserve it to ensure we didn't have to pay extra fees for a late drop-off or in some case, an entire extra day.
Shopping online at several familiar sites, comparing prices, reading  reviews and conditions of the rental agreements, it proved to take a lot longer than we'd expected.  Since quite ill while in Dubai, I left most of the research up to Tom.  He went at it with gusto.

While conducting this research, we also had to shop for the best airline prices to get us from Italy to Mombasa, Kenya from the several options in Italy which proved to be a huge factor in determining where we'd drop off the car in the end.   Would it be Venice, Rome, or Florence, all within a five hour drive of our summer home in Boveglio?

It took several days of reviewing all of these factors until, until we found the best overall conditions, considering the above factors. 

We ultimately decided that we'd pick up the car in Venice at the Marco Polo Airport with the goal of eventually flying out of the Marco Polo Airport to Mombasa, Kenya on September 2, 2013. 

Of course, with the five hour drive from Boveglio, we'd have no alternative but to spend one night in a hotel in Venice close to the airport.  (A week later we booked a nearby hotel, offering free shuttle service to the airport, allowing us to drop off the car a day early, if we so chose, to reduce the stress at the airport on our flight day).  Good plan.  

As we continued on in the booking process from RentalCars.com, a site more user friendly for Italy, we discovered a fact that threw us for a loop:

Based on the lengthy period of time for the contract, the rental car company, in this case, Budget, would require two and a half times the cost of the long term rental, to be held on our credit card for the entire duration. 

Upon realizing this fact, we jumped to other rental companies to discover that these circumstances were common, especially in well known rental car companies, such as Budget, Avis and Hertz.  We'd decided that under no circumstances, would we use a small local company after we'd read many negative reviews describing nightmarish circumstances for long term rentals.  The more well-known companies were definitely the way to go but, as it turned out, all of them required this credit card "hold."

At the rate of US $830.00 per month over the summer in Italy, our total rental would be roughly US $2075.  None our credit cards charge an exchange rate for paying in Euros and, they offered "free" insurance when using the card to pay for the rental, which in itself saved us a small fortune.

However, there was nothing the credit card company could do to avert the necessity of the Budget (which had the best pricing) "holding" two and a half times of the funds for the entire rental period which would total US $5187.50!   

We weren't thrilled with the concept of Budget "holding" funds against one of our cards in this amount for this extended period.  Although we use several credit cards for our travels, with future expenses, hotels, flights and rentals required to pay in advance, we were against any of our cards being tied up for this amount for almost three months.

Our only option was clear to both of us:  Rent the car for one month allowing them to "hold" over $2000 which appeared to be their concern over two factors for any long term rentals; one the credit card may become maxed out during an extended period resulting in insufficient funds to pay at the end of the rental period and two, to cover the cost in the event of damage to the vehicle not covered by insurance.  This is a sensible policy from their perspective, protecting their interests only.  For us, quite annoying.

On June 16th, we rented the car at the Marco Polo airport for one month until July 15, 2013 which ends this upcoming Monday, with the plan to contact them on July 8, a week earlier to extend it. 

At Budget rental office, we inquired as to the procedure to extend the rental with assurance that the process was simple;  either call or process the extension online within 24 hours of the end of the rental period.

Here's how it went beginning this past Monday, one week before the car was to be returned:
  • Sent an email to Budget confirming the procedure to extend the rental when we couldn't find a place on their international website to extend it
  • They sent an email back, after they charged us $2 for the online inquiry, informing us we'd have to call the Budget desk at the Marco Polo Airport where we got the car.  This had to be done over the phone.
  • Called the number for Budget at Marco Polo Airport, asking to speak to an English speaking representative.  After being on hold, while paying for the call (no toll-free number to the location), for no less than 10 minutes, someone came back on the line, saying "No English" and hung up on me.
Add to that, the rental agreement itself was all in Italian.  Using Google Translate we became further frustrated in an effort to translate the many numbers, codes and notations that could or couldn't be our reservation number, customer number, booking number and contract number.  It was nearly impossible to decipher which was which.

Hoping if we waited a day to call back, they may have an English speaking representative on duty. 
  • Again, called the Budget desk at the Marco Polo Airport.  A woman spoke poor English asking me for the reservation number.  There were four numbers on the "written in Italian" form.  I read all of them to her. They were lengthy, numbers and letters.  I spoke clearly.  She kept getting them wrong.  I explained our goal to extend the contract.  She said we'd get a confirmation email before the end of the day.
  • Two days later, no response, no email, no confirmation.  Called again. Again, no one spoke English. The representative yelled at me and hung up.
  • Looking online for Budget's International Customer Service, we found a number in the UK.  We called, speaking to a nice guy.  He couldn't do anything since he didn't have access to the files for Italy, suggesting we try calling the Marco Polo location once again.  I did.  Again, no one spoke English. Our frustration factor continued to grow as each day passed adding a certain amount of worry to the mix.
Need I say this process continued over five days?  Calling back the UK office on Thursday, we were given a private email address for the Marco Polo location. Sending an email to this "unpublished" email address, copying the international corporate headquarters, within hours we received an email that stated, "We extended the contract for you."

Of course, I immediately stored the response into the "Car Rental Italy 2013" folder in Outlook for future reference.  As of this date, they've yet to bill us for the remaining six and a half weeks.  Hopefully, they'll prorate the balance based on the original cost and not some arbitrary amount.  I'll keep checking the balance on the credit card, knowing whatever amount they'll charge will include the "holding" amount for the remainder of the period. 

I wish I could say that we've learned something from this annoying experience.  Is it "shut up and pay?" Possibly.  On the other hand, it may well be a by-product of the nature of our lives...to expect these types of situations to occur from time to time.

Surely, the language barrier played a role in preventing us from easily accomplishing an otherwise simple objective.  

Long ago while still in the US, I recall spending hours and eventually days, on the phone, in English, with our past cable company in an attempt to resolve an issue with the operation of our service which ultimately wasn't resolved for over a year.  With no other options available in the area, we were a captive audience, as in this case...in possession of Budget's little navy blue Fiat, not interested in driving back to Venice in a few days to stand in line for two more hours, only to turn around and drive the five hours back to Boveglio.  

Now this issue behind us, we're back to the freedom of spirit and peace of mind in which we strive to languish each and everyday.  Tonight's "taco salad night," minus the chips, minus the shell "bowl" but with all the fixins' will be a treat, even in Italy. Add a downloaded movie and we're content as we could be!

0 comments:

Post a Comment