One is always a bit under par after a transatlantic flight and a journey that you’ve been on for twenty-two hours. The last time I’d just emerged from the Newark flight, I’d been taken for a fool by Budget Rent-a-Car. Not quite on the ball, I’d agreed to their excess insurance, which ended up totaling over $500. So this time I had made a point of not booking a car with them, but with Hertz. I mean, they’re well known all over America, right? What could possibly go wrong?
The line wasn’t long, so I got up to their counter pretty quickly after emerging from customs and immigration. It was all straightforward… I produced my driving license and my credit card, and signed where Pamela, one of the reps behind the desk, told me to.
Then she asked, “What are you going to do about insurance?”
Here we go, I thought. The big sell to sucker me into getting their excess insurance. I effected a puzzled expression.
“We can’t let you take the car without insurance,” she continued.
Then I had a genuine expression of puzzlement on my face. Any time I’ve ever rented a car, the insurance is included in the fees. It’s only when it comes to the excess insurance that one can elect to buy it in addition to the fee.
It turns out that Hertz does not include insurance with their fee. “It’s a pity this wasn’t pointed out when I booked,” I said.
“We can’t know where you’re booking from,” explained Pamela.
Which I realized later was a bold-faced lie. Booking by computer ensures that Hertz knows exactly where you’re from. But I was tired. I had been wide awake for the twenty-two hours I'd been traveling.
“We need proof of insurance,” insisted Pamela.
I dug into my purse and drew out my auto insurance in Oregon. Beside me I could hear a similar conversation between an appalled sounding American couple and the other Hertz employee. There’s not much recourse if you show up at an international car hire company only to find they didn’t include insurance in the quote when you booked. The great deal at $700 for six weeks suddenly becomes an astronomical $1,400 price upon arrival.
“This doesn’t tell us anything,” continued Pamela. “We need them to put in writing that you’re covered. It’s obviously too late for you to call them now, so we’ll sell you one day’s insurance to give you time to contact them.” Hertz had an answer for everything. “We need to put a $3,000 deposit on your card,” she added.
I boggled, and managed to answer, “Sure.”
She ran my card. “I’m afraid it’s been denied,” she told me, holding it by her fingertips as though it were infected by the plague.
I noticed the long line behind me, and felt very self-conscious. I felt a crushing sense of déjà vu from the Budget experience.
“I don’t know why it was denied,” I muttered, wishing it would all just go away.
“Probably because you didn’t inform them you were going abroad,” Pamela provided. Once again a very pat answer to a most likely common occurrence when Hertz terrorizes their customers.
She pushed the card toward my face, tapped her index finger on some minute printing under my signature. “See this number? It’s toll-free. You can use that public phone over there to call them and give permission.”
“All right, I’ll try.” I took the card, gathered my paperwork and bags, and trailed over to the phone, smack bang in the middle of the arrivals hall.
It wasn’t toll free, and the pound coin ran out and cut me off before half a sentence was out of my mouth to the credit card customer service representative.
Fortunately, lady luck came to my rescue. Without digressing too much from the Hertz story, Terry, a very dear and old friend from way back when in Belfast, who had immigrated to Australia, was home visiting his mother in Northern Ireland at present. I’d sent him my flight arrival information with a note saying, “If you feel like a wee adventure, take the bus to meet my flight and I’ll take you to lunch afterward.” Sure enough, he’d shown up and met me, which was so cool. I hadn’t been met at the Belfast International Airport by anyone in a very long time. He took pity on me and made the call to the credit card company for me, handing the receiver over when he had a representative on the line. In a few moments I’d made a ‘vacation request’ so no more charges on the card in the U.K. would be challenged. The representative’s remark about the Hertz $3,000 being ‘an exceptionally large charge’ made me all the more determined not to be ‘had’ by Hertz.
Heading back to the desk, I hovered at the side of the line until Pamela had completed... (I'm tempted to say 'conning') but let's go with 'providing car and insurance' to another innocent tourist. I did not see why I should wait in line again so I hurried to the desk and handed my credit card back to her. No one in line objected, fortunately.
$3,000 charge made to the card, more forms to sign, and I finally had the key to the car. Shortly thereafter I was transporting Terry toward Belfast in a shiny blue Ford Focus. He took the bus back to his mother’s from there, and I headed on toward Dad’s, about thirty or so miles south of Belfast.
That evening, despite the jet lag I was unable to fall asleep. I kept thinking about Hertz and the way they trap overseas customers by not informing them that insurance wasn’t included in the price. Another dear friend from way back, Barbara, suggested I try Enterprise, as she had used them successfully in the past. I pulled up their website and saw that they plainly stated insurance was included. I checked dates and booked a car, to be picked up at the airport the following day.
Then I phoned the Hertz desk at the airport. I explained to the man who answered who I was, ending up with, “I want to bring back the car tomorrow.”
“That’ll cost more,” he informed me.
“I don’t think you want to go there with me,” I said.
He cleared his throat. “I’m just telling you it’ll cost more by the day than the whole package of the six weeks.”
“So, are you going to need a car while you’re here?”
I found myself spluttering but recovered. “No.”
“Because if you do we could do you a package including the insurance so you don’t have to have the expense of adding on and on.”
“I thought a package was what I was buying,” I said through gritted teeth. “And to arrive at your desk and find out insurance is not included and the whole thing is double the price is absolutely ridiculous.” I was amazed at the icy controlled anger in my tone. I'm sure I wouldn't have been this upset if I hadn't been so tired.
He said nothing. I forced myself not to say any more and the silence went on for what seemed like minutes, although I’m sure it was only seconds.
Finally he said, “So, you’re bringing it back tomorrow?”
“Yes,” I answered, and put some warmth into my tone. “Thank you, now. Bye!”
“Er… bye,” he mumbled.
I called my brother and asked him to come with me to the airport in the morning. At his advice I went online to look for a company who sold online excess insurance. I found one and bought it for $90 for the six weeks, as opposed to the Hertz $700.
The return to Hertz was uneventful, except for the guy at the desk saying defensively, “We need proof of insurance, you know. You need to present your certificate or we can’t let you take the car.”
I battened down my lips and said nothing. Funny how the other rental companies *don’t* need proof of insurance. That one and a half day car rental with insurance cost me $290.
Enterprise Rent-a-Car was straightforward and very pleasant. (Thank you, Barbara!)
So, buyer beware of Hertz. If you type 'Hertz customer complaints' into your browser, the litany of complaints against them goes on and on. Reading some of these made me realize that by comparison I actually got off pretty lightly! How on earth do they remain in business?