Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson
We wanted to share this article from Conde Nast which is insightful read, especially for those of you who contemplate paying extra for full insurance on car rentals abroad...
When a couple's rental car is stolen in Spain, they immediately report the theft to police and Avis—but they're slapped with fees anyway. Here's what to do if it happens to you…
No joy ride for a couple in Spain…
My wife and I went to Morocco to build houses with Friends of the Rif, and we visited Spain after our work was done, renting a BMW from Avis in Málaga for $501 for the week. To our horror, the car was stolen. We promptly reported the theft to Avis and the police. We dropped off the keys and the report at the rental car office, signed a form, and were told we were free to go. Once home, we discovered a $1,825 charge for damages and for returning the car late, yet obviously we hadn’t returned the car at all!
We contacted Avis to see if the BMW had been recovered. Receiving no response, we disputed the charge with our credit card company and submitted a claim to our insurance company for “a damaged or stolen vehicle.” A few months later, when we requested a copy of the repair bill, Avis told us the car was still missing and that we owed the company $31,700. We, as well as our credit card and insurance companies, made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Avis in Málaga to process the insurance claim; Avis customer service in the United States was of little help and kept directing us to Avis customer service in Spain, which did not respond. Avis needs to provide a repair bill or send us the title, or it needs to reverse the charges. Can you help?
Alan and Connie Gazaway
San Jose, California
An uncharitable response (or lack thereof) from Avis. After much prodding, Ombudsman learned that the Málaga office had dropped the claim for $31,700 and said they had charged no additional fees, despite the $1,825 billed to the Gazaways’ credit card. The situation was complicated by the fact that Avis Spain operated independently from Avis Budget Group at the time, and we were given the runaround for months. Finally, a representative in Spain explained that the “damage charges” represented the deductible for the Gazaways’ personal auto insurance. Happily, Avis decided to issue a full refund and sort out the claim with the Gazaways’ insurance company. Much of the confusion surrounding the Gazaways’ case related to finding the right Avis representatives. Since the Gazaways’ experience, Avis says its customer service has been “streamlined” following the acquisition of European branches of Avis by the Avis Budget Group. A U.S. customer service agent should now be better able to assist with international claims.
The Gazaways relied on their own car insurance and declined Avis’s collision damage waiver and theft protection, a decision they came to regret. A collision damage waiver limits the renter’s liability to a deductible (or “excess” in car rental lingo). If anything happens to the vehicle, the renter is responsible only for the deductible, which may still be significant (for Avis rentals in Spain, it ranges from $774 to $1,658).
Another option is to rely on the rental coverage included with most credit cards. Typically this is secondary coverage for the deductible and items not covered by your own insurance. The main downside is that a claim may increase your premium. Or you can buy insurance through your credit card or a travel insurance company—American Express’s Premium Car Rental Protection plan, for example, provides $100,000 in primary damage and theft coverage, as well as medical and other expenses, for $25 per rental, with no deductible.
But like the Gazaways, you may have to jump through hoops to be reimbursed, and some countries aren’t covered by credit cards and other plans. Ombudsman recommends looking closely at your auto policy and calling your credit card company before you next rent some wheels.
Ombudsman offers a free service of advice and mediation. Because of the volume of letters, we cannot act in all cases. Write to Ombudsman at Condé Nast Traveler (4 Times Square, New York, N.Y. 10036) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; include all documentation and photos. (Please note that we cannot respond to handwritten letters. Correspondence must include an address and daytime phone number. All submissions become the property of Condé Nast Traveler and will not be returned. Submissions may be edited and may be published or otherwise used in any medium.) Most Ombudsman cases (71 percent) are resolved in favor of travelers. Become a smarter traveler by reading them at condenasttraveler.com/ombudsman.