Total Price? Not even close

by Christopher Elliott on December 28, 2006

Question: I recently booked a rental car in London through Travelocity. The site offered a guaranteed rate of 242 pounds. I chose an “off-airport” agency, Practical Car and Van Rental.

When we arrived at the counter, we were told the price was 152 pounds higher than the quoted rate. When I objected, the rental agent lowered the rate by 80 pounds — still higher than the price guaranteed by Travelocity. I refused to pay.

The agency would not give us a ride back to the airport, and we were left stranded in a bad part of town. We finally managed to get a taxi back to Gatwick and then had to pay considerably more for another car.

We called Travelocity at our first opportunity, and they asked me to fax them all the information about our ill-fated rental. We did, and received an e-mail back apologizing for what had happened and promising to get back to us.

I’ve gone back and forth with Travelocity about this problem for the last three months, but we haven’t been able to resolve it. Travelocity now seems to be arguing that Practical should make up the price difference. I’ve pointed out that Travelocity has a price guarantee that should cover an event like this, but that doesn’t seem to convince them.

I assume Travelocity’s policy is to keep ignoring its customers’ complaints until they give up. But I’m determined to one day get the 109 pounds that we are owed — 92 pounds for the extra cost of the car hire and 17 pounds for our taxi back to Gatwick. Can you help?

— George Letts, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: The rate you are quoted by Travelocity should be the rate that you pay. Period. The site couldn’t be any clearer about that. It’s “TotalPrice” guarantee promises “no surprises, no calculators, no guessing.”

Even the fine print leaves little, if any, wiggle room for Travelocity. TotalPrice assures that you will get the “total price of your rental car” from pickup to drop-off — a rate that’s within 1 percent of the final price you’ll pay. It includes the sum of the daily or weekly rates, mandatory fees, surcharges and taxes, but not optional refueling, insurance, damage waivers or special equipment.

When the car rental company added 152 pounds to the price of your vehicle, you did the right thing. First you objected to the surprise increase. Then you decided to take your business elsewhere.

The car rental company was well within its rights to refuse to give you a ride back to the airport (after all, the courtesy shuttle is for paying customers). But forcing you to take a cab back to the airport was impolite. When the agent refused you transportation, you might have asked to speak with a supervisor. If that didn’t work, you could have called Travelocity from the car rental location, or appealed to Practical’s corporate office (its number is listed on its Web site).

Bottom line: You didn’t exhaust all of your remedies before opting for a different car rental agency.

Travelocity failed to live up to its TotalPrice promise — first, when it quoted you a rate that was more than 1 percent higher than the price you were being asked to pay, and then when it failed to honor your request for a refund.

I asked Travelocity to revisit your request for a refund, and it promptly issued a refund for 109 pounds.

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