Travel Ripoffs and Travel Ethics
Hertz rental car counter; photo c. Hertz

This week, I found a $20.42 charge on my credit card bill from American Traffic Solution in Arizona. Wondering what in the world it was for, I called their phone operator and learned that on a recent Hertz car rental from the Palm Beach Airport, I was being charged a “convenience fee” of $4.95 per day for having a Florida Toll Tag on our rental car.

When asked if that amount was for tolls, the agent said that Hertz customers have to pay the fee whether they ever use the Toll Tag or not. With more questioning, I learned that over the course of a four-day Florida family reunion, our rental car had actually accumulated two 31 cents tolls, even though I was being charged $20.42. When I disputed the charge with my credit card company, that agent said the American Traffic Solution company had a “no dispute” clause, meaning that no charges could be questioned. And in fact, a few days later, a letter from American Express said that my dispute was being declined and that “when you signed your recent car rental contract, you authorized [them] to collect payments…”

I was outraged.

My husband just shrugged.

What does any modern day traveler do when confronted with injustice? Take to Twitter. I began the day by tweeting “Does @Hertz #cheat by charging excess toll fees? Are we the only ones who weren’t told of #hidden #charges? #rentalcar #scam #carrental LMK” and within 2 minutes, a Hertz customer service representative was asking me for a direct message (to take the conversation out of public view) with more information.

The conversation continued on and off all day. “Hertz: Hi, we’re truly sorry for any misunderstanding about our PlatePass service partner. Please reference this link:… for all the details about PlatePass and your toll charges. You may also request your toll charge receipt on this link.”

When I wrote back, “That website says they cannot find the agreement. The company told me I owed 62 cents in tolls but total of $20.42 – That is criminal. I paid up front, non cancellable on Priceline & could not decline your agreement. Your agents are deceptive b/c they told me I had a toll tag and would be charged what I used. NEVER mentioned I could skip $4.95/d fee by using the human-manned lane next door. Happy to share your attitude with our readers since it’s totally deceptive & much more than just nickel-and-diming customers.”  (In fact, the convenience fee is a multiple of 33 times the actual charges.)

Their customer service rep tweeted right back, “We sincerely apologize again for any misunderstanding about our PlatePass service partner. The daily admin fee for use of PlatePass is a valid charge and is listed on your rental contract.”

So, who’s right here? Was this a “misunderstanding” in the same way that United chose to “re-accommodate” its overbooked passengers? Or is this a deceptive business practice that’s so lucrative it’s engrained in their operations?

If you, like me, rent a car through Priceline, the cheapest rate you can get is by paying up front. Online, you see Priceline’s contract, but not the car rental company that is bidding for your business. Once most travelers get to the rental car counter after a long flight, traveling with family, knowing you have a non-refundable purchase on your hands, there’s not much incentive to read yet another contract. And since the Hertz agent did not mention that the “total cost” I had paid was not really the final cost… and never gave us the option to choose to drive through the manned toll booth lanes or skip toll roads altogether (an option open to any Florida visitor)… we took the car as is.

So, like United, Hertz has its legal rights: to collect that money, which doesn’t improve the highways in Florida, doesn’t help the folks in Arizona, and may not even go to Hertz at all. Just another hidden expense that travelers have to bear, like resort fees that aren’t announced till you check in, and medical fees you incur if you’re accosted by airline staff.

It may be legal, but is it ethical? In other words, if our kids behaved like that would they be scolded?

You tell me.

Please share your favorite travel rip offs here, and on Ripoff Report (where there are currently 285 claims against Hertz). Let’s start fighting back, on behalf of travelers everywhere who are tired of the #travel #ripoff.

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