Our rental was supposed to be $248 including all fees and taxes, a good price for an eight day rental, especially since so more than half of that was Phoenix taxes/fees. When we arrived at the desk, the very friendly rental agent tried to upsell us a larger car. I said no, and he ended up using some code to upgrade us at no cost, because we had two drivers (yes, a light bulb should have gone off with the mention of two drivers, however other agencies have upgraded us for no reason).
He told me about the hold they'd put on my credit card until the car was returned, and said to "sign here" "initial here" "initial here" and "initial here." He pointed to where to initial each time. I'll be the first to admitI did not read the fine print. That will never happen again. In my defense, in my many years of renting cars, no rental agent has ever ADDED on charges without telling me first and pointing them out when I initialed that section. That's deceptive, deceitful and just plain unethical.
All went well with our rental, and we returned the car as promised. When I got the credit card bill I was surprised to see a listing of $399, not $248. I called the Phoenix office and someone on the phone asked if I had my contract in front of me. I did not. I thought the additional money was the hold, and asked when that would be released. The guy told me the hold should have been released, and there was a $10/day additional driver fee. I never would have agreed to that if told. I wasn't going to pay $80 so I could drive the car twice, while my husband drove it the bulk of the week. I asked for a refund. He said he'd find a supervisor, and that someone would call back.
Of course no one called back.
And I found my contract (tip: always save your contract until after billing is complete). I read through it realizing that not only was there $80 for the additional driver fee, but $4/day for roadside assistance. I have AAA. There's no way I'd knowingly pay $32 for roadside assistance when we already pay a yearly AAA membership fee.
I called Payless back in the evening. No one answered. The machine said someone would call back within the business day.
I did some internet research and was horrified to see all the complaints about them online. I wish I did that research before booking my car. A local Phoenix consumer reporter did a story on Payless Car Rental last year, a scenario very similar to what I experienced. Payless was also sued by the Arizona attorney general's office in 2009 and admitted defrauding customers. They told numerous customers that a crack in the windshield was their fault, charging them for it. And then they didn't fix the windshield, charging the next renter for the same damage. They're rated an F by the Better Business Bureau (they're not members) with 39 complaints filed by consumers, and 36 of them unanswered. 18 of those were billing/collection issues.
You might think with a name like Payless that they're a stand-alone agency. Nope. They're owned by the Avis Budget group.
I called the Phoenix agency again the next day - no answer, and I left a message that was never returned. That's typical of what I read online, many people complained of calling and getting no answer - or even getting hung up on when they said why they were calling.
So I went to Plan B.
I faxed a letter outlining my complaints and the resolution wanted (refund the additional driver fee and roadside assistance fee in 2 days) or else I would:
1. contest the charges with my credit card company
2. file a BBB complaint (admittedly unlikely to raise concern since they've ignored others)
3. go to the consumer reporter in Phoenix who already did a story
4. write blog posts and spread them far and wide
5. take to Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and my wide travel writer network
@PaylessCar need supervisor to call me re: $150 in extra charges on Phx rental. Add'l driver charge? Roadside asst? I didn't agree to that.
— Debbie Abrams Kaplan (@FriscoKids) January 15, 2014
@PaylessCar website says you're on Twitter to help. No answer to my 1/15 tweet. Want to DM re: overcharges in Phx rental; Phx ignoring meI made sure they knew I was a travel writer widely published in newspapers, magazines and online consumer websites.
— Debbie Abrams Kaplan (@FriscoKids) January 16, 2014
I opened a claim online here.
I emailed my letter to their corporate PR person at email@example.com.
I tried to fax Payless Phoenix, but the fax wouldn't go through after several hours of trying.
I tweeted them twice here (they never responded).
I filled out their survey here.
And I got ready to carry out my threats.
Two claims were opened - one from the online form here and one from the PR address. I know this because a copy of my letter was attached to the complaint, and each letter was slightly different. The PR complaint was handled slightly faster, and resulted in a refund of the requested fees, with a scolding that they would refund the money for good customer relations, but that I signed the agreement. They did refund the money. Within my two day time frame.
Now I had a good result (though it took me hours). Would other consumers? Not sure, based on what I read online. I'm guessing that playing the Travel Writer/Consumer Writer card helped out. In any case, you can bet I'll be researching other car rental agencies before renting from an off brand again. And I'll be reading the fine print too.