Reader Feedback On Car Rental Service Fees
Several readers provided personal perspectives on the topic of the extra fees charged by rental car agencies (re NMA Email Newsletter #103) for certain options or services, fees that many drivers aren’t aware of until they find a charge on their credit card statements.
Here are two of the more illuminating comments we received:
Your newsletter concerning PlatePass and Hertz was interesting and informative, but incomplete, at least with respect to my own recent encounter with this alleged service. I too found out about my automatic enrollment after-the-fact, but the circumstances were even murkier than Bob Morrow’s.
My wife and I traveled to Tampa in October; I was there on business and she was going to visit friends in the area. There was no transponder box on the windshield or dashboard of the Hertz rental car, so I had no idea that any kind of electronic toll collection might take place.
Unbeknownst to me, my wife took the rental car on a toll road (the Crosstown Expressway) to visit a friend while I was in a meeting. When our next credit card statement arrived there was a single $11.75 charge from “PlatePass”. I called the 800 number on the statement (at least they provided that!) and was told that $1.75 was for the actual toll and that $10.00 was for the “$2.50 per day” service fee. The service fee kicks in the first time you travel on a toll road and is charged for each day of the rental whether or not you drive on a toll road that day!
Apparently the arrangement in Tampa involves taking pictures of license plates at the toll stations and matching that information to rental car agreements — which stipulate that you are automatically enrolled in this “service” whether you like it or not — so the associated credit card can be billed. To this day my wife claims she had no idea she was ever driving on a toll road!
PlatePass refunded the $10.00 after I raised a stink, but it took plenty of detective work to figure out how this particular scam operates. I’ve also had an unrelated but still horrendous experience with bogus charges from Budget Rent-A-Car after-the-fact, all of which serves to make me extremely leery of giving ANY rental agency a credit card number in the first place. Of course, it’s absolutely impossible to rent a car without coughing up a credit card number — but I’m at the point where I explore every other transportation option available when I travel before I rent a car these days.
Unfortunately, the fees are inevitable. The most successful politicians are those who please their constituents with funds from elsewhere. It usually takes the form of pork barrel projects with federal money. However, taxing visitors is #2 on that list.
I learned this after a recent vacation to California, aka the bankrupt state. There are hotel taxes, airport use taxes, and, of course, rental car taxes, not to mention the “tax” of forcing you to buy their insurance coverage from their preferred provider. All in all, the price I ended up paying was more than double that of the original price quote I got on the phone.
As for the rental car itself, I highly recommend that all travelers use a private, small company rather than hertz or avis. While it may be less convenient picking up the car, I used one of these companies on my trip. For the price of a POS Chevrolet Aveo from Hertz, I got a late model VW Jetta with ipod compatibility and Bluetooth – a very pleasant and fun car to drive. I will not succumb to special interests that use the legislature to ensure less competition.