“We chose their company relying on that quote and were sorely disappointed”

The estimate for a nine-day car rental in Panama was just $177, a bargain that Lawrence Lubertozzi couldn’t say “no” to. But maybe he should have: When Lubertozzi and his wife returned the vehicle to National Rent-A-Car in January, they were charged $376.

Why did their rate more than double?

At first, a representative said that there was a drop-off charge. I said we picked up and dropped off the car at the same location (David, Panama airport).

She then shifted to claiming I owed for mandatory collision-damage insurance. I said I had rejected that coverage and did it in writing. I asked for a copy of the form that I had initialed, which she gave to me. After a phone conversation she had with a supervisor, she insisted I had to pay for the collision-damage and third party liability coverage and I didn’t agree and refused to pay it.

Not much good it did Lubertozzi. National charged the full $376 to his credit card, anyway. He called the company and a representative promised to contact the Panama office. Then he got an email from National, insisting the company hadn’t charged him the fees but enclosing an invoice for the full amount.

After some haggling and a credit card dispute, National refunded $85.

If you can think of anything else we could have done to either avoid an unknown mandatory charge or to resolve this dispute, we would sure like to know it. And we would love to know if there really was a mandatory third-party liability requirement and if so, required by whom.

But more importantly, I hope that you will alert your readers that National Rent-A-Car apparently has no scruples about deceptively quoting a price by email without including mandatory charges. We chose their company relying on that quote and were sorely disappointed.

I searched National’s Panama site and found no evidence that insurance is mandatory. Another site indicated insurance was required for drivers in Panama, but that rental rates include the insurance.

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Bottom line: If the insurance was required, National should have factored it into his estimate. (I will say, however, that $177 for a nine-day rental is an absolute steal).

I contacted National on Lubertozzi’s behalf.

A National rep called me today, and after some back and forth discussion — he kept repeating that the charges were due because of the fine print in the contract, and I kept saying that any mandatory charges should have been disclosed in the quote up front — he finally offered to send me $54.

So I accepted, in order to close the issue. So at this point I’m only out $50, which is far better than the initial $189 overcharge. Thanks again for your help.

People, please read your contracts carefully before you sign and when you’re visiting an exotic destination, always ask about “mandatory” extras.

(Photo: Carlos Adampol/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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