Mon Dieu! Why is this Avis bill $600 more than expected?

Jean Charles Fourcade just wanted to enjoy a visit with his elderly father in France, but Avis put a dent in his plans by charging him well over the agreed-upon rate. Can we get Fourcade a refund?

Question: Since 2006 I’ve consistently been traveling four to five times a year to a small village in southwest France to take care of my father, who is now approaching 89 and is afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

Over the past 10 years I’ve had all my car rentals (many exceeding a month) with Hertz and never had a problem. This past summer I decided to shop online and found the rates to be lower at Avis, so I decided to try them out.

The Avis rental started on Sept. 19 with a pick-up in Montpellier, France, and the car was scheduled to be returned at Tarbes Lourdes Pyrenees Airport on Nov. 6. The rate was 1022 euros ($1,172) for a 48-day rental, which was clearly stated on my online reservation confirmation.

In Montpellier, on the day of pick-up, Avis told me that they had a 30-day maximum limit on rental contracts, so they made me sign one 30-day contract and another for the remaining 18 days. Not once had I been told that I had to return the car after the first 30 days, let alone return it to the Montpellier location.

On Oct. 21, I received a phone call from the Avis Montpellier rental office telling me to return the car to their agency immediately. I replied that that was not possible as I was in a rural area many hours away. I also explained that I had never been told that I had to return the car earlier than 48 days.

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The following day, I received another call requesting for me to return the car, and my reply was the same. On Oct. 24, I received a third call from Avis telling me that the car had been recalled for some defect and that I had to return it to the nearest agency for my personal safety.

I did a quick online search and found no recall on that particular vehicle. On Oct. 25, I returned the vehicle to the agency in the city of Tarbes, which was a tremendous inconvenience for me, and I was told by the agent that they feared I had stolen the vehicle.

Regardless, I was given a new rental which was much a smaller and inferior Economy Class vehicle than the Compact Class car I originally had rented. They mentioned that the rate would be adjusted for the lower-class car.

Upon my return to the United States, I noticed that Avis had charged me $934 on Oct. 19 for the first 30-day rental and $759 on Nov. 6 for the second vehicle. Please note that I had declined any additional insurance coverage or any other rental options. That made the total cost of my rental about $600 more than what was estimated on my original reservation.

On Nov. 11, I contacted Avis and they gave me a case number. I mentioned to them that they had not adjusted for the rate on the lower car class, and I also mentioned that the two charges appearing on my credit card tremendously exceeded the total stated on the online reservation confirmation. Within five days I received an email confirming a refund of $72 for the adjustment of the lower car class but nothing was mentioned about the two charges on my credit card. I called Avis again on November 18 to dispute these charges and they said it would take three to four weeks to respond back.

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I went back to France in December and returned In early January, and I never heard back from Avis. I called them again on Jan. 6 and they told me that nothing can be done as I had signed the two contracts and that that is what I had agreed to.

I stand very conflicted because what I agreed to in the online reservation was a rental of 48 days for one vehicle to be returned in a different location.

Could you please help me get a refund for the almost $600 I was overcharged? — Jean Charles Fourcade, Surfside, Fla.

Answer: Sacré bleu! What Avis did to you was misleading and inconvenient, and this must have frustrated you after you had taken your business to them from Hertz. You also didn’t need this aggravation when you were visiting your sick father. Unfortunately, Avis had you in a bind because you were nowhere near another rental agency, and you had no choice but to do as Avis said.

If you had a separate agreement with a new rate and insurance, Avis should have sent it to you. You should have reviewed it and signed it. It looks like a few steps in the process were skipped — to the benefit of Avis.

To your credit, you tried to resolve the problem on your own by contacting Avis customer service. You may have had more success by using the executive contacts section for Avis on our website.

Avis agreed to refund a small portion of the charges, but they did not respond as they said they would regarding the second part of your rental. After waiting several weeks for Avis to return your email, you reached out to our advocates, who contacted Avis on your behalf.

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Avis said you had agreed to additional options which you claim you denied.

This is a reminder to always read the fine print when it comes to a rental agreement or any other travel document. Don’t sign anything unless you agree to all of the terms and conditions.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Avis eventually agreed to refund the additional option fees of about $600.

We hope that this was not too painful a lesson for you. Perhaps you should stick with Hertz for your next rental in France.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

  • finance_tony

    The big question I have (being only a short-term renter): Is there really a 30-day limit on rentals? And therefore, was the rental he originally booked “legal”? If not, why was it offered?

  • Bill___A

    Yes there is generally and I am surprised that he did not run into the same issue with Hertz. There are also limits on how many days you can rent and have your credit card CDW still be good. Often there has to be a one day lapse in having a car for the CDW to reset. There is a lot in the fine print, it pays to read it, both prior to renting and when you rent.

  • AJPeabody

    And I thought longer (more than 30 days) rentals really were leases and cost less than straight rental. Was that what the OP had originally been given until Avis split it to make more money?

  • Travelnut

    He should check out Auto Europe’s long-term car rental programs.

  • Jeff W.

    Avis certainly has rates and programs for long term rentals. Maybe not at this particular location, but they exist. It might be a called a lease or mini-lease, depending on the length of rentals, but you can rent a vehicle for up to a year.

    I’ve done this (thru my company) at locations where the airport taxes are quite high. You usually get a better rate than the weekly and there is still savings to be had.

    The only time I received a call from Avis was to periodically check the mileage to see if it was time for an oil change or other regular maintenance.

  • AAGK

    Am I the only one impressed by the French Avis agent’s use of deception to get the car back? That was clever, even though he should not have had to bring it back, as stated in the article. I wonder if it has worked on an actual French rental car thief.

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