Why would I need a U.K. driver’s license to rent a car in Florida?

When Keith Montgomery went to pick up his rental car in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he had his driver’s license handy. But the rental car facility refused to rent him the car for which he’d prepaid, and forced him to pay for a new rental car. That’s because Montgomery is a dual U.S.-U.K. national who lives in London, and he needed his British driver’s license, which he didn’t have available.

Montgomery’s unsuccessful car rental is a reminder to carefully read all the terms and conditions of any travel contract or big-ticket purchase, especially if you are trying to take advantage of a special deal offered on a travel website. Companies can –- and do –- take advantage of buried terms in fine print to avoid obligating themselves to customers.

Montgomery used Opodo, an online travel site which partners with Rentalcars.com, to reserve a convertible for his stay in Fort Lauderdale.

But here’s what happened when he arrived at the rental facility:

I arrived in Fort Lauderdale to collect my car, and the agent was unable to rent to me because I didn’t possess a U.K. driver’s license. (I have a fully valid driver’s license from the state of Washington.) The Dollar Rent a Car agent apologized profusely, but said that the condition of rental was that I had to have a U.K. license in order to rent.

There is nothing in the rental agreement that says that I must possess a U.K. driver’s license. I phoned Rentalcars.com from the desk at Dollar and received no sympathy whatsoever. The only thing [the agent] was willing to do was to refund my prepaid rental. When I pressed him to direct me to the language in our rental agreement that stated that I must have a U.K. license, he admitted that there was no such language.

The best I could get out of him was that “the fare I had been quoted was only for international customers” and that “a U.K. license” was the proof of my international status. I told him that I was holding my U.K. passport in my hand, but that wasn’t good enough. All he could offer was a refund. He also told me that “99 percent of the customers booking in the U.K. possessed U.K. drivers’ licenses.

And because of an event in Fort Lauderdale, Montgomery had to pay more than double the cost of his original car rental to obtain a replacement rental car. “The walk-up price for even the cheapest economy car was over $850,” says Montgomery.

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Montgomery attempted to file a complaint with Rentalcars.com through its website, only to receive the following response: “The details you have provided do not relate to a completed reservation. Please visit our Contact Us Page to find our phone number.”

At that point, he asked our advocates for help in getting a refund for the second car he had to rent.

Unfortunately for Montgomery, he missed some fine print in his rental agreement, which contained the following stipulation: “All drivers must hold a full and valid driving licence issued outside the USA, US Territories and Canada. Unfortunately it is not possible to rent this car on this package with a licence issued in the USA, US Territories or Canada.” (This language is reproduced from the U.K. original.)

Our advocate told Montgomery that because of this language, we weren’t going to be able to obtain a refund for him. Not having his U.K. driver’s license with him when he went to pick up the car invalidated his rental.

We are writing about his case to warn international travelers to carefully read their travel contracts to make sure that they comply with all the terms. Otherwise, like Montgomery, you may end up in a situation that we will have to treat as a Case Dismissed.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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