Is Avis’ 42 euro “referral” fee in Milan a scam?

Italy’s infamous restricted traffic zones have struck again, this time snagging Douglas Schmucker, an unsuspecting Avis car rental customer.

Schmucker doesn’t have a problem with the law, or following the law. Instead, his dispute is with Avis, which he says failed to warn him that its car rental facility in Milan was located in a “restricted” parking zone.

And neglecting to disclose that little detail cost him money.

“We recently received a letter from the legal office of Avis Italia informing us that we received a charge of 42 euros on a credit card to cover the cost of providing our rental information to the parking authority for driving in restricted Zone C in Milan,” he says. “We were entirely unaware that the Avis location was in a restricted driving zone and the Avis staff made no effort to inform us of that fact.”

Actually, Avis does inform customers of the Italian traffic laws, and specifically of the situation in Milan, on its site.

Are there any roads or zones where I need to pay a fee before I can enter?

Yes, certain areas, such as the centre of Milan-area C, have congestion charging zones meaning you need to pay a fee if you wish to drive in certain areas, on certain days and during certain times. In addition, there are toll roads and toll bridges which require you to pay a fee if you wish to use them. If you do not pay these charges before you enter such areas or use such roads or bridges, you will incur a fine.

We recommend you check the Internet to find out about any restricted areas before you travel. Websites such as www.urbanaccessregulations.eu provide useful information. If the rental location is in or near a restricted area, we will tell you about it when you pick up the vehicle. We are unable to tell you about any other restricted areas.

But who has the time to read all of the fine print? Besides, someone from Avis should have said something to Schmucker, right?

“Avis Milan must inform all clients who use the Piazza Diaz office of the need to obtain a permit for the restricted area for pick-up and drop-off of rental vehicle,” he says. “Avis also needs to revisit the 42-euro charge simply for providing clients’ contact info to the municipal authorities.”

That’s a point worth underscoring. The 42 euros isn’t the traffic fine — it’s a referral fee so that Italian authorities can send Schmucker a fine. That’s a hefty price to pay for simply giving authorities a name — something that is likely automated, anyway.

All of which leaves me wondering: Is this a scam?

Consider that Avis must know that the location is in a restricted parking zone. While it warns customers in the fine print of its website, it surely knows that most customers will not bother to read it. Let’s assume the actual cost of sending Italian authorities to the name and contact information of its drivers is 2 euros.

Isn’t that a little bit like raising the cost of your car rentals by 40 euros?

Then again, customers were warned. Avis is just following the law. And maybe, just maybe, it actually costs Avis 42 euros for a referral — in other words, maybe it isn’t making any money from the transaction.

I think you know which way I’m leaning on this one.

“The 42 euro surcharge and the eventual traffic violation costs should be either dismissed or covered by Avis,” says Schmucker.

I agree — that would be the ideal outcome.

Is Avis' 42-euro "referral" fee in Milan a scam?

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