Can I fix this Avis “fantasy” rental charge?

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By Christopher Elliott

Harry Good recently prepaid for his rental car through a Swiss company called HolidayCars, which makes sense, since Good is an American expatriate who lives in Switzerland.

But what happened next doesn’t make any sense. When he picked up his car from Avis in Phoenix, where he planned to rent it for three months, all seemed well. Then, a few weeks later and without any warning, he found a $6,742 charge, in addition to the $3,711 he’d already paid HolidayCars.

Not good.

“The $6742 is a fantasy number,” he says. “I have written to the Avis airport manager in Phoenix, but she hides behind the Avis legal department and has no answers. Phone calls do not get returned.”

Here’s what happened

HolidayCars went bankrupt late last year, taking his $3,711 rental fee with it. It appears Avis realized at some point during his rental that it wasn’t getting paid by HolidayCars, and charged him a same-day rate for three months, which came to $6,742. (Here’s our ultimate guide to renting a car.)

“Can Avis charge my credit card without prior consent for items that they acknowledge I have already paid?” he wonders.

Actually, Avis can do pretty much anything it wants with Good’s card, as long as it has the paperwork.

My advocacy team and I advised Good to try two things: First, to dispute the HolidayCars charge on his credit card; and second, to speak with Avis about the arbitrary “walk-up” rate his card was charged for his rental without his consent.

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It didn’t go well. His credit card company sided with Avis in the dispute, finding that both charges were valid, and Avis continued to insist that the charges were right, even after I asked about his case.

The official response from his car rental company:

At Avis any difficulties or problems encountered by a customer are a concern to us, and we apologize most sincerely for any inconvenience you may have been caused. In researching this inquiry the following information was found:

HolidayCars filed bankruptcy in December 2012 and this account was put on risk in our system as of November 28, 2012 (which is why the first month’s rental charge was accepted for payment and not the subsequent months. Therefore, because of the bankruptcy, we are unable to secure our payment from HolidayCar; this is why we applied the subsequent months directly to your Visa account for the cost.

We wish you success in your efforts to recover the money you paid this organization and trust you understand our position. Mr. Good, we can only recommend that you contact a consumer advocacy organization, or perhaps if you purchased a travelers insurance that you can file a claim which can aid you in recovering what was prepaid.

Although we realize that we cannot make up for a disappointing experience such as this, Mr. Good, we do appreciate the opportunity to address this inquiry. Only by being made aware of a problem can we address it and offer the high quality of service that Avis customers expect and deserve.

Love the part about the “consumer advocacy” organization. I love you too, Avis.

The letter answers some of Good’s questions, but not all of them. Why does Avis feel it can charge him the highest possible rate for his car? Would it consider lowering his bill to a negotiated, pre-paid rate, given his circumstances?

“I am at a loss on how to proceed,” he says. “Should I contact a lawyer knowledgeable with this issue? Or do you know of a way of resolving the issue without a lawyer? And, as a last resort, what happens if I refuse to pay something I have already paid?”

I think Good deserves better than to have to pay for two rentals. While I totally understand Avis’ position, I think it’s failing to see the big picture.

At the same time, Good’s credit card company is correct. Both of these charges are technically right. But does anyone really think he should pay $10,453 for his rental car?

Should I mediate Harry Good's case?

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Update (10:20 a.m.): Avis has resolved this case. A representative told me, “there’s no need to get involved.” Too late!

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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