“What should I have done in this situation?”

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By Christopher Elliott

Doreen Murphy believes she walked right into a fairly well-known “gotcha” when she rented a car from Budget in Northern Ireland—the car rental insurance scam for international renters. Murphy wants my help in sorting out a surprise upcharge from Budget, but I’m not sure if I can — or should — try to unravel this for her.

Northern Ireland has its own pecular car rental insurance requirements, and apparently only one brand of MasterCard coverage meets its strict criteria. In other words, if you’re not renting with a MasterCard, you have to buy extra insurance.

Murphy had a price quote from Budget through its U.S. website that included taxes and insurance: 10 days for 230 pounds for a Skoda Octavia “or similar.”

“When we got to the rental desk in the airport they claimed there was no record of it,” she says. “I showed them my copy and still they would not honor it. Stuck and anticipating a complaint to the main office in Belfast within 24 hours, we went ahead and signed a new agreement.

The new rate for the same car was $471 more than the one originally quoted to her.

“I complained to Budget in Ireland as well as Budget in the U.S. when I returned home. I also complained to MasterCard. All to no avail,” she says.

Budget didn’t honor the price

Murphy feels as if Budget pulled a fast one and that she had no choice but to pay whatever it asked her to.

“What should I have done in this situation?” she asks.

In hindsight, there was probably a better way to handle this. Murphy appears to have possessed MasterCard coverage for her insurance. She held a printout of her reservation explicitly stating that insurance was also included in her rental. If the local Budget office didn’t honor the price, she could have phoned the number on her reservation. Failing that, she could have taken her business to another car rental company at the airport. (Related: Budget car rental cleaning fee problem: Hey, that’s not my vehicle!)

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A review of Budget’s written response suggests there was a small misunderstanding. Far from losing her reservation, Budget did in fact honor her original price. But its records show she opted for more expensive “cross-border” coverage. Neither her credit card nor the original quote covered it — and a charge for an additional driver.

Hence the extra $471 — it’s almost all insurance.

The mysteries of hidden charges

I’m disappointed in how this one turned out. Budget could have done a much better job explaining its charges and the mandatory insurance she would apparently have been required to carry by crossing the border. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next car.)

Then again, another part of me suspects that the folks at the car rental counter saw someone with an American passport. They thought: “We can easily double our income from this rental — watch this!” (Related: Are car rental companies forcing you to buy insurance you don’t need?)

Heck, you don’t even have to be visiting another country for that to happen. I’m handling another car rental case where someone was requested to pay for “required” car rental insurance right here in Orlando. She did, even though there is no such requirement.

The question is, what should I do about it? If I take this to Budget, I’m almost certain I’ll get exactly the same response. I’d love to retrieve Murphy’s $471, but I fear this one may be a lost cause.

“I really believe that it was a plain old-fashioned scam,” she says.

Should I mediate Doreen Murphy's case?

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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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