In the car rental wars, which side is right?

Eric Eatman didn’t do it. He’s sure of that.
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When you’re traveling, a picture can be worth a thousand dollars

You don’t have to be an expert on photographic evidence to take snapshots of your rental car before you drive off the lot, but it helps.
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The travel industry cracks down on smokers

Landra Osmus doesn’t smoke. So when she checked out of the Comfort Suites at Sabino Canyon in Tucson, Ariz., recently, she almost choked on her bill, which included a surprise $150 cleaning fee.
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Broadsided by a rental car damage claim

There’s damage to the undercarriage of Jessyka Glatz’s rental car, at least according to Hertz. But is the car in the photo of the rental company sent her the same one she rented? Maybe not.
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If they lie to us, why can’t we lie back?

Travel companies lie to you all the time. Why can’t you lie right back?
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When renting a car, no good deed goes unpunished

Henry Lien/Shutterstock
Henry Lien/Shutterstock
After Chandra Bhandaru points out a few scratches on a Hertz rental, the car rental sends a bill — and then another bill. Now the company wants to refer the matter to a collection agency. What happened?

Question: I tried to be a good citizen when I rented a car recently, but I guess it backfired. I have been a longtime gold customer with Hertz. On a recent trip to Hawaii, I rented a vehicle from Hertz. I had a little accident and had scratches on the rear. When I returned the car, the agent did not notice anything, but being a loyal customer, I volunteered information to the agent and filled out a claim form.

Four months later I got a letter from Hertz regarding damages, and paid those through the insurance coverage on my American Express card. But now I’ve received another letter from Hertz claims services, saying that I still owe $420 in damages.

American Express is willing to pay the amount and is requesting proof of payment to the body shop, but the claims person is not willing to provide it. I am at a loss here.
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Billed twice? There’s a fix for that, travelers

Mattes/Shutterstock
Mattes/Shutterstock
Glenn Rossi’s recent Avis car rental had him seeing double. Literally.

He’d prepaid for a vehicle in Vienna, Austria, through Expedia. When he picked up the car, Avis also swiped his credit card. Within a week of returning the vehicle, Rossi, a retired telecommunications consultant who lives in Kelkheim, Germany, saw two charges for 333 euros (about $460) on his MasterCard: one from Expedia and one from Avis.

He’d been billed twice for the same car.

“I sent my contract and payment records to both Expedia and Avis but still have no refund of my double payment,” he says.

Rossi’s experience is common in one respect: Small billing errors happen routinely when you’re on the road — a currency conversion error, a fee added to the final bill or a room charge that belongs to another guest. But in another sense, it isn’t. Double-billings are relatively rare. Fortunately, they’re also relatively easy to fix.
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You deserve a refund for those junk fees

Diego Cervo/Shutterstock
Diego Cervo/Shutterstock
What if they had to give it all back?

Imagine if someone forced airlines, hotels and car rental companies to return every penny they took from you under questionable circumstances. The checked-bag fee, often poorly disclosed. The resort fee billed to your room, whether you used the “free” wireless and unlimited local phone calls or not. The license recovery fees that pay for your rental car’s plates — as if that were optional.

These extras, which most travelers call junk fees, aren’t just expensive annoyances. Vast sectors of the travel industry have made them a cornerstone of their business operations, with airlines leading the way down this ethically troublesome path.

It’s a practice the industry delicately calls “unbundling,” or removing often essential components of a product from the base price to make it look deceptively cheaper.
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Losing it over car rental “loss of use”

Oilly/Shutterstock
Oilly/Shutterstock
After Ben Harris dropped off his Mazda 3 rental at the airport in Maui last December, a Hertz agent pointed to some scuffed paint on the underside of the front bumper. Although the employee asked Harris to fill out an incident report, he assured Harris that it was just a formality and that he wouldn’t get a bill for the damage.

But six months later, Harris received a repair bill for $570. Among the charges was a $62 fee for “loss of use” – a fee that Harris, a physician from Chicago, considers “unreasonable.”

Some drivers agree. Rental companies used to write off the time a car spent in a garage as an expense. But shrinking profits forced them to add a loss-of-use charge to their repair bills, which allows them to recover the revenue they would have collected if the vehicle had been rented.

“Car rental companies were leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table by not collecting loss-of-use charges,” says Neil Abrams, a car rental consultant. “I think there’s a recognition that there’s a legitimate responsibility of the renter that extends beyond the rental of the vehicle.”
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Here are a few insider tips for finding what you lost this summer

Stuart Miles/Shutterstock
Stuart Miles/Shutterstock
Don’t lose it this summer. At least not the way Jennifer and Pat Mangold did when they stayed in the Florida Keys last August.

In their hurry to avoid holiday traffic, Mangold left her $680 in cash in their room at the Hampton Inn & Suites Islamorada.

“I didn’t realize this until we were 70 miles away in Key West, on a busy Labor Day weekend,” says Mangold, a nurse practitioner from Philadelphia. “I immediately took my phone out to call the Hampton Inn. I looked at my missed calls and found that they were trying to reach me.”

Turns out, a housekeeper had found the cash. The hotel overnighted it to Key West at no charge.

“We were more than grateful,” says Mangold.
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