Extreme card confusion on my Alamo rental car

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By Christopher Elliott

Harold Nagase tries to add a day to his Hotwire Alamo car rental, but when the vehicle is damaged, his credit card company won’t cover it. Why not?


I recently rented a car from Hotwire for a one-week visit to Kauai, Hawaii. I had to move my flight up by a day, but that created a problem, since Hotwire doesn’t allow changes on its rentals.

Seeing that the car rental agency was Alamo, I decided to rent a car for one day from the same company. I happened to use a different credit card than the one I used to pay for my Hotwire rental.

When I arrived at Alamo, I mentioned my situation to an attendant. She said that she could resolve my dilemma; I would just pay a little more and keep the car that I was to pick up the following day. I was elated! Now I did not have to return the vehicle early.

While I was parked at a shopping mall, someone dented the car. My car insurance covered the damage, leaving me to pay $200 out of pocket. I think my credit card company should cover the cost, but neither it nor Alamo will do anything to resolve this. Can you help me? — Harold Nagase, San Francisco


Hotwire’s rentals — referred to as “opaque” purchases in the travel industry — can offer a significant discount, but there’s a tradeoff. Your purchase is nonrefundable, and it can’t be changed. You should not visit an opaque site when you want flexibility.

It was nice of the Alamo agent to try to fix the rental situation, but in order for your credit card company to cover the car, the entire rental needs to be billed to that card. Only part of your rental was paid for with it, which left you with no coverage.

I’m pleased that the claim process worked as intended. You appear to have acknowledged the damage to your car, filled out all necessary forms, and were willing to pay for the dents. As someone who deals with hundreds of questionable damage claims, I think that’s encouraging. I’ve seen so many of these claims go wrong, I’ve lost count.

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest-growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

By the way, have you read my comprehensive guide on car rentals yet?

In hindsight, the best way to have avoided this situation would have been for you to use the Hotwire rental as intended. Had you done that, and the car had been damaged, then your credit card company would have covered the repairs. Apart from that, you could have purchased Alamo’s optional insurance policy, but those can be pricey.

Alamo agreed to waive the remaining $200

I asked Alamo to check its records on your rental. It showed that part of your rental was paid for with one credit card. The other part was covered by a Hotwire voucher, which was purchased with a different card. Therefore, your credit card insurance claim was unsuccessful. You disagree with that assessment and maintain that the payment method used for your car was an error by Alamo.

“Our local branch office in Hawaii has offered to waive the remaining $200 that Mr. Nagase owes as a matter of customer service and hopes he will return next time he’s in Hawaii,” an Alamo representative said.

Who is ultimately responsible for this mix-up?

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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