Travel Solutions: Rental car company that added fees after trip probably broke law

2013-03-03T00:00:00Z Travel Solutions: Rental car company that added fees after trip probably broke lawChristopher Elliott Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star

Q: I'd like to share my recent Budget Car Rental experience with you that has me committed to never doing business with them again.

A couple of weeks ago I received a voicemail saying the Budget at the Kansas City airport would be charging me an extra $104 because an "internal audit" found they gave me too much of a discount.

My receipt shows the $85 discount, which seemed right since there was an advertised discount.

So, they billed my credit card without my authorization, and then added in all the additional taxes and fees to bring the amount up to $104. I called Budget corporate and the franchise, but nobody would help fix the issue, even though I had a receipt to prove we "agreed" on the lesser amount.

I rent from Budget weekly, easily spending anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a month on their cars.

The franchise doesn't share information with the corporate office, so corporate is pretty much useless on the issue.

Since there does not appear to be anything stopping them from charging customer credit cards at will, I refuse to ever do business with them again. Any advice? - Brandon Chase, Columbus, Ohio

A: Some of the most hotly debated cases I mediate are pricing errors - a fare or rate where a decimal point went astray - but I'd never come across a complaint where a discount had been withdrawn after a trip.

The Budget franchise in Kansas City should have caught any discounting error before your transaction, or at the very least, when you checked out.

But leaving a voicemail weeks after your rental is highly unusual.

It's probably also illegal: Budget had a contract with you, which its retroactive rebilling breached, the way I see it.

I don't understand why Budget corporate couldn't help you. Isn't that what the corporate office is for?

By the way, who cares if Kansas City is a franchise location? Budget's corporate structure is irrelevant to a customer, and the company shouldn't use it as an excuse.

Cheap hotel chains often do this, too, and you can't let them get away with it.

Fortunately, you kept excellent records. You had proof of your final payment and of the discount.

Had you tossed your receipt (which some customers do) this might have been a more difficult negotiation.

Your appeal to Budget corporate yielded a $50 voucher, which was a good start.

I followed up with the company, asking why it revised your bill. It responded by reversing the charge.

Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org

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