Watch a few scenes from the classic 1983 movie National Lampoon's Vacation and beyond the belly laughs, you'll wonder how so many bad things could happen on a vacation. What's that you say? You've had a few rough times yourself? Well, welcome to the club.
My wife and I just returned from a vacation in Hawaii. While most things went smoothly, it got off to a rocky start. When we landed at the Honolulu airport, we proceeded to the rental car desk. We had booked a terrific deal through the Expedia web site. At least, we thought it was a good deal. The paperwork (my legal proof) says $155 a week for our two week rental. That's a total of around $310, if I'm not mistaken. After all, I did pretty well with my high school math.
The small print on our printed confirmation says “taxes and fees are included”. It’s right there in print! So, maybe I'm crazy, but what is your definition of the word included? Before I could even drive a car, I learned something very important. If an advertisement says batteries included, I don't need to spend my weekly allowance on more Duracells.
However, here's the hitch. When the car rental desk finished the paperwork, they wanted 50% more than the original agreement. Fifty percent is a bunch! So, I questioned the charges. I explained to the rental car agent that Expedia quoted me a rate significantly less. He paused and then offered, "We always have a problem with them." Oh, good, was my thought.
"Do you still want the car?" the agent asked. "Yes", I replied. "But, why would they (Expedia) quote me one price and you have a different price?" He said, sadly, that it happens all the time. While other web sites can be an occasional problem, the agent's opinion was that Expedia seems to be the worse offender.
"Would you like to speak to them right now (meaning Expedia)? I can let you use our phone to call their 800 number. Would that be acceptable?" I said sure. What did I have to lose? Well, what I lost was another thirty minutes of my first night in Hawaii. Expedia never answered their customer service phone line. Not once. Why should I be surprised?
Wanting to get on with our vacation, I offered to take the car and work out the problems with Expedia later. Honestly, the rental car agent and his manager were amazing. They were very sympathetic to my problem and offered an instant 10% discount just for my initial pain and suffering. My problem was never with the rental car agency, but rather Expedia. I expected them to be truthful in their advertising and their printed rental agreement. Am I crazy?
During the following days, we tried repeatedly to reach Expedia customer service. Finally, I reached their representative. I began telling my story, with the simple explanation that the word INCLUDED means just that - included. The gentleman on the other end of the phone put me on hold repeatedly. Each time, he said he had to check with the rental car company, his supervisor and others concerning my dilemma. Sometimes, he was gone for a dozen minutes. The entire conversation took more than an hour of our vacation time. In the end, I hoped we could resolve the problem to our satisfaction.
Finally, we began what clearly was his best effort to stiff me on the difference. He tried to place the blame on the rental car company. "We have no way of knowing THEIR charges" was his offering. This, of course, is entirely false. Airport fees and taxes are a set amount of your rental car bill, not a secret formula kept in a vault somewhere in Georgia. Thank you to the rental agents for later reminding me of that fact.
Long story short, he handed me off to his supervisor who dug her heels in and kept cutting me off during my review of the issue. It finally ended with the Expedia rep saying, basically, "Better luck next time!"
Guess what? My next time WON'T be with Expedia! Buyers beware. As the rental agents advised, "It's always better to book directly with a hotel, rental car or airline." You're far less likely to encounter any rude surprises.
I'll remember that. And, hopefully, you will too.