I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT FROM AVIS OR BUDGET – Part III

(cont. from part 2)

I am going to condense the rest of the story because the intricacies can be mind-boggling.

Since I could not reach him electronically I decided to contact Michael Tucker, Avis Budget’s legal counsel, by writing an actual letter. You know, the kind that involves pen, paper, envelope and a stamp. I explained my story and insisted on payment of what was now $458, including the original $297 plus court costs and my parking expenses at the courthouse. A week later, I received an email from his assistant. This was followed by a phone conversation. That was followed by contact with a paralegal, Ted Kushner, who claimed they had known nothing of my dispute.

“How can that be?” I queried, considering that the company sent a representative to the first trial.

“Why didn’t you have the court send the judgment to our headquarters?” Ted parried.

“Because a California court has no jurisdiction in New Jersey,” I replied. “All legal processes were sent to your agent for service in Sacramento. That’s why you have an agent for service.” Ted responded that he researched my claim and found my complaint(s) to be valid. He promised that Avis Budget would cut me check for the full $458.

“I’ll need to receive it before the next court date,” I warned, “or I will be back in court and you will have more problems with me.” (All quotes in this story are approximate paraphrases as no one in or out of their right mind and claim to come close to exact conversations … ever.)

A few days before the August 18 court date (yes, this had been going on for eight months!) I left messages with both Michael Tucker’s office and Ted Kushner. I warned them that the judge had issued a bench warrant and that they had better send me the check. I received no reply whatsoever.

You have probably guessed it already. Back to court I went. The defendant failed to send a representative but there was no penalty. Why? The nimrod “judge” from the previous court session never issued the bench warrant. This judge, however, said she would.

I was in a tizzy. Actually it was a Toyota. Nevertheless, I was now considering flying to Avis Budget’s Parsippany, New Jersey headquarters to try my hand at terrorism.

The next day a UPS envelope arrived. In it was a letter from Ted Kushner explaining that the issuance of the check had run into some bureaucratic complications and he is sorry for the delay. Enclosed was a check for $458. He could have called two days earlier to tell me this before I went back to court. But n-o-o-o, that would have been efficient, and from my experience I have come to believe that efficiency is not in Avis Budget’s DNA.

Perhaps Avis's clogan should be "We Try Hardly.'

The companies from whom I will never again rent a vehicle. Photo – en.wikipedia.org

Let me add one more bit of proof to that allegation. At the beginning of this story I mentioned Avis had sent me two $25 coupons when I first complained about the rental screw-up. Well, a few days before the last court appearance I decided to use the coupons to rent a full size sedan from an Avis Budget location near my home. Why the hell not? I made an online reservation and received a confirmation. And when I got to the location the next day, guess what. Yep, they had no full size cars, so I had to take an SUV. And when I returned it, there was no one at the counter. After waiting about five minutes I called out. The rental agent appeared from the next room and said, “I’ll be right with you.” I stood there another five minutes. When she reappeared, she was chewing on some food and said, “ I had to finish my lunch.” Really?

Case closed.

And that is why I will never again rent a vehicle from Avis … or Budget.

But wait! This just in. I was reviewing my monthly credit card statement this very afternoon and although the charge for the rental should have been 17 bucks., it was $33.62. I called the rental agency and the very same woman told me it was because I had only put 18 miles on the car and that when customers put on so few miles they usually (my italics) don’t replace the gas. Avis charges $13.99 for each delinquent gallon. When I told her that I returned the car with the same amount of gas as when I took the SUV, she would not budge, saying that I should have shown her the receipt and that I had only 24 hours to make a correction. This, despite the fact that I did not get my credit card statement until a month later.

I gave up on her and called my credit card issuer who promptly credited me for the $16.62 overcharge.

And THAT is while I will never, ever, ever, rent form Avis or Budget again.

 

I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT A CAR FROM AVIS OR BUDGET – Part II

Part 2

On our first full day in Southern Italy, with no practical vehicle at our disposal, Cheryl and I took a train from Sorrento to Pompeii.

The ruins at Pompeii

Pompeii. Photo by Alago,public domain, commons.wikipedia.org

The following day we had no choice but to take a bus down the treacherous Amalfi Coast with a return stop in Positano. We passed a dozen places where, if we had a car, we would have loved to stop to soak in the views and take photographs. It was not to be.

The narrow, winding road to Amalfi

The treacherous Amalfi Coast Road

Upon our return home to San Jose I asked our travel agent, Barbie, to see about getting our money back for the car we had reserved, or at least the approximately   140 dollars extra we paid for the automatic transmission. She contacted Auto Europe, the company that booked the car with Avis. Auto Europe was unsuccessful in getting our money back. I contacted Avis Budget Group. myself. They sent me two 25-dollar coupons toward a future rental and a denial of responsibility for blowing our reservation .

I contacted American Express, which took a long time to reply, telling me that I should not have accepted the car Avis had offered me, as if we would have otherwise taken three trains and a bus to get to our hotel. I could have given up at that point, but there was a principle involved here. After all, I am the Consumer Guy.

Trying to call Avis Budget Group at its headquarters in New Jersey got me nowhere. Its answering system is totally digital and I had no way of knowing whom I needed to speak with. I looked up its legal department online and found the head honcho is Michael Tucker. I called back again and entered Mr. Tucker’s name but apparently the system did not “know” that he exists, despite his being Avis Budget’s chief legal counsel.

Can you say, “lawsuit”?

So off I went to my local small claims court, paid the filing fee, and had a subpoena served on Avis Budget Group via its agent for service in Sacramento. I should explain this. If a company does not have an administrative office in the state where you are suing it, it must have an agent for service which can accept legal documents such as California’s “Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER (sic) to Go to Small Claims Court.”

On the trial date Avis Budget’s representative showed in court. His name is bill. He is the airport manager for Burbank Airport, over an hour away from the courthouse. Bill had never heard anything about the case until the day before. He had virtually no defense. The judge awarded me the $297 plus $45 court fee. Avis Budget was notified that it had 30 days to pay up. By this time it was rush hour in L.A. It would take Bill at least an hour and a half to get back to Burbank. Think of it; five hours of the airport manager’s time to defend a case about which he knew nothing and that was indefensible.

But justice was done. I’m kidding. Avis Budget didn’t pay. So back to court I went. The next judge issued an “Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination.” A new trial date was set at which Avis Budget was to present a list of its California assets. Don’t ask; in theory it would have to show where everything it owns in the state is located and what it’s worth.

Three months had now passed since I filed in December of 2014 and once again Avis Budget dropped the ball (or kicked it into the stands). Back to court I went and once again the defendant was delinquent. The new judge (in small claims court the “judges” are usually lawyers who sit in for real judges but who supposedly know the ropes) said he would issue a bench warrant that would require a representative of the company to show up. This would involve the assistance of a sheriff’s deputy. The judge set a new court date.

I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT A CAR FROM AVIS OR BUDGET

 Why I had to sue Avis Budget Group after it failed to provide the car I had paid for

– Part I

     My wife and I vacationed in France and Italy in May of 2015. Several months before our departure we had our travel agent reserve us a car for Fiumicino Airport outside of Rome. Our intention was to drive the car to our hotel in Sorrento in the south of Italy. From there we would drive to Pompeii as well as the legendary Amalfi Coast. Since the roads in that area are notoriously narrow and most of the Amalfi Coast road is on the edges of cliffs, we wanted to be sure to have a small car. And because my wife is unable to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, we needed one with an automatic. Only by sharing the driving would each of us have the opportunity to gawk at the scenery.

     In order to insure that we were going to get just the car we needed, we paid in advance through Auto Europe, an American booking agency, for an Avis rental. The automatic transmission just about doubled the normal rental rate to $297 for four days.

Car we had reserved for Fiumicino Aeroporto

What we were supposed to get … an Audi A2 or similar

     When we landed at Fiumicino we went right to the Avis desk only to discover a huge crowd waiting for service. We had to take a number and wait our turn; about one and a quarter hours. When we got to the desk we reminded the agent that we had reserved and paid for an economy car with an automatic transmission. “I am sorry,” she responded, “but we have no automatic transmission.”

     “But I paid for one,” I responded, to no avail. I agreed to settle for a small car with a manual transmission.

     “I’m sorry, we have no small cars.” But, as if it were some kind of compensation, she proffered that she would give us a very nice vehicle and a five euro per day discount. And what kind of vehicle did she have for us instead of the small car with an automatic? A Volvo station wagon with a manual tranny.

What we got ... a full-size Volvo station wagon

What we got … a full-size Volvo station wagon

     Because we had no other practical way to get to Sorrento, 176 miles away, we were forced to take the behemoth vehicle.

     Getting to the garage, taking possession of our bus-of-a-car, and leaving, took another half hour. So far, we were two hours behind schedule.

     When we got to Sorrento we saw how unbelievably crowded and narrow the streets were. Not for the faint hearted in a full-size station wagon. We contacted the Avis Sorrento office. They did not expect to get any small automatic transmission vehicles. We made the decision right then and there that we would not use the car until we were to return it to the Naples airport four days later. So each day we boarded the hotel shuttle bus into town and transferred to public transportation.

(episode 2: What we did next)

Airline Fees – I Like Them! Say What?

Let’s say that you book a hotel room and the rate includes drinks from the in-room liquor bar, use of the workout room and the pool, in-room coffee, pay-per-view movies, and afternoon tea in the lobby.

Now let’s imagine that you are a person who doesn’t drink alcohol, nor work out, nor swim, nor drink coffee, nor watch movies, and who hates tea. What if you could book that room for, say, a 50 percent lower rate that does not include the amenities. You’d jump at that price, right?

Well, guess what, that’s exactly what the airlines have been doing. In 1954, a roundtrip ticket between San Francisco and New York cost about $200 plus a 10 percent government tax. Not long ago I booked that trip for a little under $400. I took carry-on luggage. I brought my own meal, which I purchased at Trader Joe’s, including fruit and a little dessert, for about 10 bucks. The flight was hours shorter than the typical flight of 60 years ago when coast-to-coast travel was by four-propeller planes.

Let’s calculate inflation. 200 smackers in 1954 would equal about $1,700 today. I would rather not pay for baggage handling, a meal, a snack, extra legroom, etc., and instead save all that moolah. If I want to check a large bag or two, I can pay for it. Same goes for extra legroom, airline food (which is never as tasty and healthful as the stuff I bring along), a movie, or any other airline perks.

So, as with the hotel room example I posed, I would rather pay for only those amenities of which I avail myself. In the old days, we paid for all that stuff whether or not we used it.

So quit kvetching about how little the airlines give us and thank Southwest and other no-frills carriers for bringing a price-saving revolution to the airline industry. Now where’s my neck pillow?

How I Earn More on My Credit Card Than I can From a CD

(Note: None of the companies, credit cards, or investment strategies mentioned below constitutes an endorsement.)

                If you pay off your credit card balance each month, this article is for you. Otherwise, it’s best you move along to another article. I just heard a radio commercial for a bank that pays a “generous” return of 0.7 percent on its certificates of deposit (CDs). Say what?                 For years I used a Capital One Venture® Visa card as my primary charge card. And I charged all purchases greater than five dollars on it. Why? Capital One pays me 2 percent back on all my purchases. Get it? I was making three times as much on my credit card as a I could get from my bank (actually, my credit union). That money is usable for travel expenses, which means the cost of travel, like airfares, hotels, and meals. But I can also use it to payCredit Card - Captial One Venture for any expenses while traveling.                

You can search for other cards that match that deal. I have one that beats it and I’ll get to that in a moment.                

The catch? Capital One charges a $59 annual fee. So, do the math. If not, Capital One also offers a Quicksilver® Rewards card that pays 1.5% with no annual fee for those with excellent credit. If you charge enough to make the rebate exceed the annual fee, you’re in like Flynn with the Venture Card. Otherwise, you can go with Quicksilver, which has no fee.                

I invest with Fidelity Investments. It now has programs that beat even Capital One’s. Fidelity offers an AmerFideltiy American Express cardican Express card that pays 2 percent and a Visa card that rebates 1.5 percent. Neither levies an annual fee.                

My point? If you have a good credit rating and you pay your credit card bills in full each month, find yourself a suitable rebate card and charge away for on the purchases you would be making anyway. You’ll make a lot more with it than “investing” in CDs.

Easy Ways to Save on Electronics and Travel

Here are easy ways to track prices online that might enable you to compare for the best deals.

 

For electronics, Decide.com offers an app that you can download from the site. The will let you know when the price for the item you are interested in is likely to drop (it claims a 77 percent accuracy rate – so don’t blindly depend on it). You can check price alerts and compare what items will cost at brick-and-mortar stores.

 

If you are planning a trip, Bing Price Predictor (www.bing.com, then click “More,” then “Travel”) to find the best time to buy plane tickets.

 

After you buy your tickets, go to Yapta.com and enter your itinerary the price you paid. It will let you know if the price drops enough to qualify you for any travel refunds (travel refund policies depend on from whom you buy your tickets and what their policies are). If you didn’t buy your tix through a seller with a price-drop refund policy, at least you’ll know if the price dropped enough to cover the cost of changing you tickets.

 

Hotel room bookings can come with a low cost guarantee as well. If you reserve through Tingo.com you will automatically be rebooked at a lower rate if the cost of your room drops. This only applies to rooms with a “Money Back” designation. Just be sure that Tingo has the lowest price to begin with compared to booking though other sites.

Thanks to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for these tips.

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The Consumer Gal and I just had our book, Enough of Us – which deals with other subject matter – published. Now we have to focus on marketing our “baby.” So for thetime being, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  brief consumer tips..

If you would like to learn more about our book, which deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.