By James Bryce
HOLIDAYS can be an expensive business.
With costs such as buying new clothes, booking flights and arranging accommodation – many of us have already forked out hundreds of euros before we have even felt the sun on our face.
And more often than not, the list of expenses also includes car hire.
Queuing up to collect the keys on arrival at a foreign airport is a familiar holiday routine as hiring a car is often the only realistic option for getting around.
But while there are genuine bargains to be had, some of the less charitable companies are being accused of cashing in by taking advantage of what is a captive market.
Following the Olive Press’ recent stories about Brian’s Rent a Car and One Way Van Hire, we have been inundated with calls and emails from readers complaining about being similarly ripped off when hiring a vehicle.
We told how both companies had provided sub-standard vehicles and failed to return deposits, despite customers denying having caused any damage.
Among the biggest complaints levelled at car hire firms are the hidden costs, which often leave consumers with a far higher bill than they had anticipated.
The true cost of this practice was exposed earlier this year, when it was revealed holidaymakers were being forced to pay up to three times as much for a hire car than the original advertised price.
According to a survey by consumer group Which? Travel, many are being forced to pay for a full tank of fuel on arrival that would ordinarily be expected to be included in the price.
The car must then be returned with an empty tank with no refund being given for fuel left in the car.
“Consumers are not being given the full facts about these extra charges,” said Which? Travel spokesman Rochelle Turner.
To compound the problem, the hire firms who have adopted the ‘full-empty’ policy are seemingly charging a hefty premium for the fuel, with customers handing over up to €20 more for a full tank than they would at a petrol station.
This policy is becoming more and more common in Spain, as hire companies come under increasing pressure to make a profit in what remain tough economic times.
But not all have adopted it, with some firms keen to distance themselves from the more mercenary suppliers.
“We clearly inform our clients that the car will be delivered with a full tank of fuel, which is paid for on arrival, so they don’t have to worry about trying to find the nearest petrol station,” Christine Fleischer, marketing manager at Malaga-based rental firm Helle Hollis, told the Olive Press.
“We refund any remaining fuel to the nearest quarter of a tank and we clearly indicate on our website what is included in the rental price so there are no nasty surprises on arrival.”
One of the firms which does have a ‘full-empty’ policy, Record Go, are also at the centre of another controversial hidden cost being levied on travellers – a ‘mandatory’ insurance payment.
This is said to act as a damage excess waiver, but it has provoked anger among many customers who claim to have separate insurance policies which deem the extra payment unnecessary.
But some firms are allegedly refusing to hand over the keys until the payment is made, with customers who refuse to pay having up to €1,200 frozen on their credit cards to cover possible damage.
Record Go, a hire company operating out of Malaga airport, is among the worst offenders for using this tactic, which has caused angry scenes at pick up desks due to the insurance demand.
Rival company Goldcar has also been accused of ‘ambushing’ customers with the hidden charges.
One Record Go customer, who asked to remain anonymous, was forced to queue for nearly two hours behind other disgruntled customers before being told he would not be given the keys until he paid.
“I explained that I was here on business and I didn’t want the insurance because I have annual cover, but they told me I couldn’t take the car without paying,” he told the Olive Press.
“I eventually paid a deposit but I have since demanded a refund, which I have been told I will receive soon.”
Phil Walker, from Saddleworth, was also forced to wait in a long queue at the Record Go desk before being made to pay a fee which nearly doubled the total cost.
The 54-year-old, who runs a lifestock supply company, had booked through car hire broker Holiday Autos.
But on picking up the vehicle from Record Go for a three week holiday in Malaga with his wife, he was forced to hand over an additional £174.
“I thought I’d got a good deal because it was only £175 for the whole trip, but I couldn’t believe it when they made me pay the extra charge,” he said.
Holiday Autos acknowledged the ‘industry wide issue’ of companies charging hidden fees and vowed to end its association with any firms found guilty of wrongdoing.
“We are very aware of the ongoing industry wide issue whereby low cost suppliers push their insurance products locally on collection,” said Jo King, Head of Brand and Marketing Communications at Holiday Autos.
“We will review our relationship with any supplier found to have been engaging in this practise of selling customers additional extras they do not require.”
She added: “We take these complaints very seriously and are constantly looking at ways to improve our business to ensure customers are treated fairly by our suppliers.”
A Goldcar spokesman said: “Goldcar takes these claims very seriously and we are continuously looking for ways to improve the information provided to the customer.”
Other extras which holidaymakers are regularly finding themselves shelling out for include child seats and additional drivers.
As with all things, the best advice is to shop around and to establish exactly what is and is not included before hiring a car.
Helle Hollis checklist for car hire:
1. What does the rental rate include?
2. What insurance is included?
3. Which fuel policy is applied – and what is the fuel price charged?
4. Can I only pay with credit card?
5. Shall I prepay the rental?
6. Do the staff speak my language?
7. Does the rental include 24 hour road assistance?
8. Can I hire baby seats, GPS or other extras?
9. Is the extra driver for free?
10. Is the office open 24 hours 7 days a week?
11. Are there minimum age requirements?
12. Are there upper age limit requirements?
13. Where do I pick up my rental car?
14. Will I be driving a new car?