Take disputed charges to the car rental agency first

  • By Christopher Elliott Syndicated Columnist
  • Friday, January 18, 2013 2:15pm
  • Life

Question: My wife and I traveled to Las Vegas for a trade show. I decided to use my credit card points to cover my car rental through Dollar Rent a Car.

At the car rental desk I was pressured to take the optional insurance, but I told them I had checked with my insurance agent and that I was covered. After 10 minutes of saying “no” she insisted on making a copy of my credit card. I let her and went on my way.

I rented the car for five days, drove a total of 83 miles and returned the car with a full tank. A Dollar employee checked the car when I returned it and said everything was “OK.”

On my next credit card bill I noticed a $125 charge from Dollar, 19 days after the car was returned. I complained to Visa, and a month later I received a letter from Visa saying that Dollar claimed the car needed excessive cleaning due to pet hair, smoke and dirt.

We don’t smoke and we don’t have a pet. Dollar refuses to remove the fee. Can you help?

Joe Galindo, Anoka, Minn.

Answer: Dollar should have notified you of any cleaning charges when you returned the car, not as a surprise on your credit card bill almost three weeks later. Even if Dollar suspected that you’d smoked a pipe next to your Great Pyrenees after a long day of hiking in the desert, it should have notified you promptly of the cleaning fee and offered evidence of your allegedly messy ways.

What kind of evidence? Well, photos would be a good start. A signed incident report, documenting the condition of the vehicle might work too. You didn’t get any such proof, and neither did your credit card.

But in disputing this charge, you took a shortcut, moving straight to a credit card dispute instead of contacting the car rental company directly. I might have started with a brief, polite email to Dollar sent through its website, and if necessary, an appeal to a manager at the local or national level.

A credit card dispute removes an entire level of appeal. Think of it as taking your small-claims case directly to a higher court. And speaking of court, your only real recourse after losing a credit card dispute is to take your case to court.

That probably wasn’t practical, given the amount of your claim.

I think you would have had a good chance of prevailing in court, by the way. Dollar didn’t offer any documentation, as far as I can tell. It simply asked you, and your credit card, to take its word.

I contacted Dollar on your behalf, and it removed the $125 charge from your credit card.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “Scammed.” Read more travel tips on his blog, www.elliott.org or email him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2012 Christopher Elliott / Tribune Media Services, Inc.

More in Life

Where the wild things are in Snohomish

Step into the studio of Imps and Monsters creator Justin Hillgrove for a Black Friday sale.

Meet Nellie, Thor, Raven, Lola, Jasper, Gunner and Bella

These six dogs are waiting for loving homes.

Did you know? Bats edition

Worthwhile Everett library reading and viewing about bats of the animal, sport and hero varieties.

Don’t forbid friendship with back-talking neighbor kid

Q: Our 8-year-old has suddenly developed a very sassy mouth. She picked… Continue reading

How birds stay alive in winter and what you can do to help

When the weather turns chilly, columnist Sharon Wootton’s thoughts turn to birds coping with cold.

Don’t get scammed: Think before you click on email links

An email that was supposedly from iTunes is a scam that targeted busy parents.

Sweden’s Glass Country sparkles like a hand-blown bauble

You can blame my Norwegian heritage, but I’m not so hot on… Continue reading

The pros’ snow: Lake Tahoe a big draw for skiers of all stripes

North Lake Tahoe is home to one of the largest concentrations of ski resorts in North America.

Teen idol David Cassidy remains in Florida hospital

The former pop star is dealing with multiple organ failure.

Most Read