Using sites such as Hotwire can result in some booking surprises

  • Friday, October 10, 2008 9:54pm
  • Life

I have a question about car rental insurance. I recently booked a car in Manzanillo, Mexico, through Hotwire. I ended up paying $197 in advance for a two-week rental through Thrifty.

My practice in renting cars has been to decline the optional insurance, relying on my personal coverage and my credit card coverage. That hasn’t been a problem — until now.

When I arrived at the busy rental counter, I was presented with a contract that required an additional $22 per day for insurance, which added more than $300 to the cost of the car. I was told that declining the coverage was not an option.

After several minutes of heated multilingual dispute, and in the absence of any Thrifty supervisor, I concluded that my alternatives were to initial the form or do without the car. I initialed the contract and wrote the word “protest” alongside the initials, but the clerk then proceeded to scratch over that word.

Since the reservation had been made through Hotwire, I contacted the company by e-mail when I returned home and asked if they could look into the reason why the “estimated total cost” they provided had not been honored.

Hotwire said the accuracy of the information they provide is not their concern, that they would not ask Thrifty about it, and that I should contact Thrifty myself. I did. Thrifty did not respond to a written query.

I’d like a refund of the extra $308 I had to pay. Can you help?

— Tom Gainor, Mendota Heights, Minn.

Thrifty’s insurance requirements should have been disclosed to you when you paid for your rental, which was when you booked it through Hotwire.

Hotwire’s site is clear about what is, and isn’t, included when you rent through it. It says your payment covers the full rental amount, including applicable tax recovery charges and fees. “You will have the option to purchase insurance and add additional drivers to your contract at the rental counter for an additional charge,” it adds. You can view the full terms online (

The way I read that, it means insurance should have been presented to you as an option — not a requirement.

The problem with a Hotwire rental is that you aren’t able to choose which company to rent with. When you book one of its cars, you’re just shown a rate and a class of car. You only find out the agency you’re renting through after your credit card has been charged.

That means you can’t know if the car rental company will charge you extra for insurance and then make a booking decision based on that. You’ve already paid for your car, so you’re stuck.

Incidentally, this also happens with sites such as Hotwire that sell hotels in this way. You prepay for your hotel, only to discover that it charges a mandatory $15-a-day “resort” fee that there’s no getting out of. The best remedy is to dispute those fees on your credit card, since you never agreed to pay them. Works every time.

Hotwire, as your travel agent, should have contacted Thrifty and negotiated an immediate return of your $308. Instead, it sent you a form letter. Thrifty could have at least acknowledged your e-mail beyond the auto responder even spammers get.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf, and this time the company got in touch with Thrifty. A representative contacted you and verified that credit card insurance — the kind you were using to cover your car — is not accepted in Mexico. “We do try to ensure customers are made aware of this,” she added.

In terms of the “excessive tactics” concerning the sale of the insurance — Thrifty’s words, not mine — the company representative said they do not condone them.

Thrifty cut you a check for $308.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site,

&Copy; Tribune Media Services

Talk to us

More in Life

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

A woman diverts from her walk on Colby Avenue to take a closer look at a pickup truck that was partly crushed by a fallen tree during an overnight wind storm Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in north Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / Herald file)
Storm season is coming. Here’s how to prepare for power outages.

The most important action you can take is to make an emergency preparedness kit.

Do you prefer green or red grapes? This antique Moser pitcher is decorated with enameled grapevines on shaded red-to-green glass.
Grapevine pitcher was made by renowned Bohemian company

Also, queries about grandmother’s coffee set and late husband’s Beatles records and memorabilia collection.

The city of Mukilteo is having a naming contest for its new $75,000 RC Mowers R-52, a remote-operated robotic mower. (Submitted photo)
Mukilteo muncher: Name the $75,000 robot mower

The city is having a naming contest for its new sod-slaying, hedge-hogging, forest-clumping, Mr-mow-it-all.

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

Most Read