The Travel Adviser: Blacklisting

Blacklisting does exist in the travel industry, and does not necessarily require a physical list.

By
December 28, 2014 01:49
hertz

A HERTZ RENTAL car sign is placed outside a rental lot near Detroit Metropolitan airport in Romulus, Michigan. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Blacklist is a hit US TV show starring James Spader. Portraying a highly articulate, erudite businessman and mastermind, his character has allegedly been on the 10 Most Wanted List for over 20 years. Surfacing at the FBI with a new female profiler fresh out of Quantico, he offers to bandy wits with the bureau and deliver various criminals provided he can work with this new agent.

Conversely a blacklist is a list of people who for one reason or another, are being denied a particular service.

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The term blacklisting may be used in a pejorative sense, implying that a person has been prevented from having legitimate access to something due to inappropriate actions. Blacklisting does exist in the travel industry, and does not necessarily require a physical list.

We’ve all heard stories of people denied entry to a specific country or in other circumstances denied to even board an aircraft. Less known and reported about is the prodigious list accumulated by the rental car companies, with Hertz topping this directory.

The Hertz Corporation, founded nearly 100 years ago, is the largest US rental car company. Bouncing around corporate owners, it was even owned by United Airlines for a few years, but has been a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange since 2006. While car fleets have changed over the years and technology has advanced rapidly the procedure for renting a car has remained constant for more than 40 years.

Whether one rents from their travel consultant, online from a wholesaler or from Hertz directly, in 99 percent of the rental cases you must give a credit card as a guarantee. With so many people renting cars so frequently if you think the process would be straight forward and transparent – you would be wrong.

Should I buy additional insurance? What about paying to refuel the car? Among all of your options, there are some things you don’t need to do, or even should not do, when renting a car.



Peruse carefully or you inadvertently will end up on their blacklist.

1. Prepaying for gasoline

Prepaid gasoline charges appeal to our desire for simplicity while traveling, and our concerns about being late for flights. The rule of thumb should be how much it would cost you to fill up the tank yourself versus what the rental companies are charging you. The ability to bring back the car on empty is a talent that few of us possess; hence the financial calculations are what you need to consider. We recommend $25 as the tipping point. If the surcharge is $25 or less then it’s most likely worthwhile. If it’s above that amount than you should realize you’re simply paying for your own laziness to fill it up before dropping the vehicle off.

2. Purchasing insurance

Before accepting their suggestion, verify ahead of time that your own travelers insurance already covers both personal accident, collision to the vehicle and even third party claims (if you hit someone). Most policies you arrange for your trip will cover nearly everything possible regarding your rental car.

3. Making too quick an inspection upon departure

When you pick up your car, check it inside and out for anything that could potentially be considered damage before you drive away. Look for scratches, loose parts, working power windows and mirrors. Keep an eye out for problems both big and small. If you see any scratches take a photo.

4. Leaving final inspection to chance


For the last few years, the procedure of returning cars has come to resemble checking out of a hotel, where you leave your keys at the front desk and head out the lobby door with only a wave. No official check out or interaction of any kind is needed. Hertz gold members love the fact that they simply drop off their cars, hop on the shuttle bus to the airport and walk away without ever speaking to anyone directly.

If it feels unsettling just to leave the car without an agent checking it over, it should. The most serious complaints we’ve had have been disputes over damage claims. If you walk away, it becomes your word against theirs. Unfortunately the terms of the contract you scribbled on when you received your car, and the fact the rental company has your credit card number, makes it very hard for you to win one of these disputes, at least not without considerable expenditure of energy and resources.

Take the sad saga of the “Z” family who rented a large car for their summer sojourn in Italy with Hertz.

They booked with their travel consultant a Ford Galaxy costing them nearly €1,300 for 11 days. Prepaying the entire amount they received a Hertz rental voucher and were all set.

Upon collecting the vehicle in Venice they elected to rent a GPS to assist them in navigating throughout the country. At the conclusion of their journey they returned the car to Hertz and were told to leave it in a parking garage. No human contact was made, no receipt given that the car was returned in pristine condition without any damage. The Z’s moseyed back to Israel with fond memories.

While reviewing his credit card, Father Z was mystified to discover a charge of $913 from Hertz. Contacting his travel agent, he demanded to receive from Hertz a breakdown of that excessive charge. In short time, Hertz provided the figures. Aside from the GPS and a fuel charge for not filling the car up before returning it, it added a nearly $300 cleaning charge to his credit card. Z hotly denied the car required this and thus was advised by his agent to dispute the charge to gain more time to negotiate with the company.

To be equitable to Hertz, the pictures they forwarded him of the car’s interior did show that intensive vacuuming and large trash removal was warranted.

Without judging it appeared that throughout their use of the car, no trash was ever removed from the car’s interior. What was less compelling was the figure of $300 to return the car to a state that it could be rented out again.

Hertz refused to budge and their representative in Israel, while personally sympathetic to their plight, was impotent to waive the charge. Moreover, he warned him that failure to pay it would put him on their blacklist.

The list is so odious that a client is able to make a booking, receive a voucher and only when he or she shows up at the rental station abroad is rebuffed and only then told the reason they’ve been blacklisted.

We’ve had diplomats and lawyers, physical therapists and teachers all caught in that embarrassing situation.

All of them had received traffic or parking tickets from the local authorities who forwarded them to Hertz for payment. Hertz in turn contacted their clients. Each of the clients for their own personal reasons elected not to pay and naively thought that nothing would or could be done. One claimed he never got the email; another claimed she hadn’t parked illegally; yet another claimed he had yielded right of way in one of those traffic circles in Paris.

A well-known Jerusalem lawyer after an exhausting 14-hour flight sallied up to the Hertz counter in New York to collect his car at the break of dawn. The moment he handed over his prepaid rental voucher and international driver’s license he was informed that the car could not be taken as he had been blacklisted. A furtive call to his travel consultant elicited no information and Hertz in Israel expressed their remorse that at the time they could not give an explanation. It was only after direct intervention with Hertz headquarters that they relayed the information that a traffic ticket had been sent to him requesting payment a few months prior and had been ignored. No previous knowledge existed in the system when the reservation was made. No warning lights flashed when the rental car voucher was created.

The system is designed to be implemented only when the renter shows up to collect the car. It’s their way of adding insult to injury.

Innocence may be bliss, but ignoring a debt can prove perilous and financially risky. One can run, but these days one cannot hide. Bandy all you want with that omnipotent company, but the best way to avoid being put on the blacklist is to take the straight and narrow path.

For questions and comments email: mark.feldman@ ziontours.co.il

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