Hertz acquires Dollar: What about the liability?

I avoid using this soap box for personal vendettas. A Wild Duck has a broad venue but spats over shady business practices aren’t covered. Tonight, I am outvoted. My co-editor wants me to run this story. Hey, this wound is fresh! Who am I to disagree?

Every once in a while, one encounters a vendor with business practices so out-of-whack, that it just begs to be exposed. Here’s one that hasn’t fully played out. If it is resolved before next week, I will update this Op Ed. But after experiencing this scam, I have doubts that a culture of deception can be corrected by a Blog posting…

Does Hertz care what lies under the covers?         Does Dollar know about ‘Rent a Terstappen’?

Let’s start with statements of fact: I travel. And I hate renting cars.

Until recently, the cost of renting a car was rarely what was agreed in advance. Online reservations are especially problematic, because franchisees fail to report local fees or policies to the franchiser, agency or internet marketing affiliates.

But years ago, I developed a method to overcome the problem, and it has worked splendidly. I first applied ‘Ellery’s Rule’ planning a trip to Florida. I called the rental agency directly and presented my discount codes. I was quoted an excellent weekly rate. (I think that it was Avis, but I am not certain).

Just in case, a desk clerk were to add up the numbers differently than the friendly telephone agent, I asked the agent to add a statement to the Memo section of the contract. She added these words:

The customer has been promised the rate as calculated in this estimate. He is not to be charged a different amount if the car is returned in good condition and with a full tank of gas.

To ensure that the statement exuded authority, I asked her to cite the name of a regional or department manager.

When I got to Florida, the reservation contract was already printed and waiting at the airline terminal rental desk. I pointed out the statement in the Memo section and the local clerk brushed it off with a chuckle. “Don’t you worry”, he said. “The rate is correct. You won’t be cheated.”

But when I returned the car, there was an extra $11 tacked onto the contract. “What’s this?!” I asked to a new face at the desk. “Oh, that’s the Florida drug tax” a friendly woman exclaimed, as if reading from a script. “Every customer must pay it. It’s the law. We have no control over state taxes.”

Guess what? I snapped back. I don’t want any drugs. I don’t think that she got the wit or charm of my dry sarcasm, but after a few phone calls, I certainly didn’t pay the Florida drug tax. Of course, she was right. It is a state law and payment is ascribed to the renter. But Avis paid it from the proceeds that I had agreed to pay. That’s because I had a written contract that specified the cost after all taxes, fees and even drugs. It is inclusive, en toto, complete! You get the picture.

For years, my little system worked like a charm. If at first, a rental agent refuses to add the memo (effectively stating that their estimate is truthful), I threaten to cancel the reservation. They always get authority to add the Memo. It never fails. And so for these past years, I have been quietly smug when overhearing another traveler talk about unexpected fees added at the car rental desk.

I was smug, that is, until this past week. With Rent a Terstappen, I got hoodwinked!

Tactics of deception: Germany’s Dollar car rental franchise

I traveled to Frankfurt Germany last week and rented a car from the local Dollar franchise. I got a good rate from HotWire.com, a popular web travel site. For a simple booking, it’s difficult to get a live agent on the phone, and so I booked my rental online, realizing that I might get stuck with a Frankfurt “drug tax”–or perhaps in this case, a wiener-schnitzel tax. But I was woefully unprepared for what happened. I was socked with an enormous fee and an even more absurd justification. It doubled the amount quoted in Hotwire’s  good faith disclosure!

Dollar franchisee       Rent a Terstappen
Desk clerk                 Beatrice Lindholm-Dagci
HotWire itinerary       4523744713
Contract offer            $151.87 *
Customer charge      $315.38 (?!)

* Revised from original offer of $182.24 for 6 days

Dear readers: You won’t believe the pretense on which Rent a Terstappen doubled my rental contract cost. Even with the separation of 6,000 kilometers and 6 days since my return, I still can’t believe the loony reason that Ms. Lnidholm-Dagci told me (at first, with a straight face). More shocking, I sensed that she didn’t believe it either. She whispered for me to visit Dollar competitors at nearby rental counters. Clearly, she gets push-back from more than a few outraged customers.

Well, this customer won’t stand for it. I landed during the busiest travel week in Germany. Even with staggered school vacations, everyone is on holiday during the 3rd week of August. Five other rental companies offered to match the rate that I was promised (without a farcical add-on), but none had vehicles anywhere near the airport. They were fully booked no matter what I paid. The folks at Hertz and Sixt (a European car rental outfit) sympathized with my plight. One even offered me a personal ride into the city. She has dealt with other disgruntled Dollar-booked clients.

  • Does Dollar Rental know of the massive deception foisted on their clients by Rent a Terstappen? (the local Dollar franchisee at the Frankfurt airport).
  • Does Rent a Terstappen force desk agents to pretend they don’t see what agents at every other rental counter already see? Beatrice Lindholm-Dagci recognizes the deception she is forced to perpetrate. She must hoodwink customers and then blame the fiasco on HotWire or other referring agents.
  • Does Hertz know that the reporting chain at Dollar is either deceptive or egregiously deficient? (My travel department will talk with Hertz if this is not settled by the end of this week.)

Oh yes! I forgot to tell you the reason for the doubling of my rental charge: Ms. Linholm-Dagci explained to me that I must use a Gold branded MasterCard to complete the transaction, because she had no way of verifying insurance coverage for any other form of payment. I had with me a Platinum American Express, a Platinum Visa Card and a Business Premium MasterCard. All of them carried rental insurance. I offered her a $1500 deposit, which she processed! I also offered proof of my insurance coverage through Liberty Mutual with a very clear stipulation of full vehicle replacement value, even when driving in a foreign country.

She didn’t care. It had to be a Gold MasterCard. Not Premium, Not American Express Platinum, Not Chrome, Not Visa, Not the 7 other cards whose logos that they display at the counter. Only a Gold MasterCard.

Next week, I will add Hubert Terstappen’s phone numbers to this story. Perhaps Wild Ducks can persuade him to rethink his business model.

Late Thursday Update:

A representative at HotMail has seen my rant and has launched an investigation. I understand that HotWire may compensate me for the difference between what I was promised and what was stated in their good faith estimate.

HotWire is a good company. They want to do the right thing. But I don’t really consider their payoff to be a proper solution. What about future visitors to Frankfurt who don’t know about the policy/scam? (Take your pick. It’s a toss up!) I have asked HotWire to reassess Dollar representation or at least get the corporate franchiser involved. Craft an ethical solution to the Rent a Terstappen practices. I am fortunate to be working with individuals at HotWire and Dollar who are both understanding and empowered.

Michele Bachmann: Trouble responding to 8yr old boy

Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are like the Bobbsey Twins. Two peas in a pod. You already know my feelings about Palin. But lately, Wild Ducks have asked me to comment on Bachmann.

Today’s post is not an opinion, but this short video is priceless. Pure fluff, but priceless!

An 8 year old boy accompanies his mom to a Michele Bachmann book signing. The child approaches Bachmann to ask a question, but is too shy and too soft to be heard. Bachmann is interested in hearing what the youngster has to say. She pulls the boy close so that he can whisper into her ear. Click below to see the video  [continued]…

Implored by a child…How can a family-values zealot respond?

The camera and microphone are close and they pick up everything! He whispers “My mommy is gay, but she doesn’t need any fixing.”

It’s not difficult to predict the outcome. How can she possibly respond? Certainly not coherently! Bachmann backs away, flushes and stumbles on the words “Bye-bye”, as handlers escort boy and Mom away from the unblinking eye of the camera…Priceless!

For those who don’t follow the GOP parade, Bachmann hubby Marcus runs a clinic that offers to “cure” gays. Of course, we mustn’t claim looniness by association. But wait! Michele appeared to advocate this approach prior to her candidacy.

Was the child set up by his mother to make a blatant pro-diversity stand? Of course! But still – this brief clip will go down as a priceless moment in campaigning history!

Merriam-Webster dictionary banned in California

I was about to begin this post with the words “Every once in a while, politicians and school boards come up with some truly bizarre edicts.” Then, I would have gone on to report one really whacked out policy…

But in truth, it’s not just ‘once in a while’. In this age of space exploration, cultural pluralism and enlightenment, common sense and fair play have gone out the window like a bat out of — well, you get the idea!

Dispensing with the usual introduction, gaze at an incredulous article:

Dictionaries Banned From Schools – “Not Age Appropriate”

The original story is shorter than this Wild Duck retort. But in case the link no longer works, here’s a thumbnail edition: Based of the complaint of one parent, a Southern California school board pulled Merriam-Webster’s 10th Edition from fourth and fifth grade classrooms because “it is not age appropriate”. The parent was upset that the dictionary did not censor itself. It defined a sexual term.

Oh my gawd! An uncensored dictionary!

Note to whacked out parent: It’s a dictionary, not a Bible! (speaking of Bibles, a dictionary is certainly less obsessed with sex.)

It is a religious zealot or a narrow-minded fanatic who values ignorance and “innocence” over a comprehensive scholastic dictionary. Dictionaries are a repository of language and culture. Not just your language, but the words and phrases that are a product of the world around you. Dictionaries obviously define terms for many activities and things that you might not wish to visit upon your children. Good Gawd, lady! That’s no excuse to keep them under a rock.

Why not ban the definition of “murder”, “diarrhea” and “warts”. We certainly don’t want our kids to be visited by these plagues. Yet, few parents would attempt to shelter them from these definitions.

Don’t want your child to experience this? Simply ban it from the dictionary!

Who taught you that information is poisonous? For how long do you want your 5th grader to be ignorant of sex or even its basic terminology? From whom should he or she learn – If not from a dictionary, a school and from family?

Actually, I am more concerned with the response of the school board than with one ignorant parent. To be fair, the board is complaining, but not about the parent! Believe it or not, they are upset at the difficult task ahead. They plan to read the entire dictionary to see if other terms might offend another whacked out parent! Quoting the immortal Homer Simpson, “D’OH!”

Some people fear learning. They believe in the ostrich axiom “ignorance is bliss”. But school boards stand for education – that is, if brains aren’t checked at the door. Why would a school board kowtow to ignorance or fanaticism? Perhaps, the fanatic has a louder voice than the silent majority. Hopefully, parents who want educated offspring are still in the majority.

Not a Horse: An oat-powered quadrapedal transport device

From time to time, at AWildDuck, I offer an observation or op-ed on a topic of human interest. This one is not about current events, the price of gold, law or politics. Nah. It’s just Ellery’s spin with a nod toward levity. This one is fluff…

Columnist, Eric Felten, writes The Wall Street Journal’s biweekly column, Postmodern Times. In December 2010, he penned this review of Ralph Keys book, Euphemania.

To Put It Another Way  — The Wall Street Journal, Dec 14, 2010

The book is filled with euphemisms—both clever and odd. A few nuggets generate guffaws because they are linguistic substitutions crafted to soften the impact of harsh truths. Without lying, they manage to twist simple facts to suit the utterer.

Take, for example, this euphemism for an aerial bombing. It has not been credibly attributed to a US defense department spokesman, but one could certainly imagine some Spin Meister warning generals and press attachés to get with the lingo:

Battlefield soldiers called for a vertically deployed antipersonnel device

Replacing “bomb” with “vertically deployed antipersonnel device” brings to mind a humorous euphemism from my childhood.

In the late 70s, I was in the showroom of a Fiat dealer as my father completed the purchase a car in a corner sales office. My brothers and I occupied ourselves by watching a video on what Fiat claimed was the first fully automated robotic assembly line. In a perfect ballet, rows of machines worked in unison. The factory was completely devoid of humans.

Hello boys. What can I do for you?

Spotting an unattended group of young boys, a sales person approached and asked if he could help us. I replied that we were waiting for our father as he completes the purchase of a new car. The salesman surprised us with his response:  “You must be mistaken…We don’t sell cars.

I had no idea if he was joking – or if perhaps, I had wandered into the waiting area of another retailer. (Yet, I was watching a showroom presentation of an automobile assembly line!). As my jaw dropped, I asked the salesman to tell me exactly what products are sold in this establishment. His reply still echoes in the Euphemism Hall of Fame:

                     “We don’t sell cars. We sell Italian driving machines!”

It’s not a car—It’s an Italian driving machine!

The correction had the desired effect. “Wow!”, I thought. These must be very classy cars. A few minutes later, my father emerged from the sales office with a big smile on his face. The sales manager gave him a pair of brown, leather, race car driving gloves. They had open fingers and were covered with raised dots of rubber. That’s just what Dad needed as the new owner of an Italian driving machine.

Ellery (at) starbus (dot) com