Saturday, November 2, 2019

_____________________ INGLORIOUS BASTARDS _______________________

We have just returned from a couple of months in the United Kingdom bringing back with us much good news and the memories of such positive experiences that it seems questionable as to why I would want to share a negative experience. But; prospective fellow travelers, being fore warned is to be fore armed. So before I post about the good times and the good news its a case of bad news first.

I hesitate to tell this tale because quite frankly it turns my stomach every time I think about it, but perhaps with the telling will come a form of catharsis, of purging, of letting go and moving on. I could certainly do with that.

It is a complicated story with numerous twists and turns so I will tell a 'Long Story, Short' as the saying goes and tell it in the form of a series of bullet points.

  • There are two outfits involved in this fiasco - AUTOEUROPE and EUROPCARS
  • We ordered a car through the online broker called AUTOEUROPE. 
  • AUTOEUROPE is also associated with an entity called KEDDYS but the association is unclear.
  • The car was to be picked up at EUROPCARS.
  • We paid over 800 pounds including full insurance cover.
  • We read the AUTOEUROPE terms and conditions. The indicated time of pick up was from 12 pm. Apparently there was a two hour window to pick the car up but no where was this stated. Penalties were indicated for 'Lateness' of pickup although 'Lateness' was not defined. This part of the T's and C's was unclear being ungrammatical and confusing. Later when in dispute another set of T's and C's were sent but were still confusing. (These amended T's and C's were not what we had agreed to). The original T's and C's not only did not define 'lateness' but did not mention full forfeiture of all money as a result of this 'lateness'.
  • We arrived in business hours at approximately 3pm and were refused a car or a refund of our 800 pounds. We were told we had breached EUROPCARS terms and conditions. We said we had not seen THEIR T's and C's as we had booked online with AUTOEUROPE so we could hardly be in breech of T's and C's that we hadn't seen or agreed to. EUROPCARS later emailed us their T's and C's - all 79 pages of them.
  • Later that day we rang customer services of both AUTOEUROPE and EUROPCARS. EUROPECARS customer services told us to go back the next day and a car would be there for us. But when we turned up the next day they again refused to give us a car or refund any money. AUTOEUROPE said on the phone they would look into the matter. A subsequent email from them confirmed that there would be no refund.
  • We rang our NZ Bank that night and asked that the Visa payments be stopped. They put the payments on hold and told us that it would take 3 weeks for the case to be resolved by their disputes team.
  • At this point in the proceedings we felt confused, disoriented, furious and a very long way from home.
  • Further searches on the internet found that the UK newspaper 'The Guardian' had done some investigative journalism into these outfits. Their opinion is the same as mine regarding their business practises and customer relationships - unethical, immoral, possibly outside of British consumer law and possibly illegal. I say 'possibly' because it begs the question as to how these companies keep trading if operating in this manner is illegal?
In the end we were lucky on three counts:

First we had our son in law as our advocate. He fought our corner for us. He did all the phoning and emailing and put together all the data relating to our case in a very fluent, logical and considered way.

Second. Although putting forward our case didn't have any positive effect on the idiots we were dealing with, I think the clarity of his thinking and documentation helped our bank to make the decision to reverse the charges on the Visa card. In the end the bastards didn't get any of our money.

Third. Our son in laws mother loaned us a car which meant we could redeem some of the time left to us to do a few trips that we had planned. We were very, very appreciative of this generosity.

I think if we ever try to hire a car again when we are overseas we will do it through what I hope are still reputable car hire companies such as Hertz and Avis.

I was going to say in conclusion that we would in the future always "read the fine print" in the terms and conditions more carefully - but as our experience shows, even this approach isn't foolproof and some what problematic. The fact is there are 'Inglorious Bastards' everywhere.


Ben said...

Good thing that you warned.
I cannot imagine that keeping your 800 pounds without delivering any service could be legal.
To me it looks more like a fraud scheme to rip you off.

Alden Smith said...

Yes it certainly seems that way. I suspect that they take advantage of the fact that a certain number of tourists don't have the resources and a network of support to fight for justice - away from home in another country it all just becomes too hard. Lucky for us we had support and the resourcefulness of our son in law to fight for us - and win.

Paul Mullings said...

So sorry to hear of your ghastly experience. I was in the UK for four months from mid May and used Europcar on two occasions booked through the Vroom Vroom Vroom app and had good service on both occasions? As an aside I recommended the app as it scans all the companies for the best deal, which on another occasion was Avis.

Alden Smith said...

A friend of mine here in Whangarei has also told me he has had positive experiences with Europcar. Also on Trip Advisor and other such sites there are positive reports, but also many nightmare experiences such as mine. I have no idea why there is such a difference in peoples experience - I only know my own, and it wasn't very good at all.

We were told that the only car available was the next car class up, a Mercedes, but to get this car we would have to pay another 800 pounds. I suspect because they had let our class of car go they were legally obliged to give us a free up grade but didn't want to do that for the 40 days of our pre paid hire - hence either telling us the upgrade would cost us money or playing the "You're too late" routine. This is only a guess but other than this I have no idea why we were treated in such a manner - its bizarre.

Alden Smith said...

..... and it may be that there are Europcar outlets that would never treat their customers in such a manner, with the staff of these outlets going the extra mile for their customers - BUT, for us the bottom line is that the customer services people we phoned and were in email contact with for both Europcars and AutoEurope who represent this vast network wouldn't give an inch on any of this.

The idea that someone can pay over 800 UK pounds for a 40 day car hire, turn up a couple of hours after the pick up time and forfeit both the use of a car and all your money is simply fucking ridiculous.

Paul Mullings said...

Alden, I hope you have posted your experience on TripAdvisor and any other tourism sites. Oh and don’t forget their Facebook page too.
I hope your blood pressure is back to somewhere near normal....go sailing!

Alden Smith said...

LOL - Blood pressure is back to normal Paul. I am pretty much over it all - especially since ASB reversed the Visa payments.
Thanks for your commiserations and interest Paul - letting off a bit of steam on this comments column has done me the world of good LOL.