Posted in Car Rental, Travel

Car rental scam in Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica, Juan Santamaria Airport, December 25, 2015.

Learn from my experience and avoid renting from Firefly Rent a Car in Costa Rica.  This is how I remedied the situation (investigation is still ongoing).

On December 25, 2015 we landed at the Juan Santamaria international airport in San Jose, and after passing immigration, customs and collecting our luggage we headed to the car rental office to pick our car up.  We were excited and looked forward to this 10-day self-drive adventure spending Christmas and New Years there.

I booked a Mini car on Expedia about 8 months prior to my trip by taking advantage of an early booking promotion for $22 per day with taxes included, which was a pretty good deal given December (winter) is high season in Costa Rica not to mention holidays.  Expedia advertised the car being at the terminal which was false information, they only had a booth shared with Hertz so we had to take a shuttle.  (By the way this was the main the reason I booked Firefly was supposed to be conveniently located at the terminal but forget that now).

After presenting our documents we were informed that they do have my car but they had a problem with my credit card because my name was on the front and the numbers were on the back and allegedly not raised enough. I pointed out the sticker on their entrance door showing the type of cards they accept and Visa was on the list!

The man insisted that my card was not acceptable unless I purchased an insurance from them for $699.99.  The word “TOURIST” was written all over my white forehead coming from the USA but I wasn’t born yesterday.  You might wonder how insurance could be so high on a Mini car of $220 but at that point I wasn’t interested in dealing with them anymore so I went back to the airport looking for another car.

The only car left on Christmas day at the airport was a Toyota Corolla from Thrifty for $130 per day, which was out of question, so I had no choice but to go back to Firefly and deal with them.  Unfortunately I only took one credit card with me (for safety reasons) so I could not use another card for payment.  They said that they have an old type of credit card reader which can’t read my card.  So here is my question: how can you read my card for $699 but not for $220? It is a the same card!!!! He was reluctant and would not give me the car out unless we paid what he asked for.  Unwillingly and with no other option, my husband signed the contract (since he was going to be the driver) but I grabbed my camera and started to take pictures to document the case for a later dispute.  I took a picture of the credit card acceptance sticker on their entrance door and both credit card readers (old and new) to show that they were indeed well equipped to take any card.

What makes this story worse is that they also made us sign some the blank pages in addition to the car rental contract, which the man filled out after we returned the car adding $50 tip to himself.  So now we were at $722.31 instead of $226.18, with an $500 overcharge. I saved all documents from Expedia including the fine print on Terms and Conditions, the car rental contract showing the higher cost without upgrading the car or purchasing any extras.  We returned the car without a scratch and with a full tank of gas. Hertz checked us out and released the $1,800 deposit which was on hold on my credit card.

Upon my return to the USA I wasted no time and contacted all parties.  Expedia said that the they took my credit card for the reservation but it was a “pay at the counter” type of reservation and because they did not charge me upfront they could not refund anything; however they rewarded me with a $350 travel coupon for my inconvenience, good for a year.  I applaud them for doing that; given I travel a lot, this is pretty useful, it will cover a few hotel nights within a year 😉 They said that their marketing manager would look into this company to prevent other customer becoming victims of scam.

I also contacted Firefly and learned that they operate under Hertz but the Costa Rica location is a privately owned and operated branch so there was no help there (and no response).  By the way US Hertz branches don’t deal with international issues anyway.

I also reported the incident to Orbitz who was responsible for paying half of my car rental cost in Costa Rica but the cost now was $500 higher than the original amount.  They were certainly not at fault and stayed with the original $100 but at least I got that.

My bank initially said that I agreed to sign the $699 contact and initialed it on 5 places before signing it at the bottom and because we also signed blank documents without any amount of them my claim got denied.  I appealed that decision and showed further evidence: credit card receipts, Expedia reservation, Firefly Terms and Conditions for the rental and the photographs I took at the location. I explained my story in more details telling them that I did not have any other choice.  My bank issued a temporary credit for the difference on January 29, 2016, about 4 weeks after I filed a claim with my bank.



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