Posted in Travel

Best Price Guarantee

Most hotels offer you a Best Price Guarantee (BPG) but only if you book directly with them.  Before booking ALWAYS CHECK THE CURRENCY depending on which country that is in.  Also keep in mind that there are different types of rooms, some with breakfast or taxes included, so you really have to be sure to compare “apples with apples”.  Most hotels claim that if you find a lower rate elsewhere they will match the lower rate and give you an additional 5-10% off which sounds good but they exclude a few websites and have terms and conditions so you may disqualify. Now, if the room rates are non-refundable and you disqualify you get stuck on a higher rate without getting the promised refund and 5-10% discount.  It is the hotel’s best interest that you book directly with them because they try to avoid paying a commission to travel sites who sell their rooms but you need to watch out for your best interest 😉

Before booking a foreign hotel make sure that your credit card does not bear transaction costs for international purchases because if it does, it is best NOT to book directly with the foreign hotel; is best to book your hotels in the USA, in US funds to avoid such transaction costs.

American travel sites also offer you a Best Price Guarantee (for foreign hotels) and I personally prefer to deal with an American company because I can use coupons and reward bucks, earn points or get money back if I belong to a loyalty program.  Customer service may not be as good outside of the USA so it is more pleasant and worry-free to deal with American companies (should things go bad with the hotel).  American sites also refund you the difference and Expedia, for example, gives you a $50 travel coupon which I have qualified for many times.  The only disadvantage of the Best Price Guarantee on American sites is that you need to find a lower rate within 24 hours unless you are Expedia+ Gold level customer, in that case you can take advantage of the BPG program until the day of your travel, which is more like it.
Image: iscrapapp
Posted in Car Rental, Travel, United Arab Emirates

Driving in Dubai – Toll and Speeding

Car rental agencies may not tell you everything you need to know about driving in and around Dubai but there is an electronic toll system in the United Arab Emirates.  Rental cars do come equipped with a gizmo because it is nearly impossible to bypass toll roads  simply because they are everywhere.  The electric gates are very close to each other, you could easily see five gates or more within a few kilometers but they only cost nickel and dime per gate. We drove over 1,000 kilometers in the Emirates and spent about $50 on tolls in 5 days but it was worthy.

Please note that there is another $45 charge for picking up rental cars at the Dubai International Airport.  Nice, France does the same thing, think of it like a luxury tax.

Well, speeding is a must avoid. Fines are super high and you will get caught, if the police does not stop you, you will get photographed. Fines start from 600 dirham which is around $200 so it is better to slow down and keep the speed limit.  The car rental agencies keep your credit card on file so eventually the fine will get to you one way or the other.

Lastly, driving in Dubai is very stressful.  This is a very busy metropolitan city with a population of 2.5 million plus add visitors who are shopping and entertaining day and night.  There are constructions on pretty much every corner so the city is expanding.  Life does not stop, kind of like New York or Las Vegas; you will find supermarkets open at 1 AM with no parking, people walking with babies/kids in the middle of the night so you wonder what time they go to sleep.

Locals drive like maniacs and aggressive driving is not my strength; they tend to push you off the road.  We picked side roads whenever we could to avoid the crazies on highways.   We spent 5 days there and found at least 10 ways of getting to back to our hotel and 15 ways of getting lost.  There are roundabouts at every end of the road and for a westerner it looked complicated first to understand how to change lines to exit from there and figure out when Arabs are flashing the turn signal in roundabouts.  Chaotic for sure, similar to the traffic in Naples, Italy or Asuncion, Paraguay.  Take the metro in downtown Dubai or pay for a tour if you can, there are not many tourists driving in the city.  The country roads are fine just leave early and come back to Dubai late. Very late!

 

Posted in Car Rental, Travel

Car rental contract hijacked by another company at the Istanbul airport

Istanbul, Attaturk Airport, November 15, 2015

Turkish Airlines just landed, we passed immigration and customs, picked up our luggages and exited to the arrival terminal.  The Istanbul airport is the most chaotic airport I have seen in my 25 years of traveling, filled with rude people, rushing and bumping into you, no lines anywhere, people are already smoking while exiting.  The airport lacks signage so you basically just follow the crowd.

Back to the topic: we had a car rental reservation with Fox Rent a Car for an economy size car via Carrentals.com.  We found a “wing” packed with car rental offices, travel agencies, money exchange and public transportation but Fox Rent a Car was nowhere to be found.

I asked the information booth but they have never heard of that company.  Then I lined up at Avis who directed me to the booth that said “Expedia” on it.  I walked over and noticed a lot of company names on their sign:  PayLess Car Rental and different tour operators, taxi, etc. It did not seem right, I have never seen a car rental that sells so many things.   Anyway, there was no line here so I asked the guy for information.  HE SAID FOX RENT A CAR WENT OUT OF BUSINESS AND HE TOOK IT OVER.  He asked me if I had paid any money to the rental company, I said no (which luckily was my case) so he asked me to show him my reservation print-out to see what I reserved.  I passed my papers and he told me he had my car but on a higher rate, Fox Rent a Car was now under his company so different rules applied.  Red flags started to fly left and right….

Luckily the higher rate was only $2 more per day so for the 10 days it was only $20 more. The good news was that he gave me a bigger car for the extra $20 which benefitted us even more since we were 4 adults with fairly big size luggages.  I really think he just wanted to make a little money but he kind of favored us.

 

While driving though Turkey this car rental contract kept bothering me a bit, what if Fox Rent a Car does exist and I just didn’t find them, what if they charged me for not showing up and here I am driving another car, paid the same amount to another company. It bothered me the point that when I returned the car I took 3 panoramic pictures of the airport with the car agencies lined up next to each other to prove there Fox is not there. I still could not find Fox, neither their return lot at the airport so I calmed down again, maybe they did go out business.

What I learned is that the Istanbul airport prohibits placing company signs in parking lots, which is insane because tourists need to find where to return the car and then find the proper lot.  Try asking for help, people don’t speak English.  We ended up returning the car to the public (paid) garage,  which is where the security guard directed us.  PayLess told me that we parked at the wrong place and need to pay the parking ticket. I told him that I wasn’t going to agree to the extra $10 cost for parking the rental car and I was going to reverse it with my bank.  He calmed me down and told me that he was going cancel the ticket out but he gave me the check-out documents in Turkish so I had no clue what he wrote on it.

When I returned to the USA I decided to send an email to CarRentals.com to tell them my story and protect myself from potential charges using my photographs.  I received a reply saying that Fox does exist but it appears that I got “hijacked” by another agency, which they claimed was not the first time.  Well, soon the extra $10 charge appeared on my bank statement as well.  I thought about disputing it but I let that one go even though that I already knew that was “hijacked” but the $10 charge might have been a legitimate charge from the paid garage, which they don’t control.

TRAVELERS HEADING TO THE ISTANBUL AIRPORT: IF YOU HAVE A CONFIRMATION FOR A CAR RENTAL, PLEASE LOOK FOR YOUR AGENCY, THEY HAVE TO BE THERE SOMEWHERE, IN A DIFFERENT WING PERHAPS.  THERE IS ONLY 1 TERMINAL BUT THE AIRPORT IS SUPER PACKED AND CHAOTIC. 

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.

MY ADVISE: DO NOT RENT FROM FIREFLY AT THE COSTA RICA AIRPORT!

 

Posted in Hotel, Travel

How to remedy hotel issues

The best way to prepare for your trip is by booking on American travel sites because they stand behind their promise.  If you live outside of the USA use your local travel agencies that are registered in your country, offer warranty and have a good customer satisfaction.

So you booked a room and arrived.  The shower head is missing and there is no hot water. There is mold growing in the bathroom, water running in the toilet.  You have an ocean view room but can’t see the water because of the dirty windows and spiderwebs. Plaster or tiles are coming off, the smoke detector start beeping at 3 AM because the battery is dying.  You are in the mountains in the middle of the winter and heat is so weak your mucus could freeze to your face.  This passed August on the Mediterranean in one my hotels there was no AC which was hard to bear; we opened the windows but the passing trains were pretty disturbing until about midnight.  You book a nice resort overseas with a tropical pool and a swim-up bar but the pool is closed for either maintenance or for the season and green algae is growing int it.

What if you get awaken at 2 AM because the front desk called your room by mistake?  There are people heavily partying in the room next to you, making noise even on the hallway, slamming doors.  Does any of it sound familiar? For me it is all of the above, I have seen it all in my 25 years of traveling but instead of putting up with it, I opened my mouth.

Simply go the front desk and complain, hopefully they will either call for maintenance or transfer you to another room (in those cases they normally upgrade you) or give you a discount from your room rate when you check out, unless you prepaid it. One resort threw in free breakfasts, internet and valet parking for the remaining days of my vacation.  If the problem persists then you gotta complain to your travel agency when you return; just document the case by taking pictures, perhaps the names you speak with at the hotel.

As mentioned above, travel agencies protect customers so if you could not resolve the problem directly with the hotel, they will help you, you can expect either a partial refund or a future travel coupon anywhere between $25 and $200, depending on how serious the violation was.

SPEAK UP, you have rights as a customer, even overseas!

Image: extra.shu.ac

Posted in Hotel, Travel

You booked a room but the hotel no longer exists. Now what?

The best way to prepare for your trip overseas is by booking on American travel sites because they stand behind their promise.  If you live outside of the USA use your local travel agencies that are registered in your country, offer warranty and have a good customer satisfaction.

Learn from my experience: I booked a trip to Costa Rica seven months in advance. I am my own travel planner and “travel agent”so I put this customized 10-day self-drive tour together.  First I planned the road trip (mapped the country) then booked rooms in the cities we were going to visit. I used different travel sites to take advantage of all possible deals and promotions but I used American agencies for each reservation.  It was important to fish for deals since we were traveling during the winter holidays, spending both Christmas and New Year’s Eve over there.  Winter in Costa Rica is “peak season” and  even with high rates, hotels do get sold out during holidays.

Two weeks prior to my trip I reviewed the plans and started to look into facultative programs for each city.  I googled my hotels but one of them was nowhere to be found.  First I thought that was impossible, an American travel agency would never let me down.

I contacted the travel agency about my discovery which they initially did not believe; however the next day they emailed me telling me that the phone line was ringing out without anybody answering and there was no voicemail set up.  I started to worry, the hotel should be crowded this time of the year; morning and evening hours are the busiest hours of the day with guests checking in and out, so somebody should be there.  And why wouldn’t they have a voicemail? Do they have enough staff?  Sure enough, two days later I got the notification that the hotel was sold and they terminated the contract with the old management.

They offered me a full refund but I refused to accept it, simply told them to fix this because now I won’t be able to find another room ON THE SAME RATE 0f $44 including taxes, in the same class with the same amenities and volcano view, including a breakfast buffet and free passes to a thermal spa, during Christmas. Upgrade is acceptable, downgrade is not 😉

I went through the regular customer service before requesting a supervisor, who escalated the case.  I was “screaming and yelling” at everybody because I was nervous;  what if prices went up since then, or what if nothing was available anymore, and I certainly did not want to change the cities of my road trip.  The manager looked up my hotel area and googled about 12 resorts online, which she called one by one.  As expected, everything was sold out and days were passing fast as we were trying solve this problem.  Since the supervisor was unsuccessful in securing another room she made me a nice offer: refunded my money and gave me a total of $500 towards the trip, including car rental.

My biggest challenge was to find another hotel and the possibility of re-writing the road trip last minute.  Being resourceful as I am, I was able to locate another hotel but 40 minutes away from the volcano with an average cost of $100 per night with taxes; however, I slightly altered the original plans.  I still had $200 leftover, which covered the entire cost of the car rental for 10 days (I only had to pay $22 out of pocket after taxes). So at the end things went in my favor but they surely gave me a lot of headache!

If you point out that the travel agency made a big mistake by not disclosing the termination of your hotel and letting you travel overseas (holidays or not) without timely communication. Imagine when you arrive and your hotel is not there, just a vacant lot!!  What’s worse is that you already paid for it!! Being holidays everything is sold out in the area, you would not have a room to sleep and shower!  You may not have internet or signal on high altitude to google another hotel or call anybody, other than just driving around and stopping by hotels costing anywhere $200-600 a night. What a waste of time and frustration it would have been!  If the agency lets you know ahead of time, you might have had better luck with pricing and keeping the original plans.

MY ADVISE: Google your hotels before your trip to make sure they are still there!