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!