A Which? investigation has found that nearly a third (32%) of prices for car hire extras weren’t being presented clearly online at the time of booking, despite an agreement last year from the big six brands to improve transparency.
Which? gathered more than 300 prices for car hire extras online from seven of the most popular companies. We found that more than half (51%) of Avis’s prices, 44% of Budget’s prices and 43% of Alamo’s prices were not clearly displayed in the final price breakdown, were either wrong or conflicting, or not available on the website at all.
This is despite the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) taking action to tackle this problem in July 2015 when Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt committed to improve transparency for consumers making website bookings and reservations.
Over a year later, there are still issues with pricing clarity. Our investigation also found that car hire companies could be breaking the law by not displaying mandatory charges during the booking process.
For instance, customers often face a compulsory charge when picking up a car in one location and dropping it off at another. Known as a one-way charge, it is unavoidable when applied however we found that in nearly 10% of cases these mandatory charges were not displayed anywhere online, meaning they are likely to be breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
Which? found that Avis’ and Budget’s quotes for picking up a car at New York’s JFK and dropping off at Washington Dulles Airport didn’t include the mandatory £137 fee, and Europcar’s quote for picking up in Auckland and dropping off in Wellington didn’t include the £109 one way cost. Europcar blamed the omission on an ‘intermittent IT issue’.
Richard Headland, editor of Which? said:
“Despite car hire companies agreeing to greater transparency over the cost of extras, customers are still getting a nasty surprise at the rental desk.
“Improvements have been made since the CMA’s review, but there’s still a long way to go. We expect car rental companies to be upfront about all charges so that consumers can make an informed choice at the time of booking.”
Other issues uncovered by the investigation include:
- Many of the prices for extras are inconsistent, buried deep in the terms and conditions, or not displayed at all. Alamo’s additional driver fees for the UK, Italy and France weren’t presented up front and were only included in the small print. The fees for Cyprus weren’t displayed anywhere. Researchers were even given the wrong price for New York – the online quote was £53, but when they called they were told it should be £16.
- 18% of people surveyed by Which? said that they felt pressured into buying additional insurance at pick-up. Some were incorrectly told that their own third-party insurance was not valid or that additional insurance was mandatory. If the extra insurance isn’t compulsory, but the customer is made to believe it is, then that’s likely to be classed as an ‘aggressive commercial practice’ and is against the law.
- Don’t hire a satnav. You can download GPS apps for free on your smart phone, or even buy a dedicated device for less than the £109 a week Avis charged for a week in Italy.
Notes to editors
- This investigation was featured in this month’s Which? Travel.
- In August 2016, Which? checked the clarity of more than 300 online prices for car hire extras from airports in Larnaca, Rome (Fiumicino), Nice, Malta, Auckland, Malaga, London (Gatwick), Los Angeles and New York (JFK), for a week’s hire (12-19 November 2016) with the seven car hire brands most used by Which? readers: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt. We looked at prices for an additional driver, excess waiver insurance, GPS, one-way charges, infant car seat and child car seat.
- Which? deemed prices to have clarity issues if they a) were not clearly displayed in the final price breakdown, meaning you had to hunt for them b) were unclear, wrong or conflicting, or c) were not available on the website at all.
- In July 2016, 1,100 Which? members responded to an online survey about their recent experiences with car hire extras both online and in person at the rental desk.
- In April 2014, national enforcers from the EU Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (co-ordinated by the CMA), the European Commission, and the European Consumer Centre network, met with the trade association, Leaseurope, and other industry representatives to identify the main issues affecting consumers across Europe when hiring a car and to discuss how to address them – for example, by improving pre-contractual information and reviewing standard terms and conditions and practices.
- In July 2015, the CMA published its report on short-term car hire in the European Union. The report summarises the CMA’s analytical work on the consumer problems arising in the sector and the CMA’s view of how the relevant legislation applies. The report also sets out steps that companies and consumers can take to make the sector work better and includes the commitments 5 major car rental businesses will make to certain practices.