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Auto Europe / unethical behaviour - burying additional fees and charges in rental contract

Portland, ME, United States
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My husband and I travel a lot and have recently started using AutoEurope to make overseas rental car bookings this year. We are Australian and have usually made bookings via its Australian website and dealt with its Australian customer service team who have been prompt and efficient in processing our booking enquiries and requests.

Unfortunately, in my haste in booking a car in France this week, I accidentally made a booking via AutoEurope's US website, which clearly does not have the same strict advertising controls as Australia because, when I went to pick up my car today, I was confronted with the fact that, despite pre-paying what I thought was the total amount for my booking (US$149.81), I had to pay the following additional fees:

- Railstation Surcharge: EUR 41.76, VAT included, paid locally.
- Road Tax: EUR 3.60, per day (maximum EUR 28.80), VAT included, paid locally.

After calling AutoEurope's US [protected] number to complain, I found out that these charges were supposedly "disclosed" to me in a separate tab that I was required to click and read (an "Inclusive Rate" tab) and then acknowledge reading with a tick box. The representative I spoke to knew exactly what charges I was referring to when I called and was quick to point me to where they were on the "Inclusive Rate" tab and try to dismiss my complaint. It was obvious to me that he had received and dealt with many other customer complaints about the same issue.

If customers are complaining, then why does AutoEurope continue to bury these quite significant additional costs on its US website?

From my perspective, I did actually click on the "Terms, Conditions and Local Fees" tab and read these before ticking the box (or at least thought I read these). However, it turns out that I only read the information contained in the "Local Fees & Info" tab, and completely missed the second "Inclusive Rate" tab that was buried behind it. Noting that the above "railstation surcharge" and "road tax" are local fees, why were they not contained in the "Local Fees & Info" tab? Why were they in a separate tab detailing other fees which end up almost doubling the rental price quoted to me? This is VERY misleading and deceptive and is highly likely to be considered an illegal sales and marketing practice in Australia.

In Australia, the Competition and Consumer Act requires companies to quote the total price a consumer has to pay for any goods or services. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission specifies"

"When you present prices to your consumers, you should state the total price. This applies to advertising across all mediums. If you promote a price that is only part of the total price of goods or services, you must also include the total price (as a single figure) at least as prominently as the part price. The single price must include any tax, duty, fee, levy or other additional charges (e.g. GST or airport tax)." See: https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/advertising-selling/advertising-and-selling-guide/pricing/component-pricing.

Interestingly, AutoEurope's Australian site is set out differently and in a way that is not misleading and deceptive. All local fees are listed under the "Local Fees & Info", and there is no mention in this of a "railstation surcharge" or "road tax". The only other tab relates to the company's insurance package terms and conditions, which is understandably and logically kept separate. Had I made the same booking via the company's Australian site (as I thought I was doing at the time), I would have paid only AUD$214.34, and not (US$149.81 + EUR$41.76 + EUR$3.60 per day). That's a huge price difference for exactly the same car, with exactly the same pick up and drop-off details.

Getting ripped off by a company simply by making the mistake of booking via their .com (and not their .com.au) site is not something that I'd expect from a company that operates internationally.

On its website, AutoEurope claims to have "a reputation for excellence" and claims to be "a name you can trust" with "an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau". Perhaps this rating is simply because people are unaware of its unethical sales and marketing practices? I certainly do not trust them now. Will you?

I have emailed the company to request a refund of these additional fees but am yet to receive a response. I have also lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

El
Jun 16, 2017

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