Car rental companies find new routes to your money

This is just one of many stories sent to us by readers who have experienced Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) up close and personal. A hotel in Spain told another Gemütlichkeit subscriber that he had to pay his bill in dollars instead of euros. The hotel converted the euros to dollars, using DCC, and pocketed an extra 4 percent to 5 percent on the transaction. (If you missed last month's Europe Travel Alert, go back and read our first article on this new tourist trap.)

But what surprised us most, was when we learned that Avis does it routinely without permission of the customer. Here's how it works:

Let's say you book a prepaid rental with Avis. You've paid in dollars in advance, but in Europe there are extra charges for such items as extra drivers, road taxes, gas that may have to be added if you don't return the car tank full, tire chains, and the list goes on. These items are priced in euros but don't get charged to your credit card until the end of the rental, sometimes not until you've left the country. Let's say they add up to 50 euros. Instead of charging your card the 50 euros and letting your bank charge a 1 percent to 3 percent currency conversion fee, Avis converts to dollars using an exchange rate that is most unfavorable to you. Whether it's DCC or some other currency conversion tap dance, the renter pays more than is necessary, and Avis makes money without providing any additional service.

For one customer we know, it meant an effective exchange rate of 1.35 instead of 1.22. In his case, with a hefty gas and extra driver charge, he had run up a bill of 100 euros, meaning the Avis transaction had deftly transferred $13 from his account to theirs-for doing absolutely nothing. Let me remind you that our rental people know which companies pull such shenanigans and which do not.

Prepaid Gas Another Tourist Trap

While we're on the topic, another car rental company sleight-of-hand that is becoming popular in Europe is the prepaid tank of gas trick. For the renter to come out financially on this one, the car's gas tank must be returned empty. Most of us aren't willing to head for the airport with an eighth of a tank of gas, so we wind up returning the car with a half or quarter tank of gas. The car rental company tops it off and sells the full tank to the next customer. Good deal for them. But its straightforward, even if its not such a good deal for the renter.

But what we're seeing more often is that the rental company simply adds the cost of the first tank to the bill and "forgets" to tell the customer. The unknowing renter returns the tank full or near full and then wonders when he gets back to the U.S. why he was charged $75 for a tank of gas. Provided the tank was full, we can often get the money back, but if there was only a partial tank at return the rental company says "Sorry, it was the renter's gas, and he chose not to use it." The contracts we've seen don't require a renter's initials okaying the prepaid gas, so the renter must read the fine print.

Book your next car rental with Gemütlichkeit's travel department, and we'll help you avoid some of these car rental perils, while saving you precious time and money. We offer cars in more than 35 countries and book all major companies at the lowest rates. If you need a quote or have questions about rentals in Europe, or simply prefer to deal in-person, as do most of our customers, please phone us at 800-521-6722 or complete our simple e-mail quote request form.