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Hire car horror

Booking travel arrangements over the Web has become such a commonplace matter, it’s easy to forget that things can sometimes go wrong. Badly wrong.

In the middle of May we planned a weekend expedition to Kent by car. We don’t have a car, but have managed very well in the past by hiring one from the local branch of Budget/Avis through Expedia. Not this time, though. When I went to make the booking, the only company shown in our area that had cars available was Sixt. Oh well, I thought, a chance to broaden our experience and test out a competitor’s offering.

So I booked a medium-sized car (Škoda Rapid or similar), for collection at their South Croydon branch—which, according to the entry on Expedia, was located in a business park that was a fair old traipse off the beaten track, about 20 minutes away from the town centre by bus. Annoyingly, their short business hours meant that I had to collect the car by 1700 on Friday evening and couldn’t return it until 1030 on Monday morning, so I had to leave work early on Friday, arrive late on Monday and make up the hours some other time.

Thus I set off to South Croydon shortly after lunchtime on the Friday. After a 15-minute wait for the bus, a 10-minute bus ride and a 10-minute walk, I arrived at the business park at nearly half-past two and looked down the list of businesses on the board at the entrance.

No Sixt.

I could see the building where the Sixt office should be. No sign of them there.

I asked in the business park reception office. “Oh, they haven’t been here for ages. Months at least. They’re up in Surrey Street car park now.”

Cue another 10-minute walk, another 15-minute wait, another 10-minute bus ride and an additional 10-minute walk to Surrey Street car park.

The Sixt office there isn’t brilliantly signposted, but at least there was an office. I went up to the counter, introduced myself and handed over my Expedia confirmation code. The young man at the desk typed in the code.

“Hmm. The system says your booking’s been cancelled.”

This was news to me, as I’d only booked it two days earlier. I told him so and asked him to find out what had happened. Meanwhile I got on the phone myself to Kay to let her know we’d hit a serious snag that potentially threatened all the hard work she’d been to in setting up our itinerary.

After a ten-minute phone conversation, the Sixt receptionist explained to me that a whole swathe of bookings had apparently been cancelled due to a data entry error. Their office in Epsom had tried to contact me, but didn’t have my mobile number. I’m not sure why, as I’d entered it when making the booking.

Why Epsom? Apparently the South Croydon branch only exists on the Internet. Cars booked through that branch are delivered to the customer’s home from Epsom, five miles to the west of Croydon. So my traipse down to the business park was a complete waste of time.

Anyway, he guaranteed that I would get a car—but I would have to pay an extra £20 and go to Epsom to pick it up. I was flabbergasted by this. Were they really telling me that I had to go running round even more of suburbia before they’d give me a car, and pay extra for the privilege?

So I phoned Expedia to see if they could sort it out. Their (outsourced?) customer service reps took a great deal of time to tell me pretty much exactly the same—their advice was to make a fresh booking, and in the meantime the refund would be processed within ten working days.

Fortunately Kay had meanwhile sorted out a local alternative that was (a) about two-thirds of the price, (b) a lot more conveniently located and (c) able to let us return the car (a brand-new Volkswagen Golf) from 0800 on Monday morning, enabling me to drop it off on the way to work without having to make myself late or get up inordinately early to do it. (They’re also open until 1800 on Fridays, so I don’t have to leave work early either.) So a big thank-you to the very nice and friendly people at Whitgift Hire, who are now our car hire providers of choice.

As for the refund, ten working days later it hadn’t shown up, so I left a message using Expedia’s contact form, asking them to process it. I received an automated acknowledgment stating that they would aim to reply within 48 hours. Five days later they sent another reply, thanking me for my patience and stating that they would endeavour to resolve the issue within 28 days. Naturally, this was unacceptable, so I replied stating that if they did not process the refund within 48 hours I would expect them to also refund the interest charged by the credit card company. They replied two days later (with an email addressed to “Mr/Ms Amusan”—whoever they might be) expressing their concern, offering apologies and telling me that the refund would be promptly processed, although I should allow seven to ten working days for it to show in my account.

In the event, it was processed almost immediately. Still…grr.

Have you ever been let down at the last minute with a hire car or other travel booking? Misery loves company, so please share your tales of woe below!

2 Responses to “Hire car horror”

  1. Liz Williams

    I loved this. Croydon etc being my old stomping ground. Dave sounds like he has a lot more patience than I would have had in the circumstances. Actually than I would have in any circumstances, being as my granddaughter says I am the most impatient person she knows.

    Incidentally, a propos your Whitgift car hire company, I see from Facebook they are pulling the Whitgift Centre down to build another generic mall that looks identical the world over. I know the old place has gone down hill a great deal but when I am in a shopping centre it’s nice if they don’t look the same in England as they do in Canada.

    And as to your quiz, having spent my misguided youth in and around Bromley etc. it never occurred to me that Pratt’s Bottom was a rude name, it was just somewhere one of my pals lived!!

  2. Dave

    Yep, the Whitgift Centre’s on the way out. Luckily Whitgift Hire is right next to the railway line in Lansdowne Road, so it won’t be affected. 🙂 There’s also a lot of new development going on round East Croydon railway station, including a big skyscraper (hmm) and possibly an additional loop for the trams to enable more services (hooray).

    The hire car let-down was pretty dire. Good job Kay was able to leap into action and get us sorted out, otherwise I could have faced an expensive journey to Heathrow to line up an emergency car…

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