The recent article about our Australian travel emergency prompted a reader to ask whether there was any follow up from Budget Car Rental.
The three-week holiday fell apart because of a medical emergency involving my 94-year-old mother-in-law. It meant we had to come back home in a hurry. The article explored the how-to of cancelling accommodation and other prepaid expenses, rebooking flights and the ins and outs of the insurance claims. It noted most companies offered 5-star treatment, including Qantas and its subsidiary Jetstar, AirBnB and Maui Britz, a camper van rental firm. The exception was Budget Car Rental, which up to the time of writing had ignored a handful of attempts over two months to contact them.
Budget Car Rental had charged a 40% premium above the contracted rental rate because we returned our car two days early. We wondered why, given the circumstances and approached all levels to try and find out. This included CEO Larry DeShon, the Budget Avis PR team and Budget Australia. After one half-hearted acknowledgement to an online query, nothing.
A few hours after the article was posted on June 25, the Avis Budget social media team in the U.S. reached out. Larry DeShon’s Twitter user name was added to a tweet about the article, so the tweet appeared on his public profile page which the social media team monitors.
This front line team was sympathetic, apologetic and helpful. A shout out for that effort. By day’s end they had authorized a refund of $144.45 for the surcharge, which was the Canadian equivalent of the Australian charge at current exchange rates. They offered a credit for a free car rental.
“I sincerely apologize that it took so long to get this resolved.” one email exchange said in part. “I know you will have reservations about using Budget rentals again, however, please give us another chance.”
However, travel insurance reimbursed me for the surcharge, so I donated the money to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Their customer service is gold standard. I deleted the rental voucher, though appreciate the gesture.
The social media crew were not able to explain the reason for the surcharge, or why the company failed to acknowledge so many different approaches. I asked to speak to a someone to address those issues. I expected that to be a Public Affairs spokesman. They are paid to do exactly this when things get sticky.
Instead, a day later, a call came from a wary customer service supervisor who offered his first name. I told him I was planning to write about the situation. The case had been escalated to him, he said, to explain the surcharge. He hadn’t read the article for context, or fully looked at the previous day’s to and fro with the social media team. He did not apologize.
He confirmed – as my former Toronto Star colleague Ellen Roseman suspected – the surcharge was applied because we had broken the contract with an early return. The special rate was gone and we were charged the high daily rate.
Why no response over several months to requests for help? No answer beyond the fact that Budget is a big sprawling company with a lot of moving parts. Things take time.
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