ep.008 – look after money, look after yourself

Welcome to episode 8, so at the start of the last episode I mentioned the trouble we have had with a car hire company on our UK trip, well I am pleased to say that has now come to a conclusion and I can deliver the full learnings. So to give you a brief overview of what happened, we arrived in the UK about 27 hours after leaving New Zealand and headed straight to the car hire village. I stepped up to the desk whilst Leisha and little Stella guarded our bags. All seemed so normal, I had been through the routine before, so armed with my Driving Licence and book details I was prepared for anything that could be thrown at me, including the upgrade question ? but this was presented to me much in the way of a well-rehearsed dance.

To warm-up, I was casually asked questions about what we would be doing with the car and how many bags we were had to put in it. Bearing in mind, I had booked a very specific type of car many months prior to arriving so I think I knew what type of car we would like and funnily enough we had already booked it! Anyway, this wasn?t so obvious to the guy behind the desk, so he flicked me three keys, one for the car we had booked and two upgrades. To be honest, all three would have done the trick, but what really encouraged me to stick with the one I had originally opted for was that the other too cost more, 5 pounds and 10 pounds per day more respectively. A due to my FI mindset even if they had been 10 pence more, I would have stuck with my original choice. You see it was a really good deal because I had booked so far in advance, I had booked a Skoda Octavia, diesel for 322 pounds and 9 pence for 21 days. So from putting my business hat on I can?t really blame them for trying to make more margin, so I don?t really have a problem having to navigate through their upgrade dance!

So once we agreed that I would stick with the Skoda, I was told that a two hundred and fifty pounds deposit would need to be placed on my card, and as long as there were no problems I would get it back at the end of the rental – no problem that was normal so then I was duly asked to sign here, here and here?. Oh and then another sheet was pulled out and also here please sir! You see, you put a lot of trust in well-known flagship brands, so despite the wordiness of these agreements you trust the car hire staff to show and explain to you the big-ticket items and as we had clearly agreed on everything, i.e. no extra insurance required, (as excess cover was provided by my credit card)\ and no upgrade etc. I confidently signed away, and we all drove off on our merry way. I love going back to the UK because it means I get to drive a manual car again, after many years of driving manuals in the UK because that is most people drive, it now feels weird switching between manual and the populism of automatics in New Zealand, but I have to say in manual cars it really feels like you are driving the machine – I love the feel of a well-executed clutch release and simultaneous gear change! Anyway, I digress, back to the moral of the story?

So, we had a lovely three weeks, and the car treated us very well, getting us from A to B every day without a hitch. We got it back to the car hire village in one piece and drop up to the drop-off inspector. Always a nerve-wracking point of the care hire journey this, what damage are they going to say was caused by you and at what abstract cost and to my surprise he just asked me if I had filled up before dropping it off ? yes I had, and then he told me with hardly a glance towards the car well there is no damage please sign here sir ? on one of those electronic signature thingy ma jigs which you use a plastic things to scribble your signature which looks nothing like your signature and we were off on our merry way to God?s own country and I quickly received an email say no damage and a full tank with my signature on it ? awesome all good to go!

Thinking back what has surprised me a little was that during our holiday I checked our credit card balance and transactions online a few times and when I say a few times I mean religiously at least twice a day. I noticed that the initial pending transaction from the car hire place had gone missing and our available balance had increased accordingly. I did a little bit of research about pending payments ? I know, different folks, different strokes ? anyway I found out that if the money from an initial authorisation isn?t officially taken by the payee, the pending transaction expires but the money can still be taken at a later date due to the initial authorisation ? I secretly hoped maybe I would be one of those lucky ones and the car hire company would completely forget to take the payment officially. Not so lucky, my friends as soon as we landed in New Zealand it was labour day, so no banking transactions were going through but they all did the very next day including that from the car hire company not, just one payment though, one payment for a very similar amount I had authorised including the deposit and also a separate two-pound charge. OK so no need for panic stations, obviously I expected the 250 pounds to be returned to me after a few days as I had emailed proof that I handed the car back in one piece with a full tank ? but I still called them just to find out that it had been authorised to be returned to me ? mainly because when I had clicked on their link to see the invoice it failed so I wanted to hear it from the horse?s mouth!

?Of course sir, your refund can take 10-30 days to be returned? ? wow up to 30 days ? luck I am on an FI journey aye ? so no worries but that must be royally inconvenient for some people. I asked them to email me the invoice, which they did, and this is when I go my first real red flag. You see the invoice showed a total amount which added up exactly from the two payments that had come out of our credit card but rather than a rental charge plus the deposit, no deposit was shown, instead of a deposit was an upgrade of exactly 252 pounds extra on top of the original rental ? me this seemed strange so I called them straight back as told them there is a mistake on the invoice as I believed they had mistakenly called the deposit and upgrade but it this extra two pounds on top of the agreed deposit was weird. They confirmed again that I would get my deposit back. OK, so I waited a couple of days and re-read the invoice again and after a further phone call trying to clarify ? they were surprised to hear that the full amount had been taken from the credit card – I put down the phone and read the invoice one last time, and it all started to click. I wasn?t going to get my deposit back, the usual process should have been to authorise the full amount including the deposit, all being well at the end of the rental only the amount for the rental should have been taken and the 250 pounds deposit released. This clearly hadn?t happened, and I had no record of a deposit payment only this invoice saying I had agreed to an upgrade and a sneaky 2-pound extra payment to balance out with the invoice.

Oooh, something fishy was going on, and I was going to get to the bottom of it. I sent many emails and placed many phone calls complaining and asking for clarification whilst explaining I could clearly see that I have been charged for an upgrade that I did not accept. They chad created a case number well not just one number as I rang and sent different emails to the UK and Australian/NZ customer services I think I actually had two simultaneous case numbers running. So they looked into it, and I got a very quick and sharp reply back along the line of look basically you did agree to the upgrade and here is an attachment with your signature on it to prove it. I was fuming! At the top of this upgrade document I had been presented was written that I had accepted an upgrade of 12 pounds a day to go from a Skoda Octavia Sedan to an Estate or Wagon as you Kiwis call them ? 12 pounds per day for an estate, firstly that is ridiculous this upgrade was nearly as much as the original rental cost per day and secondly I did not agree to an upgrade! So I called them back several times again to say that document had been fabricated and fortunately I could prove it ? I had held on to the initial agreement ? the signatures we on one piece of paper and when I turned this piece of paper over it was exactly the same as the upgrade document they had sent me, with one very noticeable difference on my copy there was absolutely no ink, no upgrade information and no signature! This would get them, I took a scan of the one page and sent it back to them ? and they said they would investigate further ? which infuriated me further as clearly, I was in the right why couldn?t it have been sorted right there right then?

Anyway I waited another day or two and in the meantime I thought well if they aren?t going to get back to me promptly I know one way to ensure they will so I took to their Facebook page and wrote the same comment on a few posts explaining that I had been subjected to fraud and I wanted contact details on how to escalate the complaint not just provide me with customer services number. So the Australian/NZ Facebook page people then contacted the UK people who got back to me a few days later to tell me they had investigated and the document they had clearly shown I had signed for an upgrade. This time after previously that day taking a video to prove the original documentation had no upgrade information or signatures, I emailed them the video link and called them straight away. This time, this time was different after they opened the email whilst I was on the phone, it quickly got escalated, and they admitted it should not have happened and I even got a verbal apology. They ended the call saying that I would be fully reimbursed and they would make an additional gesture of goodwill. Good news this situation was now sorting itself out, well in hindsight not quite this was the where the pantomime actually began. So I get an email a couple of hours later confirming the refund had been put in place which I would get in a few working days and my Brucy Bonus was you guessed it a free upgrade voucher that can only be used in the UK! Wow, that hurt! Needless to say I complained and told them this was a useless gesture of goodwill, and that it is not just about the money but fairness plus after a quick Google search I saw this wasn?t the first time this company had subjected its customers to fraudulent practices so I wanted to know why it happened to me and what they were going to do to ensure it didn?t happen again in the future. Needless to say, there were again many toing and froing of emails and cut this part of the story short they went from:

  • An initial goodwill offer – an upgrade voucher for use in the UK only ? useless
  • A 30% discount for use at any of their branches worldwide but would not explain to me why it happened and how it would not happen again because of the data protection act ? I mean really, I wasn?t asking for names, date of birth and inside leg measurements!
  • Then when the refund came through, I totalling everything up and with the initial authorisation meant to be paid in pounds at an agreed currency conversion and when they took the money out it was charged in NZ dollars at a worse conversion plus fees added by my bank ? they refunded the difference plus a goodwill gesture of 45 pounds. And again the Data Protection Act still getting in the way of them explaining much detail about their internal investigation.
  • After telling them if this was my business I would have offered a full refund straight away, they came back and said this was the most they would offer!

I sent one final email asking them to confirm their final response as this was an issue of fairness, a 14% offer of goodwill when they are willing to provide a 30% discount off the next rental felt like opportunistic profiteering. Also, I know the MD and CEO had been informed of this sage, and the MD was copied into most emails and not once up[ to this point had I had an apology from either of them. I asked the company to confirm their final position so I could put it to Trading Standards, the Serious Fraud Office and the Police ? and guess what?

The very next day I get an email from the MD apologising, saying that they have actioned a 50% refund plus the offer of 30% off the next rental still stood. He also explained a bit more detail around the investigation process, assured me that processes were in place to ensure this wouldn?t happen again and offered a personal apology. Bingo that was all I wanted, I wasn?t going to push for 100% refunded ? after all we had received value from the company driving their car around the UK for half of what was originally a very good deal. The order has been restored, and I just hope they get the house in order, I am not going to go to Trading Standard, the SFO or the police as for my mental health and stress levels I just don?t need it, and I need to draw a line and move one. Plus there is a small part of me that has a bit of sympathy for the person who fabricated that document; I don?t think they are an evil person as there is something obviously happening in their personal or work life that caused/motivated that dishonest behaviour. And I genuinely hope whatever that is gets sorted.

So there you have it, when the funds come through, we will be about $330 better off than when we first booked, but boy did I go through the wringer to get it. Like I said in the previous episode the clear learnings here are that when it comes to situations like this it is the emotional side of your brain that is really affected and you may have easily noticed that in my tone as I retell this story. It is important to recognise this fact when it occurs, and the first thing you must do is manage your emotions first before tackling the situation head-on. You need to appear to come across reasonable, and it does take great effort to hold back when everyone can see you are in the right and not actually go for the jugular but let things ago when an amicable agreement has been reached that satisfies all parties even though you know you could push for more, your own peace of mind is more important in the grand scheme of things. So look after your money and more importantly look after yourselves, until next time… happy fiday?

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