Tag Archives: Car Hire Rip Offs

Portugal, Porto to Vila Do Conde

Vila do Conde Santa Clara

The following day we were leaving Porto and taking the metro to Vila do Conde.  We thought it might be a good idea to hire a car so I used the Internet and booked a vehicle through Europcar , who in my experience are usually quite reliable and efficient and arranged to collect it from Porto Airport on our way north.

We had a final couple of hours in the city so we took a walk around the local area near to the hotel, a park, a convent and a church, quite different to the busy centre and then approaching midday we made our way to Trindade metro station.

It took about thirty minutes to travel to the airport on the Bombardier Flexity Outlook low-floor dual-carriage ‘Eurotram’ and it stopped every few minutes to pick up and drop off more passengers and it stopped fifteen times before we reached our destination.

I thought using Europcar with an office in the airport arrivals hall would be easy but I was about to be disappointed.  There was no office, just a reception desk and after waiting around for an eternity while the desk clerk dealt with a difficult customer we were directed to a shuttle bus to drive us a mile or so off site.

When we got there the office was ram-jam full and there was a forty-minute wait to get to the front of the line and during this time my patience tank was completely drained dry.  Eventually it was my turn to sign documents and pick up keys but I became uneasy about this simple process when the clerk began to shake his head and sigh.

It turned out that I had reserved a car using Europcar.com when I should have used Europcar.co.uk so I had made a reservation that is only for people from North America.  OK, so what, I suggested that he just amend the booking and we could take the keys and be away.  So he tapped away at his keyboard and scratched his head and told me the price would be higher, almost 50% higher and he was unable to explain to me to my satisfaction why citizens from the USA and Canada could get a better rate for hiring a car in Portugal than those from Europe.

I was so angry that I told him to poke it, reported the news to Kim who was unhappy about this unilateral decision and then we made our way back to the metro station where we queued for thirty minutes to get a ticket to get to Vila do Conde.  Kim was beginning to overheat.  It was like waiting for Vesuvius to erupt!

Cathedral Vila do Conde

Another thirteen stations later we arrived in Santa Clara and negotiated a steep climb up a pot-holed cobbled street to our hotel, the Santana Hotel and Spa. We had been here before so we knew all about it and we especially liked the restaurant but bad luck hadn’t finished with us today and the fine à la carte that we were looking forward to had been replaced by a tourist buffet menu and I began to sense another disappointment coming our way.

As I didn’t have a bucket of cold water to hand it was probably best that we spent some time apart right now so while Kim stayed in the room and went to the spa I took a walk down into the town.

My plan was to climb the hill on the other side of the river to the Santa Clara Convent which was once the largest in all of Portugal but is now no longer used for its original purpose and after spending some time as a prison is now rumoured to be being converted into a Pousada hotel, which is the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Paradors.

Next to the convent and snaking north away from the town are the extensive remains of the Aqueduto do Convento, a sixteenth century structure that was built to supply water to the Convent.  At four kilometres long it is claimed to be the second largest in Portugal after Lisbon but I have been to Tomar and their aqueduct is measured at six kilometres.

I am not taking sides, I am just saying!

Vila do Conde Aqueduct shadows

To put things into perspective the longest Roman Aqueduct served the city of Constantinople and was two hundred and fifty kilometres long.  The largest existing aqueduct in the world is the Thirlmere Aqueduct in North West England built between 1890 and 1925 and running one hundred and forty kilometres over and through hill and dale of the English countryside in pipes, streams, tunnels, dams and aqueducts.

The United States has the largest ‘water tunnel’ with a storage capacity of five hundred and fifty billion gallons and providing fresh water to the New York City’s eight million residents. Also in the US, the Central Arizona Project allows passage of water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona and at five hundred and forty kilometres it is the largest aqueduct ever constructed in the United States.

I admired the views from the Convent, walked a section of the aqueduct, found a mini-market for supplies and when I judged it safe to return to the hotel I walked a weary walk back up the hill to the Santana.  Oh how I wished that I had got a car!

Evening meal didn’t turn out to be too desperately disappointing and over an overflowing plate and a jug of cheap wine we made plans to go to the beach in the morning.

Vila do Conde Portugal

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Be Prepared to Complain

Black Forest Winter Tyres

“Car hire firms abroad have more catches than a corset” – Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com

It took only fifty-five minutes to fly the short distance and land at Kahlrsrue-Baden Airpark at nine-thirty in the evening and after quickly clearing immigration and customs we were soon at the Sixt Car Hire desk to pick up our hire car.

There was a pleasant young man on duty called Herr Schmidberger and he examined my hire details and then sighed and furrowed his brow and adopted a concerned demeanour, “You have a booking for a vehicle without the winter tyres” he said, “are you sure you want a car without the winter tyres?”  I had no idea what he was talking about (we don’t have Winter tyres in UK, except for Northern Scotland)  and must have given him my best ever blank expression because with that he rolled his eyes so far back into their sockets that if he had laser vision he would have surely fried his brains.

The winter tyres were an extra €55 and I was beginning to detect a well rehearsed scam so we took a while to consult with each other on the proposal of paying the extra and with a queue starting to form behind us this started to seriously test his patience.

I enquired why I might consider going to the unnecessary additional expense and although this was his opportunity to inform me that since May 2006 German motorists have been required by law to use the most appropriate tyres for the weather conditions and that driving on snow covered roads is permitted only if a car is equipped with winter tyres, he just became even more theatrical and began shouting “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”  

Black Forest, Badische Schwarzwaldbahn

Obviously I could see the snow but I still failed to understand why he was so insistent (unless it was a scam and I was becoming more and more sure of that).  He could have told me that in Germany motorists are obliged to make sure they have correct tyres to suit the winter weather conditions and if a vehicle becomes stuck because the tyres are unsuitable drivers are liable to an on the spot police fine, and furthermore if the vehicle causes an obstruction or aggravation to other traffic, the fine may be doubled.

Instead he went into his impression of a man in an electric chair and gave a look that suggested that I was the craziest customer that he had ever dealt with and that driving without winter tyres in snow was madder than wrestling with alligators, swimming in shark infested waters or sky-diving without a parachute.

Triburg Germany Black Forest

I enquired about the weather forecast and whether he thought it might be snowing in the Black Forest (which at over a thousand metres was an absolute certainty and a really dumb question) and then his eyes started to swivel from side to side like the symbols on a gaming machine and he was clearly losing his patience with me now.

He might have explained that winter tyres use a tread rubber compound that is softer and a tread block pattern with more sipes (small slits which are specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures and give good braking and traction performance on snow and ice covered roads) but instead he just keep shrieking “Look at the snow, you can see the snow, in just two minutes you can see the snow!”  

Snow Driving Black Forest Germany

By now I was beginning to understand that he thought snow tyres were a very good idea so finally agreed to the additional charge and he immediately calmed down and set about allocating us an appropriate vehicle for the conditions.

After that he went through the booking and paying procedures, explained where we would find the car in the car park and then clearly lacking any sort of confidence in my snow driving abilities and not expecting to see the car again in one piece bade us farewell with the words “please be sure to drive carefully in the snow, it is very dangerous…”

We quickly found the bright blue Nissan Micra hidden under a blanket of snow, cleaned it down, examined the tyres which, at this time not understanding about the special rubber compound, looked quite normal to me and fairly soon after setting off I was certain we had been scammed.

And we had been of course because at €13.45 a day I calculate that if they are on the car for a third of the year that is an extra €1,600 or €400 a tyre and I could not believe that they can be that much more expensive than a regular tyre.  And of course they are not because I have checked and they can be bought for as little as €40 each.

Black Forest Winter Tyres

Double scammed as it happened because I am certain that we had already been allocated this car anyway – complete with winter tyres.  If I had refused to pay they were hardly likely to jack it up and take them off!

Upon return home I raised the issue of what I considered to be an excessive winter tyre charge in this journal and the reaction has left me speechless with admiration for Sixt Car Hire.

I have experienced the best customer service that I have ever had with a response from Gary Coughlan,  the Customer Services Manager in the United Kingdom who provided me with a clear explanation of the law relating to winter tyres and the company policy in respect to additional charges.  He also promised to raise the matter with the Company’s Commercial Director but I doubt that he ever did.  Gary has a job for life just fobbing off customer complaints!

Two days later I received a refund and a promise that the Board of Sixt would consider the policy at their next scheduled meeting.  I doubt that they ever did of course but I was glad of the refund.

Triberg Germany

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Insurance and Punctures

Iceland Car Hire Sixt Volcano Damage Insurance

Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight because there is an inevitable range of confusing add-on charges and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.

Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

This is like excluding burglary from a house insurance policy or heart attacks from medical insurance.  Brilliant business for them.  The customer buys insurance but they exclude the things that you might need to claim for!

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF? I wondered if I was on ‘Caught on Camera’ or something!

Iceland Volcano

On enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Sixt provide this explanation and justification for this additional level of insurance cover:

“Due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent years there is still a great amount of ash in the highlands that tends to cause damage to vehicles in windy weather.  Any damage caused by volcanic ash is not covered by any insurance or terms and conditions in Iceland.  We do what we can so that our customers can travel our beautiful country without a care and this is why we now offer all customers to purchase sand and ash protection and Gravel protection, specially made to deal with our unique Icelandic conditions.”

Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease and my bones were surely burnt to a blackened cinder was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

Sixt rent a car logo

Sixt are good at this sort of thing.  Last year in Ireland I returned a car and a member of staff carried out an examination and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a potential £60 cleaning charge.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I covered my nose because I noticed that there was funny smell and I reminded him that I am Sixt Platinum customer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel with a wet-wipe just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!

These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

So, what is the solution?  There is an alternative.  Buy some cheap car hire insurance in the UK and when under pressure at the sales desk think of Captain Kirk and raise a force field around yourself to resist the hard sell.  It usually means leaving a deposit on the credit card to pay for damages but this can then be claimed back from the cheaper insurer.

It works.  This year I went to Ireland and one day had the misfortune to get a puncture.  I was really annoyed about that because I hadn’t bought tyre damage insurance from the car rental company; I always buy tyre damage insurance and I have never had a puncture so I cursed my misfortune on that day.  I needn’t have worried.  When I got home I made a claim on the cheaper ‘buy before you go’ option and they promptly paid up!

The puncture story reminds me of another.  In 1986 I went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands and mid-way through the holiday hired a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior.  This turned out to be rather hard work as the road looped in extravagant sweeping motions around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.

Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside.  We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.

To my eternal shame I didn’t own up to the puncture but just put it in the boot without even pumping it up and left it.  I have always felt guilty about that!

Car Hire Gran Canaria 1986

It’s Nice To Feel Useful (9)

  

About this time of the year I start to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

One of my most successful posts is about the day I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and I get lots of odd Google referrals about this one.  This year my favourite just has to be – do I get expenses to attend royal garden party?”

Cakes at Royal Garden Party

Let me take a moment here to explain.  Just to be invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party is a bit special in itself and believe me there is going to be a lot of expense involved – new suit, new outfit, overnight stay in London, taxi fares etc. and most people would gladly deal with this just to be part of the occasion so I have to say that expecting the Queen to pick up the bill sounds rather republican to me and whoever asked this should not have had an invite in the first place.

Next up, I really like this one –what did the captain wear on the Titanic?”

Titanic Experience Belfast

Edward SmithI visited Belfast recently and went to see the Titanic Exhibition and Museum.  It was a super place and I recommend anyone to go there and I think what I learned on that visit may just well help here.

Around the exhibition there are lots of pictures of Captain Smith in his White Star Line uniform so I am forced to conclude that except when he went to bed and most likely put on a pair of pyjamas that this was his favourite form of dress.  Another thing that I can be certain of is that Captain Smith didn’t wear a lifebelt because after the Titanic struck the iceberg he went down with his ship and drowned!

This being a Travel Blog I often get advice requests and this year I have picked out these two related topics –What to do in Croatia if it rains?” and  “Will I need my umbrella in Burgos?”  I am not a weather expert of course but then neither are most of the people who claim to be – has anyone ever seen an accurate TV weather forecast?  Bearing this in mind my answer to both these questions is find somewhere to shelter and then let me remind everyone – it doesn’t rain in bars. 

When I travel to Europe I rather like hiring cars but what I don’t like is the hassle of arranging car insurance.  I have had a lot of trouble getting past the car rental clerk and taking possession of the keys so I am well able to answer this next one – how much is gravel protection and sand and ash protection in Iceland” and the answer is quite a lot, probably more than the daily hire rate for the vehicle.

 Iceland Volcano

Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF?

Upon enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I sensibly declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

Ryanair Cabin

I can always guarantee something cropping up about Ryanair and cheap flights.

I first wrote on this subject in 2009 and it immediately started getting hundreds of hits and then in 2011 it just stopped completely.  I reviewed and reposted it and changed the title from the specific ‘Travel Tips when Flying Ryanair’ to the more general title that it has now and hey presto the hits started coming again. – Travel Tips when Flying Budget Airlines.

My favourite this year isRyanair seat 08f”  which, to be honest is way to specific a request for me to be able to deal with and provide a satisfactory response.

Human Penis Museum Iceland Reykjavik

Sex always crops up of course because it is estimated that well over half of all web searches are about this subject.  This is an odd one though – penis shaped door knob”, who for goodness sake is likely to type that enquiry into a search engine? Interestingly however I once worked with someone who used the office internet to make the enquiry ‘knobs and knockers’.  She was restoring an old Welsh Dresser at the time and although her enquiry was completely innocent she had some explaining to do to the IT section when she received the unexpected results of her search.

Not being an anatomist I am not an authority on penises and not being a manager of a Home Depot I am not an expert on  door furniture of any shape but I did visit the Penis Museum in Reykjavik and this is probably close enough to have recorded the visit to the blog.

I am going to finish with this one and because I simply do not have the answer I am going to ask you all out there if you can help – Does a dog die if it doesn’t have sex?”  

Here are the previous posts in this series of weird internet searches…

It’s Nice to feel Useful (1)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (2)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (3)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (4)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (5)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (6)

It’s Nice to feel useful (7)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (8)

Northern Ireland, A Walk on The (Wild) Bogside.

Londonderry Wall Mural

It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  The view from our room was over the Catholic Bogside area which looked peaceful enough today but has had a recent bloody and violent contribution to the Troubles.  Indeed some historians identify Londonderry/Derry/Stroke City as being the very crucible of the civil war.

In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution and the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. Despite having a nationalist majority the city was permanently controlled by unionists due to the partisan drawing of electoral boundaries. In addition the city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing. Overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the unionist government, who wanted to confine Catholics to a small number of electoral wards to effectively restrict their influence.

In August 1969 following the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys Parade Nationalists clashed with police in an incident remembered now as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’ which directly led to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and the intervention of the British Army.

Worse was to come on Sunday January 30th 1972 when during a Catholic civil rights march thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, another thirteen were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

This incident remains an open wound between the two factions and the British Army but the current official verdict was delivered by the Saville Commission which was published in June 2010.

The report concluded, “The firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control” fatally shooting fleeing civilians.  The report states, contrary to the previously established belief that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them and that the civilians were not posing any threat.  Not the British Army’s finest hour!

Londonderry Bloody Sunday Wall Mural

Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our hotel was the very place where the Bloody Sunday confrontation took place so walked down the hill from the fortress walls and saw three famous monuments, ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’, a message painted on the gable end of a row of terraced houses, long since demolished, the Bloody Sunday memorial itself and a third monument remembering the Maze prison notorious now for internment without trial, hunger strikes and the death place of the most famous hunger striker of all, Bobby Sands.

As in Belfast there are guided tours of the Bogside but we choose to do this by ourselves and although it felt quite safe on the busy main road I do admit to  becoming uneasy whenever we strayed into the side streets where signs invited the British to ‘Get Out Now’ and others encouraged local people to join the IRA.

We weren’t put off by this however because we wanted to see the murals, works of urban art really and quite different from those in West Belfast.  These were less political statements but a visual telling of the story of the Bogside troubles.  The political statements were there too but these were smaller information boards which told a sectarian and one sided story.

I am glad that I walked down to see this but after thirty minutes or so I was happy to leave and walk back now to the old city.

There was still an hour to spare before our check out time and ninety minute drive to the airport so while Kim returned to the hotel I took advantage of these final moments by walking the walls for a second time and having visited the Catholic Bogside took a detour into the Protestant Fountains estate where I found the murals and the political slogans a great deal more sectarian and aggressive and I didn’t stay long.

Londonderry/Derry Wall Mural

Our drive back to Belfast International Airport was slow going but uneventful and eventually we arrive back at the Sixt car rental office.  Now, if you remember my first day post about this trip to Northern Ireland you might recall that I had paid for fully comprehensive insurance and was confident that I had got everything covered.

Not quite!

A member of staff examined the car and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a £60 cleaning charge.  Now, I am not disputing that we had walked on a beach and transferred some sand from our shoes to the car but the quantity was minute and you really needed a microscope to find it.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I noticed that there was funny smell and I remided him that I am Sixt Platinum custumer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but I quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!  These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

So we made our way to the airport and the departure lounge and in the time we had to wait I started to think about the few days away and began to compare it with the previous year visit to Southern Ireland…

Car Hire Misadventures – The Driving Licence

Winter Tyres in the Black Forest

In the laudable programme to reduce Government excess spending, from Monday June 8, the paper part of the UK driving licence – which shows details of restrictions and penalties – will be scrapped.

This really shouldn’t be  problem but it is anticipated that this might be a nuisance for people who want to hire holiday cars outside of the UK.

I really can’t remember the last time that I was aked to produce my paper copy of the licence.  But, let me predict that all of a sudden car hire firms will discover that this is a requirement of hire and I bet there will be a charge involved.

Never trust a car hire company!

Car Hire Crete