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The Rental Car Franchise Scam
It’s no secret that rental car companies are notorious for trying to talk you into buying extras that you don’t need. In fact, this is one reason why we usually try to avoid renting cars while traveling unless it is absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, you can usually just say no until they give in and let you have your car. However, the experience we had when renting a car from the Cancun airport in Mexico tipped us off to a secret trick that rental car companies are using to force extra fees onto their customers. We are calling this the rental car franchise scam.
In short, if you booked a rental car through a third party (any price comparison site) just like everyone does, then you may put yourself at risk of getting trapped in this scam. From our experience, Alamo will not let you have your car until you’ve purchased something extra. The excuses they make vary by situation, but people who book directly through their website supposedly won’t have any problems (naturally, this always costs more). At least this is what they tried to tell us.
After more research, it appears this problem is not exclusive to Alamo, but other rental companies as well. The branch you are at will claim that they are actually independent from the main company because they are a “franchise” and “get to make their own rules”. If you bought insurance online, then this doesn’t count because it is from the comparison site and has nothing to do with them; therefore, you have to buy more insurance from them if you actually want the coverage. We read through the terms and conditions before renting and that is simply not true (at least it wasn’t in our case).
We don’t want to discourage people from renting cars in general because it really is a practical way to get around, but we do want you to investigate before renting a car and see if you can find out if the “company” you’re renting from actually adheres to the company policies or if they are just a “franchise” that is allowed to use the company’s name. It’s not easy to figure this out, so you may be best served to contact the company’s corporate office first and ask about this. The experience we had is the reason why we will never book anything from Alamo Rental Cars again, no matter where we are.
Why We Will Never Rent a Car from Alamo
The reason we booked with Alamo in the first place is because all of the other rental car companies in Mexico had such terrible reviews. Since we had booked once before with Alamo and didn’t have any major issues, we thought we could trust them. We thought wrong. Before our flight even left, we did the online check-in so that we could just get our car and go. You skip the lines and skip the sales pitch—at least that’s how it usually works. In Cancun, however, Alamo forces you to go into the office where they initiate the scam. When checking in online, you are told that you need either a debit card or a credit card in the name of the main driver. This is always the case when renting a car. Ryne has a dual debit/credit card that we always use when renting cars and we’ve never had any problems with it.
When we went into the Alamo office at the Cancun airport, they asked for the card, we handed it to them and they immediately told us that they won’t accept it because the word “debit” was also on the card. They wouldn’t even try to put it into their system. We very kindly argued with them for over an hour and even called our bank who confirmed that this card functions has both a credit card and a debit card. Alamo adamantly refused to accept our MasterCard and told us that if we wanted to use that card, then we must buy full coverage insurance from them for an additional $270. That’s more than we paid for the rental and we already booked full coverage online. Alamo said that this full coverage doesn’t count because we booked it through a third party and that Alamo in Cancun is “just a franchise.” So if we wanted the car, then we have to buy their insurance. Obviously, we refused.
Now usually if a rental company does not accept your card and you have another person with you who has a card that they accept (Denise has a credit card that they would have accepted), then you can just make that person the main driver and use their credit card. This is standard practice when renting a car. Therefore, we suggested this alternative solution.
They again refused and said, “We are a franchise. If you want to do that, then you have to cancel your booking yourself and rebook with us.”
What!? They knew that we would not be refunded for our booking if we canceled at the last minute and that it is much more expensive to book with them directly at the last minute. Again, we argued with them about this, as it is standard practice to just switch the driver. The only other alternative they gave us was to add Denise as a driver for an additional $90 and THEN they could make her the main driver and accept her credit card. Naturally, we argued with them on this point because it makes absolutely no sense that they can add her as a driver, then make her the main driver, but just can’t make her the main driver and take my name off of the car. It is incredible how stubborn they were and the entire office was in on the scam. We spoke to 4 different employees and managers.
After about an hour, they finally gave us a “better” solution and offered to add Denise for $72 and make her the main driver. We had already had a long day and still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us, so we gave in and accepted this “solution.”
Then, one of the employees had the nerve to say, “See? In Mexico we have a saying: There’s a solution to every problem.”
“Are you [insert expletive] kidding me!?,” we wanted to say.
How is scamming us out of more money a solution? The problem here is that they have their customers right where they want them because we can’t get our cars until we give in to their scam. We’ve reported this to the Alamo corporate office who has shown absolutely no interest in resolving this problem. For this reason, we will never book a vehicle with Alamo again and we highly discourage you from doing the same.