Rental Car Blues

We visited the home, now a museum, of celebre writer/libertine George Sand.

We visited the home, now a museum, of celebre feminist writer/libertine George Sand.

The Rental Car That Wasn’t There – Twice!!

My favorite travel columnist/trouble-shooter, Christopher Elliott,, says that “people assume that a reservation number means you have a reservation – and that is not necessarily true!” I learned this the hard way a few months ago – twice – once in deep France and again unexpectedly, in Los Angeles.

I consider myself a highly experienced traveller. I almost always make my own reservations, confirming once or even twice before departure. I am good at maneuvering travel options on the Web and have never had problems making my own reservations.

Here’s the story. I was traveling to a small town in the Eastern Loire district in France to attend a French immersion language school for a week. I had been there before and knew the drill. The town, Sancerre, is tiny – only 2,000 inhabitants. No car rentals or train station there.

I flew to Paris with my husband, took the afternoon train at Gare de Bercy direct to a nearby small town, Cosne-sur-Loire (pop. 12,000). My car rental for an automatic vehicle at Cosne was to begin the following week, with a route and reservations to various chateaus and hotels, all of which required a car to get there. I rented from Citer, which is National Car Rental in France, but my confirmation came back from AutoEurope. A little confusing but with both AutoEurope and Citer/National reservation numbers on my confirmation receipt, I was confident. I checked both online and with two personal phone calls before leaving.

On Friday a week later, I called the local office of Citer to confirm the rental for pick up the next morning. Well, guess what? According to the local Citer rental office – no automatic car reservation, no car reservation AT ALL even though the numbers of this paid reservation were in the system. Suddenly, locally, they couldn’t see it, even though they were totally on line. And this is all in French! After several phone calls with the same result, I called AutoEurope in France. They had my reservation, checked with Citer and re-assured me that the car would be there as promised – the automatic I had specified, reserved and paid for.

Next not-so-big surprise, when I arrived at Citer the next morning, the same thing – no reservation, no automatique, no car. It didn’t matter that I had my confirmation in my hand, they would not recognize it. “I told you this yesterday” said the same woman, “but you came here anyway.” So, all in my fledgling French, I negotiated a brand-new rental, for a car with a manual 5-gear European shift, talked her into the fact that I could drive it (it had been 30 years, but it came back to me!) and off we went.
Later, AutoEurope wrote me a big apology and totally refunded me for the second rental – hurray for them. Chris Elliott says I was lucky, with a smaller company I might have just gotten a “sorry” and left it at that. “Things happen with computers sometimes”, says Chris. “In this case, your reservation somehow never filtered down to that small, local office.” Luckily, we still were able to achieve our driving tour into this remote area of France.
And then, a few weeks after our return, we had rented a large-sized SUV from Hertz in Los Angeles in order to drive together with our children and grandchildren in one car to a beach vacation about two hours south. We specified our wish to pick up the SUV in a city Hertz location as opposed to the airport. And again, what happened? No such vehicle was waiting for us at Hertz, despite the confirmed and reconfirmed, paid reservation. We waited while a car was found at another location, brought to where we were, cleaned inside and out (it was filthy!) and finally got on our way, several hours later. Later, I negotiated a paltry $60.00 refund for our trouble.
So, what to do? Do as I did, pay in advance, confirm and reconfirm, plus confirm with the local vendor. And then,  cross your fingers. Don’t count on what might be a misguided belief in computers!

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