Travel blues, credit card mysteries

In front of the Amenano B&B in Catania

You had a wonderful trip to some foreign land. You return home thinking it could not have gone better. Then, whack, an unsuspected charge on the credit card arrives. Suddenly you find yourself embroiled in a dispute that lasts months and dampens memories of the trip’s good times.

This unhappy predicament has struck us twice now.  Most recently on a trip to Italy and several years ago in Australia.

The latest incident occurred over a mysterious charge of $40 which was added to the cost of lodging at a B&B in Catania, Sicily.  In October, we had spent two nights at the Amenano, a small, hidden place on the second floor down some side streets and just north a few blocks of the Piazza Duomo, the city center.  Our corner room was large but drab and dimly lit.  I could not for whatever reason pull up the internet on my laptop although the Amenano’s clerk assured Wi-Fi was available throughout.   Still, it seemed a comparative bargain at 70 euros a night.  Nebra paid with her AAA Visa card.

The surprise $40 showed up on Nebra’s first credit card bill after our return to Phoenix. A small sum, yes, a sum that many might overlook.  But Nebra has a fine sense of justice and so disputed the charge by calling the credit card company.  She asked a logical question.  What was the extra charge for?  While the company laudably decided weeks ago not to charge her, she learned only today what the questionable charge was.  Damages to a lamp and a wall socket, the card company said.  Neither of us remember any such damage inflicted by us.

The trip to Australia, in 2004, generated a similar but much more expensive example.  We had rented a cream-colored Hyundai Elantra from Europcar in downtown Sydney.   The ensuing drive to Adelaide passed with what I saw as only a minor incident.

It was my first experience driving with the steering wheel on the right side of the car.  Trying to parallel park in Wentworth Falls, in the Blue Mountains, I struck a sharp-edged curb and destroyed the left front tire and its plastic rim.  I soon bought a cheap tire for $25 and had it installed and off we sped on our merry way to Adelaide via Melbourne without further misfortune. 

At Adelaide, I returned the Elantra to Europcar at the airport and flew out to Brisbane, leaving Nebra behind to visit friends.  I told the agency’s clerk about the tire and rim.  The company’s garage, she said, would assess the damage and get back to me.  I thought at most that would it would cost me a few hundred dollars.

A month later, back in the U.S., I received a shocking bill.  Europcar was charging me $626.93 for “complete crash repairs” to the Elantra.  That included $88 for the two-day repair when the car was unavailable for rental. 

Europcar said that my Visa had already been dinged for $224.40, presumably for the tire and rim damage, but did not elaborate.  In addition, the rental company wanted payment for $402.53 for other unspecified damages.  There was no other damage, and I had a copy of the pre-existing damage report ato prove it.   I asked for an itemized account and received no further word from the car czars. More correspondence led to nothing.  Finally came a blunt letter from Europcar stating my Visa had been charged the remaining $400, case closed.  

I’m not the dumbest person in the world.  It’s just that I act that way sometimes when I’m angry.  Unlike Nebra, I didn’t  think it out.  I wanted to throw stuff.  I never thought of going to Visa and disputing the bill.  I preferred to sulk and vent.

The lesson I learned, or hope I did,  is this.  When disputed charges arise, don’t argue with the vendor.  Go straight to the credit-card company.   Corporations like Europcar don’t listen to little guys like me unless we get in front of a TV camera.  Corporations like to talk to corporations.  They speak the same lingo and, I think, enjoy twisting each other’s tail. 

You should also act immediately.  Don’t let the issue linger.  Long story short, I ate the $400.

I also have a word to vendors like the Amenano Bed & Breakfast.  There are some costs you should just eat yourself like your wife’s bad breakfast.  Particularly smaller costs like “damage” to a lamp and a wall socket, come on. 

In the end, the vendor may receive its $40.  But, right or not, you also are faced with irate customers like me who write bad reviews regarding your business practices, both on this blog and, say, Trip Advisor.  The potential loss of revenue to Amenano may ultimately far exceed the pittance it tried to extract from  lodgers from a faraway country.


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