Travel Troubleshooter

Wrong dates for a nonrefundable rental car

Q: Our daughter, Anna, who is currently in Germany, recently made a reservation on Sixt.com, the website of a European car rental company. She reports that she found the rate on Kayak.com, which she accessed from her laptop. She then was taken to a payment page on Sixt.com without any intervening page to confirm the date entered, which she asserts she entered correctly. Anna typed in her credit card number and was presented with a confirmation and receipt that showed the reservation. It was for the wrong date — Oct. 26 instead of Oct. 19.

She immediately emailed the company to change the reservation and was sent a message in German that she’d booked a prepaid rate that couldn’t be changed.

She contacted Sixt by phone and learned that the only car it could offer her, due to the shortage of cars resulting from the German rail strike, would cost her almost three times the original rental price. She got in touch with the customer-service department and was referred back to the same email address (reservierung@sixt.com) that she had emailed originally in an attempt to correct the reservation. Having apparently reached a dead end, she booked a car with Hertz, but she still would like the charge from Sixt refunded.

David Coats, Minneapolis

A: Looks as if something got lost in translation between Kayak.com, which searches many travel sites, and Sixt.com.

Here’s how it breaks down for Anna: Kayak will find you a low price for a rental, but you have to read all the restrictions carefully. Your daughter should have been taken to a page that explained the terms of her reservation.

The giveaway was when she was asked to provide a credit card number. If you’re“securing” a reservation with a card, chances are it’s a restricted rate. In other words, once you click on the “buy” button, you’re stuck.

European websites can be tricky. As I note in my latest book, How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler, (National Geographic), many European websites handle dates differently — instead of Month-Day-Year, it’s Day-Month-Year. That confuses some American customers. When that confusion is combined with a nonrefundable, nonchangeable rate, it can add up to trouble.

I reviewed the emails exchanged between your daughter and Sixt, but it wasn’t clear where the problem happened. It could have been a glitch in the site or user error. Regardless, Sixt should have reviewed the problem. Often, companies can fix an honest mistake if it’s caught fast enough. You also could have appealed this to someone higher up at Sixt.

In the end, Anna was responsible for reviewing the terms of her reservation before booking. But from where I’m sitting, it’s difficult to determine whether this was an oversight or a technical problem. Sixt wasn’t obligated to refund Anna’s rental, but I think it owed her more than the boilerplate response it sent her.

I asked Sixt to review your daughter’s rental. It agreed to cancel her nonrefundable reservation and refund the 54 euros that had been charged to her card. Please ask Anna to read the terms before she clicks on the button next time.

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