Should Travelocity's "TotalPrice" Guarantees Cover Mandatory Surcharges?

Aaron’s pissed because Travelocity’s quote for a one week car rental in Costa Rica didn’t include a mandatory insurance charge that cost him more than $100. Aaron feels cheated and wants Travelocity to pony up under their TotalPrice Guarantee, but Travelocity may not have done anything wrong. Join us across the jump to help us sort this out.

Aaron writes:

I recently went on a 7 day trip to Costa Rica. Prior to the trip, I booked a car rental through Travelocity. I was given a “Total Price Guarantee” of $150. When I got to Costa Rica to pick up the car, I was informed at the rental car counter that in Costa Rica car insurance is government controlled, and a mandatory $15 dollar a day charge. I tried to decline it as I’m insured at home, and my credit card provides coverage, but I was again told that it is mandatory and had no choice on the matter. The additional $15 a day raised my car rental by 70% to $255.

When I got home, I decided to contact Travelocity as they had a “Total Price Guarantee”. Clearly something called the “total price guarantee” would be applicable the disputes on the total price. My first attempts to contact them were thwarted by their off-shore phone support. They clearly did not understand the problem. I then emailed them with all my details, the fact that in Costa Rica it’s a mandatory charge, and that they should find some compensate me. My first communication back referred to my “hotel reservation”, suggesting they sent me a form-mail they forgot to modify. After replying, reiterating my concerns, they emailed me back basically saying that car insurance isn’t included in the price as it is optional and can change based on the rental car company. Clearly they were not getting the fact that in Costa Rica it is a 100% predictable and mandatory fee.

Here is the last communication I sent with them:

“My concern is that the moment an optional charge such as insurance becomes mandatory, it becomes a fee. We’re not talking about a cheap $3 fee. Car insurance costs $15 a day, which increases the price of the car rental 70% (based on a 7 day rental, and a total guarantee price of $150). In other words, the prices you are quoting people with your “Total Price Guarantee” are 56% accurate. That is outrageous, and deceptive when you easily could be including it. Again let me reiterate that this is MANDATORY in Costa Rica. Any rental car agency in Costa Rica are going to charge the exact same insurance fee on top of their rental price.

To the customer the mere fact that you have a “total price guarantee” says that you have such confidence in your rate, that they have nothing worry about when they get to their rental counter. I have just alerted you to the fact that in Costa Rica your prices are 56% accurate, requesting that you honor your guarantee, and you are brushing it off. Clearly your “Total Price Guarantee” is nothing more than marketing speak, and shouldn’t provide any real confidence for travelers.”

Thus far, my attempts to be reimbursed by their “guarantee” have been fruitless. Any tips on how to escalate this past the form-letter sending Customer Service department?

Let’s look at Travelocity’s messy collection of price guarantees. The official-looking price and service guarantee says:

For a car only booking, the Price and Service Guarantee applies only to the cost of the car rental booked on Travelocity’s main car booking engine as compared with the cost of a car rental available on the main car booking engine of Travelocity or another U.S.-based Web site.”

This is a standard price match policy. If Expedia’s price is lower, Travelocity will match. If not, no dice. But that’s not all. Travelocity also has a Customer Bill Of Rights, which says:

You have the right to unbiased information up front.
That’s why Travelocity was the first to offer objective travel ratings–not inflated ratings to sell you – and independent reviews where travelers share their experiences, both good and bad. It’s also why we give you the full price of your rental car, including the taxes upfront with car TotalPrice.

What is this suave sounding TotalPrice? It’s tough to tell, but doesn’t it sound great? On one page, it boasts that it will show “the TotalPrice car rental reservation, including taxes and fees, on the initial display page once a search has been conducted.” On another page, we get what look like terms and conditions:

*The total price does not include optional services such as insurance waivers, special equipment, mileage charges or fuel.
**Travelocity will represent the customer to the car company to resolve any Total Price discrepancies in excess of 1%. Total Price is the price the customer pays excluding optional refueling, insurance, damage waivers, or special equipment).

What poor drafting. Is that second “optional” limited to refueling, or does it also apply to insurance? We don’t know. And there’s more! Travelocity also explains:

Amounts displayed in the “Taxes & Fees” line for TotalPrice car rentals represent the amount of taxes, governmental fees and other charges payable by you directly to the car rental agency when you return your rental car. In the case of car suppliers that do not provide TotalPrice information, these taxes, governmental fees and other charges are calculated and displayed to you prior to the completion of your reservation.

Um, ok!

Expedia, like Travelocity, doesn’t display the mandatory insurance fees. Instead, both Expedia and Travelocity stuff a warning in the fine print. Travelocity’s says:

MANDATORY 3RD PARTY LIABILITY AND COLLISION DAMAGE WAIVER IS REQUIRED BY GOVERNMENT. CLIENTS CAN DECLINE CDW WHEN US AND CANADA CREDIT CARDS COVER IT. TO DECLINE IT CLIENT MUST PRESENT WRITTEN INSURANCE COVERAGE.

The “it” is explained in Expedia’s warning:

THIRD PARTY LIABILITY – TPL – IS A MANDATORY PURCHASE. THE TPL OCVERAGE IS OPTIONAL PROVIDED THAT AT THE TIME OF RENTAL THE CUSTOMER CAN PRESENT WRITTEN PROOF OF LIABILITY COVERAGE IN COSTA RICA OTHERWISE THIRD PARTY LIABILITY IS MANDATORY AND COST VARIES BY VEHICLE TYPE.

If your U.S. credit card doesn’t provide the government-mandated coverage (and it probably doesn’t,) you’re on the hook.

Travelocity’s vague policy cost Aaron $100 he didn’t expect to spend. We think they should pay. Call their corporate office at (682) 605-3000 and try to reach someone in CEO Hugh Johnson’s office.

Beyond the policy jargon, do you think travel companies should disclose these sorts of charges?