Our MasterRental (and Thrifty Rental Car) Experience

Damage to the rental car after hitting a kangarooDamage to the rental car after hitting a kangaroo
In the Ben Stiller movie called "Along Came Polly," Stiller's character was renting a car when refused to accept the car rental insurance when asked (after all, he was a minimal-risk insurance guy so he knows better, right?). Then the clerk behind the counter spilled the beans by telling him the insurance was pure profit for the rental car company and the credit card companies can cover it. But after our experience, I thought we had better set the record straight about what really happens. As rapper Flavor Flav of Public Enemy would say, "Dont believe the hype!"

When we hired a car to drive through the Outback of Western Australia, we never thought that we would have to face the consequences of our decisions made when we initialed the dotted line to reject the collision damage waiver (or CDW). But all that changed that one fateful morning of 17-June 2006 when a kangaroo hopped right in front of our car on the Brand Highway (Hwy 1) just a little over an hour north of Perth (you can read the related travel blog here).

Here is what happened in terms of the financial aftermath of the incident... (if you don't want to read through the article, I've provided a table summary and how it compared to the car rental insurance)

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When we got our first real opportunity to make the necessary phone calls to file a claim with the credit card company's insurance (which happened to be MasterRental because I charged the entire trip on my MasterCard), it had been nearly five days since the kangaroo incident. By then, we had a day at leisure to see Perth, Australia before we would take a series of flights that would eventually take us back home in Los Angeles.

Thrifty Rental Car already charged $2750 AUD ($2028.67 USD given the current exchange rate at the time) to my credit card. There was also an additional foreign transaction fee of $60.86 USD, which would not be covered by anyone.

By now, we managed to get a hold of a phone number to call Master Rental directly (via internet) since my Advanta card didn't have a number to call if we were outside the United States (only an 800 number was printed on the back of the card).

Upon calling them, we were asked various questions such as the Rental Location Name, the Rental Location Address (which was tricky since we started off in Broome, Australia and returned the car in Perth, Australia), and the Rental Agreement Number. All of this information we read right off our copy of the so-called Open Rental Agreement, which was what we initialed when we collected the car in Broome. They also asked additional questions that mostly pertained to whether or not we can prove that we were not covered by anyone else. Of course, not all questions could be answered (for example they wanted to know my personal car insurance policy number, which I didn't have with me), but at least a file was established, I'd get something in the mail, and I now had a claim number to reference for future inquiries. So it looked like we got the process started and we could go home to follow up on wrapping up our end of the process.

When we finally got home, I received the anticipated letter in the mail a few days later. This letter had their toll free phone number, email address, fax, and snail mail contact as well as a request to fill out the claim form and to submit MasterCard billing statements showing transaction charges and credit limits that pertained to booking this trip.

Naturally, I filled out the form and emailed them scans of both the Master Rental Claims Form as well as all pertinent billing statements involved in charging to the Australia Trip. Providing the billing statements was tedious since we booked with a travel agent and they booked on our behalf so I had to give them everything, including the initial deposit and all subsequent payments to the travel agent.

The reason they wanted the billing statements was to show that I indeed used their credit card for all of the car rental expenses.

I then followed up on weekday mornings before going to work to ensure they received the required documents. But given the way they handle the paperwork, I couldn't actually confirm with them that they received anything until at least 48 hours later. So, I waited the requisite time period and then followed up with a call.

At that point, they said they got the email attachments and now needed Open and Closed Rental Agreements as well as an appraisal of the damage estimates and a Rental Company Incident Report.

Some of these forms I didn't have available to me right away. For example, I didn't have the Closed Rental Agreement in my possession. So I made a long distance inquiry with the Thrifty Rental Car asking for a copy of the Closed Rental Agreement. It wasn't easy since I wasn't sure if I had to call the branch in Perth, Broome, or their headquarters in Darwin. Either way, I would get transferred to the right person (sometimes after being disconnected and trying again) and eventually got what I was after.

At that point, I emailed MasterRental and got them the forms they requested. I followed up later and then was told they didn't receive one of the requested forms.

I knew this was ridiculous because all the forms were attached in the same email. But not wanting to belabor the point, I just resent the material again and followed up 48 hours later.

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A Thrifty Flyer about Excess Reduction

Now while I jumped through hoops and jumped over hurdles to appease the MasterRental Claims Office, the situation was complicated when I discovered on my credit card that I was being charged again by the Thrifty Rental Car Company!

This time, I was being charged $4003.76 AUD (or $2915.94 USD after the exchange rate) plus $87.47 in foreign transaction fees. I was quite alarmed by this apparent double-charge so I immediately started making long distance calls back to Australia's Thrifty Rental Car to inquire about it.

After several calls were made, I was eventually told that the original $2750 AUD charge was erroneous and I would be refunded that amount. I was then told that I was actually financially responsible for the "Additional Single Vehicle Liability" of up to $4400 AUD.

Their manager informed me that $2750 is for a multi vehicle incident (an incident where another vehicle is involved and clear information details on the vehicle is obtained) and $4400 is for a single vehicle incident (single is an incident relating to tree, animal ,rollover type incident where only one vehicle is involved). That was why I was charged the greater amount.

As I hawkishly checked my credit card statement, I saw 4 different refunds of $728.30, $436.98, $519.26, and $333.81 (all in USD after the exchange rates). I had been warned that they had to give the refund in chunks because of some limitation that prevented them from providing a lump sum refund.

When all was said and done with this ordeal, I netted a loss of $71.18 since I was dinged for the multiple foreign transaction charges and the strengthening dollar after I was initially erroneously charged. So I wasn't totally reimbursed for the erroneous charge, but there were bigger issues to contend with so I didn't put up a fight nit picking about this.

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The financial aftermath (in US Dollars) of the erroneous charges by Thrifty...
[Date: 17-June 2006] Initial charge immediately after returning the damaged car (2750 AUD) $2028.67
[Date: 17-June 2006] Foreign Transaction Fee for the above charge $60.86
[Date: 29-June 2006] Refund #1 ($728.30)
[Date: 29-June 2006] Refund #2 ($436.98)
[Date: 30-June 2006] Refund #3 ($519.26)
[Date: 30-June 2006] Refund #4 ($333.81)
Net Loss $71.18

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After following up with the latest round of submissions, I was next told that they needed photos of the incident and they needed an incident number.

It was a good thing we took our own photos of the incident because who knew how long it would take Thrifty to send in their pictures to me or MasterRental?

However, I had to call Thrifty about the Incident Number since I didn't know what that was. But I eventually got my answer and supplied all of the remaining requested items to MasterRental via email.

After following up again to make sure they received everything, it was now in the hands of the arbitrator who was investigating the documents. I was told I would get an answer some 2-4 weeks later, and I was encouraged to follow up if I didn't hear anything until then. I was also told that they had a website at http://www.yourclaimstatus.com, where I could check the progress of my claim. Now, why wasn't I told this before? This could've easily saved some time on the numerous phone calls I made to follow up with MasterRental.

After the requisite number of days were allowed to pass, I called MasterRental once again. It was now 18-August 2006 (nearly two months after the incident). That was when they dropped the bomb on me.

They rejected our claim stating that we accepted the collision damage waiver from the rental car company.

Of course I was outraged. It clearly showed on our Open Rental Agreement that we initialed to decline coverage. Besides, even if we had accepted the damage waiver, why were we charged the full liability by Thrifty. But now the operator was giving me the runaround. She even told me that I'd get a rejection letter in the mail.

At this point, I wasn't sure what to do so I relayed the news to my wife, Julie. Obviously in my irrational state, I didn't think I could get anywhere arguing with the operator or manager at the MasterRental office. So I asked if she could help talk to them since she had experience doing negotiations in her line of work. Her name was also on the credit card so she would be calling legitimately.

A few hours later, Julie called me back telling me they were going to pay the claim minus GST (Goods and Services Tax).

"How did you do it?" I asked her.

"I managed to get a hold of the boss of the arbitrator. They basically didn't understand what 'REJECTS RPK' meant under the Optional Coverages part of the contract. They assumed we accepted coverage when they saw our initials by 'RPK' when in fact we rejected it." she said.

"Then I told them, 'you've been advertising that you cover rental car damages. We've done everything you've asked. You better honor your claim or we'll spread the word that you're falsely advertising,'" she continued.

"I love you," I told Julie, obviously relieved that the ordeal looked like it was finally over. Still, I wasn't going to rest until I saw the check in the mail. You never know about these things.

About a week later, we finally got the check for $2594.02 USD. On the following weekday, I cashed the check and it didn't bounce.

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Pros and Cons between Car Rental Insurance and Credit Card Insurance

Pros for Car Rental Insurance:
  • If covered, it's hassle-free no questions asked.
  • If covered, net financial loss is comparable to Credit Card Compensation
  • If covered, you won't be debted the fully liability amount in which you have to fight to get back

Cons for Car Rental Insurance:
  • Regardless of whether you get in an accident or not, you pay a daily fee, which essentially increases your rental car rate if you think about it
  • There are exceptions to this coverage (e.g. you're still fully liable for damages if you hit an animal between dusk to dawn in Australia); so you could end up paying the insurance premiums plus single vehicle liability - a double whammy!

Pros for Credit Card Insurance:
  • There's no daily fee so you don't pay anything extra if you don't get in an accident
  • You don't have to worry about specific stipulations such as driving the vehicle too early or too late in the day when you hit wildlife

Cons for Credit Card Insurance:
  • You're out the full single vehicle liability amount and will have to fight to get most of it back (plan on at least 2 months without seeing your money)
  • Net amount lost (at least in our case) ended up being more than if we went through the excess reduction (assuming we would've been covered).
  • You will go through a rigorous claims process that will consume a lot of your time and concentration
  • You're not guaranteed reimbursement (even if you're in the right) because they can site any number of things to deny your claim and it's up to you to take it up with them in a way that they will act

The financial aftermath (in US Dollars) of the MasterRental Claims Process

[Date: 28-June 2006] Additional Single Vehicle Liability (4003.76 AUD) $2915.94
[Date: 28-June 2006] Foreign Transaction Fee for the above charge $87.47
Financial Aftermath of Thrifty's Erroneous Charge $71.18
[Date: 18-August 2006] Master Rental Reimbursement Amount ($2594.02)
Net Loss from whole Ordeal $551.75

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How would this have compared with the Car Rental Company's Insurance?
Realize that we might have still been financially responsible despite this insurance because it could've been argued that we drove too early in the morning. Moreover, it is assumed that excess liability is reduced from $2750 AUD to $385 AUD. We were liable for the additional single vehicle liability of $4400 AUD. Still, we'll play this numbers game so you can compare how the numbers match up assuming we were covered

Daily Fee (13 days x $24 AUD/day = $312 AUD) [assume 1 AUD = 0.7 USD exchange rate] $218.40
Reduced Liability ($385 AUD) [assume 1 AUD = 0.7 USD exchange rate] $269.50
Net Cost to you (not including foreign transaction fees nor foreign exchange discrepancies) $487.90

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