One of the things that you least want to think about let alone exercise is insurance, especially when you’re on a trip.
However, sometimes reality bites and you could find yourself filing a claim to try to get back some of the unforeseen expenses incurred.
When Julie and I rented a car to drive through the Outback of Western Australia on our first visit Down Under back in June 2006, we faced such a situation when a kangaroo darted in front of us and we ended up striking it. There was damage sustained to the car, but not enough damage to prevent it from being driven any further.
Luckily (or unluckily; depends on how you look at it), our rental terms were such that we opted to decline the car rental insurance offered by the rental company, which was Thrifty. Instead, we opted to take our chances with the credit card insurance, which happened to be administered by Master Rental through our Mastercard.
So we now found ourselves having to go through the process of putting this insurance to the test.
This article chronicles our experience in going through this claims process while comparing it to what would have happened had we paid the extra money on a per-day basis in the first place to reduce the excess insurance to $0 per day.
While the incident took place a while ago, and insurance terms and conditions change over time, our experience should shed some light on the claims process overall…
HOOPS AND HURDLES
Since the kangaroo incident, we took some time to go to the Thrifty Rental Car office at the Perth Airport, which was roughly 2 hours drive south of where the incident took place (somewhere between Cervantes and Perth).
The rental car company loaned us an equivalent replacement car, which we used for the remainder of the trip.
It wasn’t until we returned to Perth at the very end of the trip (roughly five days after the kangaroo incident) when we finally had our first real opportunity to make the necessary phone calls to file a claim with the credit card company’s insurance.
By this time, Thrifty Rental Car had already charged $2750 Australian Dollars ($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.
We then managed to get a hold of a phone number to call Master Rental directly (which we found out via internet) since my Advanta credit 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 Master Rental, we were asked various questions such as the rental location name, the rental location address (which was tricky since we started off in Broome and returned the car in Perth), 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 (to avoid double-dipping on the insurance payouts).
Of course, not all questions could be answered (e.g. they wanted to know my personal car insurance policy number, which we wouldn’t be able to obtain until we got home). Nevertheless, at least a file was established, I was told that I’d get something in the mail back at home, and I now had a claim number to reference for future inquires.
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.
But given the way they handled 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.
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.
BACK TO THE MASTER RENTAL CLAIM…
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, and 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 that they were going to pay the claim minus GST (Goods and Services Tax).
Ever the savvy negotiator, Julie told me that she managed to get a hold of the boss of the arbitrator. Apparently, that person didn’t understand what “REJECTS RPK” meant under the Optional Coverages part of the contract. They had assumed that we accepted coverage when they saw our initials by “RPK” when in fact it meant that we had rejected it.
Julie then held them to their promise that they had been stating in the fine print that they cover rental car damages, and that we had done everything they had asked. She basically threatened to spread the word about the false advertising if they didn’t honor their own terms.
And with that, the case was apparently resolved. Still, I wasn’t going to rest until I saw the check in the mail.
You never know about these things.
Fortunately, about a week later, we finally got the check for $2,594.02 USD. On the following weekday, I cashed the check and it didn’t bounce.
PROS AND CONS BETWEEN CAR RENTAL INSURANCE AND CREDIT CARD INSURANCE
So in conclusion, did we make the right decision in going with the credit card company’s car rental insurance?
Well, we took a step back and evaluated the pros and cons of both insurance types. Perhaps this might give you a more measured perspective when you’re faced with making a similar choice on your next rental.
Pros for Car Rental Insurance:
- If covered, it’s hassle-free no questions asked (at least that has been the history with us on the couple of times it happened and we claimed the excess insurance reduction)
- If covered, the net financial loss is comparable to the Credit Card Insurance Compensation
- If covered, you won’t be debited the full 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
- 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 (at least that was the case with us, but this is subject to change over time)
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 two 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 cite 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