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Uh-oh! Optional car rental insurance isn't

When Jessica Santangelo and her husband check in at the Hertz rental counter in Zagreb, they're told they have to buy insurance. But Santangelo had been told she was fully covered before her trip. Should Hertz refund her insurance now that she's home?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: I hope you can help me with a problem I encountered with Hertz on my honeymoon in Croatia. My husband and I rented a car through AutoEurope and Hertz, but things didn't turn out like we planned.

The price of the car was supposed to include all mandatory insurance. I called my credit card and double-checked that we would also be covered. But when we arrived at the Hertz counter in Zagreb, an agent refused to give us the car unless I paid an extra $207 for insurance that was listed as "optional" on the rental agreement.

I said I did not want this insurance and was told that if I did not purchase it, we would not get the car. I would have appealed to a manager, but she was the manager. We decided to pay the fee so we could go on our honeymoon and discuss the issue with Hertz upon returning to the States.

I contacted Hertz, which claimed I was clearly told the insurance was optional (not true) and had signed the rental agreement and therefore they had no obligation to return my money. I think Hertz owes me for the insurance. Could you help us? — Jessica Santangelo, Richmond, Ky.

A: Hertz shouldn't have forced you to buy "optional" insurance. In fact, the moment you ran out of appeals, you should have taken your business to another car rental company. Several other agencies have locations in the Croatian capital, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, and National.

But did you exhaust all of your appeals? You could have phoned Hertz and AutoEurope before caving in and buying the extra insurance. It's worth the cost of the international call (although AutoEurope has a local number in Zagreb). That might have cleared things up quickly, allowing you to get on with the most important vacation of your life.

Another question: Where was your travel agent? When you take a honeymoon, you must use a travel agent. No two ways about it. Why? Because a trusted travel adviser will help you fix any problems with your vacation. If you'd phoned your travel adviser from the airport, you might have been able to sort this out.

Waiting until you returned made a successful resolution difficult. I'm not surprised that Hertz turned down your request for a refund. But I was curious about why it rejected your appeal. So I asked.

Hertz agreed that insurance in Croatia is optional. But customers refusing insurance are required to sign a document that says they're liable for the full value of the car. When you sign that document, the preauthorization amount to your credit card is "substantially higher," according to Hertz.

The company's records say you signed that document and were advised of the higher pre-authorization. In order to lower that amount, you were offered insurance, which you agreed to buy.

That contradicts your account. You say you were never asked to sign any such document, nor did Hertz ever try to preauthorize your card.

It's possible that you're both right. Maybe the Hertz supervisor in Zagreb thought she had told you about the preauthorization and offered you the insurance, which you accepted. I mean, it's a fair bet that English wasn't her first language. Or maybe your Croatian was a little rusty. Either way, this looks like a simple misunderstanding because of language.

Next time you rent a car overseas, make sure you ask for the terms and conditions in your language. If you have a question, ask a representative — and if you're having a hard time understanding the paperwork, call your agent or the car rental company's corporate office.

Hertz sent you two $75 vouchers.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, or e-mail him at .