KPRC 2 Investigates a car rental company new to Houston luring drivers in with low rates and then jacking up the cost at the pick-up counter. Investigator Amy Davis went undercover to show you what’s happening to dozens of drivers who fly into Houston’s Intercontinental Airport and try to pick up a rental car.
You may shop around, and choose a rental car based on the lowest price. But if you do, be warned because you do not want to have the same experience as Matt Ginsburg who flew to Houston from San Francisco.
“It seems very shady, fly by night, not right,” said Ginsburg.
Ginsburg emailed investigator Amy Davis to share his so-called shady experience as soon as he returned home. The 62-year-old self-described “world traveler” had never before experienced anything like what he encountered at Priceless Car Rental in Houston.
Days before he landed, Ginsburg searched for a rental car on the booking site Kayak.
“The cheapest car that I saw for our 4-day rental was a company called Priceless.”
Ginsburg was even offered a 10% cheaper price if he prepaid for the rental. So, he did. He paid $42.75 a day for a total of $171. Once in Houston and ready to pick up the car, Priceless Car Rental instructed Ginsburg to hop on the Park n’ Fly Shuttle. It dropped him off in a lot of miles from the airport.
“I’ll call it a booth. You could also call it a shack. It’s not where all the other rental cars are,” he explains.
It’s actually a portable building with no live employees. There are just two video screens where customers can speak with agents virtually. When an agent appeared on the screen, she told Ginsburg neither his Allstate insurance policy or the rental car coverage through his credit card would provide enough insurance. He had to pay an extra $40 a day for supplemental liability insurance. After toll tag charges and some other fees, she told him his total was $286.
“Wait a minute. I prepaid this. So, I’m not paying $280 today. Is that $280 in total? Or is that $280 today? She said, ‘That’s $280 today.’”
Amy Davis checks out car rental service after receiving customer complaints
We thought maybe his experience was a fluke. We booked a car from Priceless Car Rental ourselves through Expedia. Amy pre-paid $44.30 for an economy car for one day. At the Priceless booth, a virtual agent didn’t even look at Amy’s insurance declarations page she brought before saying it wasn’t enough coverage.
“We have a minimum requirement of $500,000 for liability insurance. To extend your coverage up to $500k. This is additional $19.99,” said the virtual agent.
An additional $19.99, bringing the total to more than $64. Buried on Priceless Car Rental’s website we found this:
“Supplemental liability insurance is not included in the costs of the rental. A minimum of $500,000 is required for a cost of $24.95 a day.”
Customers complain they feel tricked
Customers complaining in online reviews and Better Business Bureau complaints didn’t see the disclaimer and also felt tricked and trapped.
“Had I said, ‘Ok, I’m done with this. I’m not going to do it.’ I would have forfeited my prepayment. So that was $180,” said Ginsburg.
“The problem lies with the whole bait and switch thing where they tell you one price- but knowing that 99% of the people out there are going to have to pay this price,” said Chi Nguyen.
Houston attorney Chi Nguyen of Pusch & Nguyen sees a lot of auto insurance policies in his personal injury practice. He says almost none of them offer $500,000 supplemental liability coverage.
“And they know that?” Amy asked.
“Exactly,” said Nguyen. “So, knowing that- that price has to be up front. If 99% of the people cannot get this price, why are you putting that price? You need to put the real price right there.”
Surprising Company Response: “It was a mistake.”
When we reached out to Priceless Car Rental, a spokesperson and the Houston franchise owner told us the $500,000 supplemental liability insurance is not required. They both said the language on their website and what employees told customers was a mistake. They removed the language from the website and said that SLI of $500,000 is optional. When Amy asked how they plan to reimburse all of the people who paid for it. the company did not immediately respond. Mike Dodson, an attorney for the Houston franchise owners later sent this statement by email:
“We will not have completed our analysis and review of the issues you have raised by the time you air your story Monday morning. However, Mr. Dube has engaged our law firm to analyze the issues and to assist him in bringing his car rental operations into compliance with Texas law. If it is determined that refunds on are due on Supplementary Liability Insurance coverage, we will assist Mr. Dube and his company by guiding him through that process, which will be undertaken expeditiously.”
What can those customers do?
Customers can sue, even in small claims court. Nguyen says what Priceless Car Rentals is or was doing is a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Consumers who win can collect three times the amount they were overcharged. This company is not just in Houston. There are locations all over the United States.