The rental car damage scam, discount airline bait & switches and breaking rules while traveling

Fredricksborg Castle, Denmark

1) What’s the biggest travel mistake(s) you’ve made, and what lesson(s) did you learn from it?

I always try to plan ahead to avoid travel mistakes, but sometimes mistakes are bound to happen even with the most seasoned traveler. The two biggest travel mistakes I have made were pretty big and pretty avoidable if I had just done what I know I am supposed to do. Let’s dive right in.

The Rental Car Damage Scam – I recently rented a car from one airport and returned it to a different airport. Often this is cheaper than getting a shuttle to the airport or paying to park, and in this case it was. I was all excited because the rental car desk was right in the baggage claim of the tiny airport I was at. The attendant upgraded us to a minivan and told us we could just jump in and leave. We walked out and the parking lot was dark. I did a once-over of the van, but didn’t notice any damage. We had just gotten off a plane and we were tired. That’s my excuse. Add a DVD player with a minivan television to the mix, and I wasn’t about to take pictures and video of the rental car like I normally do. The craziest part was when we left the airport parking lot nobody checked the car for damage. We just drove right on out. I thought in my head, “Wow, I really love these small airports.” They didn’t try to hard sell the insurance and we were in the rental car and driving off the lot in 10 minutes. Easy peasy.

My hubby drove the car around for a couple of days and we returned it to another airport. Right when we got out of the car we noticed the check-out girl eyeing the vehicle like it was damaged. I was squinting my eyes because I definitely didn’t see what she was talking about. There was no visible damage, so I didn’t know what she was pointing out. Then it got even more stressful, she called out the manager and says the corner of the door is “pushed in”, not dented mind you, just pushed in. She said that the door was “warped” and it wasn’t noted on the check-out paper, so we were responsible for the door. What the heck? No way! I didn’t even see what she was talking about. The manager tells us she will have to file a report with the claims department and they will bill us and we can bill our insurance. We were like “NO WAY, we are not agreeing to any of this.” We argued with various different people from the rental car place. They won’t believe that the place we rented from doesn’t have an attendant that checks the cars at exit. We asked the manager to call the other airport. She says she has no way of contacting the other airport rental car place, even though they are in the same rental car company. Ugh!!! To top it all off, it was my 13 year wedding anniversary and we spent most of the night fighting with a rental car company.

You know what could have saved us all this stress and trouble? Well, we should have taken pictures and video of the rental car and there would have never been a question about damage because we would have had timestamped evidence.

I think my husband and I argued with them until they gave up on getting us to pay. It’s been a couple of months and I still haven’t heard from them. However, I have read that sometimes rental car companies will take months to charge through damage. I am hoping we pleaded our case efficiently enough. Afterward, I read countless stories on the internet about how many other travelers have been in this exact same situation with the exact same rental car company.

Moral of the story: Always take pictures of a rental car before you drive it off the lot. If you want to really seal the deal, make sure you get video as well. This way you can’t be held responsible for damage you did not incur.

The Discount Airline Bait and Switch – My husband had wanted to go to a reunion concert of one of his favorite bands, but it was during a really busy time and he thought it just wasn’t going to work out. It was a 6 hour drive from our house, and we have children, and it would have just been too much work and planning to do 12 hours of driving over a weekend. I knew how much my husband wanted to see the band, so I secretly planned a weekend getaway. I arranged for the kiddos to get picked up for the weekend by their grandparents and I secretly booked tickets on a discount airline. We were flying out on a Thursday night. The concert was on Friday night and I had planned on flying back on Sunday morning. While I was booking the discount airline flight, an ad popped up that said it was $50 cheaper per ticket to fly back on Saturday night rather than on Sunday morning, so I decided that I would save us $100 bucks and a night at a hotel to fly back a day earlier. I snatched that deal up and we were on our way. I told my husband I was taking him on a date night, but I had secretly packed a suitcase and hid it in the trunk. We went out to eat at his favorite restaurant and instead of heading home we headed to the airport. He was shocked (in a good way) that I had arranged the whole trip secretly. He guessed once we got to the airport that I was taking him to see the concert. We had a great trip, a great concert, and great weekend getaway. We usually travel with our children, and although we missed them terribly, and are huge proponents of traveling with our children, we had a blast traveling just the two of us again.

When we got to the airport for our return flight, we tried to check-in at the kiosk, but it said we didn’t have a reservation. We went up to the check-in desk and they said that we weren’t on the flight. They did some further research and found out we were scheduled for the exact same flight a week later on Saturday night. They went on to inform us they could get us on tonight’s flight, but it would cost us $500 for the flight change fees. Hello??? I only paid $97 round trip for both flights in the first place. There was no way I was paying that.

We decided to cut our losses and not use the flight home. We rented a car at the airport, drove the 6 hours home, and did a one way drop off. It cost us an additional $97, but that was a steal compared to what they wanted us to fork over at the airport. I kept kicking myself that I fell for the pop-up ad to change my flight. I had assumed that they were saying to fly back a day early and not a week later. I just didn’t read the fine print close enough. It was mistake that still haunts my travel plans. I ended up calling the airline when we got home and getting $50 in vouchers for a future flight. That was more than half the cost of the flights in the first place, so that was nice, but I had to fight pretty hard to get that since they were nonrefundable fares.

Moral of the Story: Always, double, triple, quadruple check your itinerary, especially on discount airlines. Get a screen shot of your reservation before you click to pay. It’s super important to get your travel plans correctly the first time you order.

2) What are your travel pet peeves?

Rule Breakers- My biggest travel pet peeve is when you go to a place with clearly defined rules and people insist on breaking those rules. For example, we recently went to this place called Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California. It’s really a beautiful that’s even more amazing because of the weird way that pollution caused it to be a unique tourist spot.

The beach used to be a trash dump in the early 1900s. Trash trucks would just dump their rubbish over the cliffs and it would sit in the ocean to rot. This was a dumping ground for the city until the late 1960s. Luckily something beautiful came from this disgusting mess. Over time, nature reclaimed the trash. Old kitchen stoves turned in to coral reefs teaming with life. Twisted metal from scrapped cars became homes to crabs, fish, and other sea life. The beach itself is not made from sand, it is made of thousands of particles of sea glass that has been hit and smoothed by the sea waves. The colors glisten in the sun and when the waves hit the sea glass it makes a beautiful metallic sound like an instrument playing a melodious tune. It’s a stunning sight to see and I am glad I got to experience it before rule breakers ruin it for future generations. You see, while we were there we noticed signs posted everywhere that say to not take the sea glass with you. The problem is that, even though it’s technically trash, nature has taken back over, and made a beautiful place to see. If everyone comes and takes the sea glass then it will not be there for future generations to see. It is amazing that something people ruined in the first place will be ruined again by greedy people who feel the need to not respect the rules. We saw people with not just one or two pieces of sea glass, but huge bags of sea glass!

It was so annoying to see people blatantly disrespecting the area. As someone who has traveled near and far it is simply mind boggling to see people do these types of things. We’ve seen people deface natural rock formations, hop over barriers, and touch artifacts that are placed next to “Do Not Touch” signs. These folks have no consideration for the other travelers who will visit the place after they are gone. They teach their children that it is okay to not pay attention or follow rules. I always let my own children be the loud voice of reason in a place. My kids will say, “Mommy and Daddy, those people are taking the sea glass. The signs say they aren’t supposed to do that.” My husband and I reply, “Sometimes people don’t follow the rules, but we know we should. Rules are there for a reason. We will continue to do what we know is right, even if we see others around us not doing the same.” I guess that’s our passive aggressive way of letting the rule breakers know we don’t approve.

Moral of the Story: Follow the rules of the place you are visiting. Be respectful, even if you think it shouldn’t be a rule. Leave it intact for future visitors.

My Vacation Pants is a traveling family that specializes in budget family friendly travel. We like to go to unique and exciting places on a tight budget. We are a one income family that travels for 3 months out of the year. Check out our blog at www.myvacationpants.com.


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