Up until arriving on Fuerteventura, my preferred car hire booking agency was Auto Europe. I always found their prices to be extremely competitive, a factor which is even more important when you travel and hire cars a lot, as we do. I confess, I don’t normally even bother to look who the actual car hire company is, I just turn up, sign the documents and collect the car.
It’s a common feature of our travel that we have to ‘hit the ground running’ because inevitably we try to cram as much into trips as we can and time is of the essence. Fuerteventura last month was no different. In that respect, things haven’t always been perfect with our Auto Europe bookings. Sometimes the car hire company has been a distance from the airport and we’ve had to be ferried there and back by the company adding additional time to our journey but on the whole the service has been acceptable, and the price has made it worth it.
We always knew time was going to be against us on Fuerteventura. Over the course of an eleven day trip we planned to undertake nine walks, averaging 16km per day; two driving tours taking in much of the island, and a trip to Los Lobos. So getting up at 4.30am to get the first flight to Fuerteventura and arriving at 8am was essential.
I had booked the car hire from the airport at 8am. By the time we got our bag and walked into the arrivals hall it was 8.20am. My booking form told me to wait at bus stop number 1A with a note alongside that said ‘runs every 10-15mins’. Not being familiar with Fuerteventura airport we went the wrong direction out of the terminal and it took us a little time to get back to the right bus stop. We got to the bus stop at 8.30am and were still standing there at 9am with not another soul in sight. I tried to ring the local number I had been given but got a recorded message that the phones were not working and could I try again later. After several attempts I gave up. Unsurprisingly, by the time the mini bus rolled up at 9.05am, we were livid.
And it went from bad, to worse.
Arriving at the Goldcar office which is on an industrial estate a few minutes drive outside of the airport, I was told I had the option of a) paying €120 non-refundable insurance or b) handing over my credit card for them to ‘stop’ €600 insurance until after my return of the car. I had to ask the woman (who was extremely pleasant and professional throughout my dealings with her) to explain this to me several times as I could not believe my ears.
Finally, and reluctantly, I opted for b) and handed over the card I had used to make the booking only to be informed that a debit card is not acceptable, it has to be a credit card. I don’t use a credit card, I only use debit and cash. I was then told quite simply – pay the €120 or you can’t have the car. I tried to cancel the booking altogether but was told that the money I had already paid to Auto Europe was nothing to do with Goldcar and I would have to apply to Auto Europe for a refund.
I now had a choice. I could either waste more precious time returning to the airport, try to book a car with a different company and then hope to get a refund from Auto Europe when I returned home, or I could succumb to Goldcar’s dodgy practices. With the clock now ticking towards 9.30am, I handed over the €120 non-refundable insurance.
Googling Goldcar, the search results are littered with headlines including the words WARNING! Don’t use! BEWARE! and Rip Off! And with good reason.
I cannot understand the business logic of such short term opportunism at the cost of long term relationships with customers. What’s more, I can’t help wondering if this practice is even legal. Of course, Goldcar say their terms and conditions are clearly laid out to see before you agree to the booking but when you use a broker you don’t get the full contract until after you’ve booked. I have five pages of A4 conditions in my agreement. Guess which page this little condition is on? Yep, Page 5. But it also states that in the case of a debit card the €600 has to actually be taken from the account and returned once the car is returned undamaged. I wasn’t given that option.
- Don’t EVER book a car through Goldcar again and advise everyone you know to give them a very wide berth.
- Don’t use Auto Europe again as you don’t get to see the full contract conditions until after you’ve made your booking. To be fair to Auto Europe they now include ‘mandatory deposit information’ on all their Goldcar offers but I’m afraid it has left too bad a taste in my mouth and I won’t be using them again.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+