Two outrages -- one new, one old
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Two outrages -- one new, one old

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Two outrages -- one new, one old

Rental car sign.

This week brought two new cases of arrogant behavior and a tin ear for consumer input on the part of the travel industry. The newest -- from United Airlines -- is by far the most revealing and disturbing, but a small car rental company in Florida continues a long tradition of the industry's longest-running insurance scam.

"As long as we get you there by the same time tomorrow, you get no refund if we reschedule your flight." United might as well be using that claim to highlight its new schedule change policy. Here it is, copied and pasted from United.com:

When a schedule change happens, we try our best to provide you with options that minimize the disruption to your travel plans. In cases where the new flight options don't work for you and one of the following scenarios applies, we may be able to offer you a refund:

United said it would not refund tickets for changes less than 25 hours, but that it would give credit toward future flights for scheduled departure or arrival time changes by two hours or more.

The change causes issues with the overall length of the trip, such as making the connection time too short or significantly longer than it was originally.

If we are unable to accommodate you in the same cabin as purchased -- refunded either the full price or the difference in fare.

If you're not satisfied with your new itinerary and one of the above scenarios applies, please don't accept the itinerary in Manage Reservations. Instead, you can request a refund online.

How well would that work for you? I know it doesn't work for me. I have reservation for a flight from Boston to Newark in early April, leaving at 3:55 p.m., which I'm taking to make an overnight flight leaving at 9:40 on a different airline. That schedule leaves me plenty of slack time for delays and problems, and if worst comes to worst, I can catch Amtrak. But if United reschedules me on a flight departing as late as 4:55 the next day, United won't give me a refund. Feh.

This outrage won't bother United's bread-and-butter business traveler clientele, folks who typically fly on refundable flexible tickets. Instead, it's aimed squarely at more vulnerable leisure travelers on nonrefundable tickets.

At this writing, American, Delta, and United's smaller competitors haven't said anything. But as I've often noted, in the travel business, nothing catches on faster than a bad idea. Be warned.

Meanwhile, down in Ft. Lauderdale, a reader reports being subjected to one of the rental car industry's hoariest scams. He rented a car through a major online travel agency (OTA) at a small off-airport rental company at what looked like a very good rate. When he arrived at the rental counter, he indicated that, as most consumer advocates and I recommend, he had collision insurance covered through his credit card and would not need the rental company's grossly overpriced collision-damage waiver. But the agent didn't accept that and refused to let him drive off the lot without accepting the company's "Loss of Use & Handling Insurance" fees, at $3.95 per day each. He reluctantly signed on, because he needed to get on with his trip, and paid the extra $59. When he tried to get a refund through the OTA, it told him that his problem was with the rental company. When he asked the rental company for a refund, it replied that he had accepted the charge and therefore wasn't due a refund.

The fact is that most credit card and other third-party rental car insurance specifically covers "loss of use," and "handling" is a nominal charge for processing paperwork, so the traveler did not really need either coverage. But it's no secret that, one way or another, some rental companies incentivize agents to sell overpriced insurance, and agents often lie to make the sale.

What to do? The only way to avoid some combination of a loss and a hassle is to check the rental company -- especially a small off-airport outfit -- before you rent. The big companies by now are pretty good about accepting third-party collision coverage, but the small rental company in this case had extremely bad Yelp reviews.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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