Paying for Tolls in a Rental Car — Reader Mistake Story

Paying for Tolls in a Rental Car — Reader Mistake Story

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We often publish stories from readers that illustrate how points and miles can help you get where you want to go. However, it’s important to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes, so I’m calling on you to send us your most epic travel failure stories. Email them to info@thepointsguy.com and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, we’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure!

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Liz, who had a huge surcharge tacked onto her rental car bill. Here’s what she had to say:

I recently rented a car from Thrifty for 10 days while visiting Indiana and Kentucky. While crossing the Ohio River, we hit a tollbooth that had options for E-ZPass or payment by mail, but no option to pay the toll with cash. I wasn’t sure how the mail option would work in a rental car, so I turned on the E-ZPass transponder and drove through.

Two weeks after I returned the car, I got a notice in the mail saying that because I had declined the PlatePass service but used the transponder, I was responsible for a charge of nearly $88. I called Thrifty and explained that I didn’t remember being given the option to use the PlatePass, but I’d thrown away my rental agreement by then. Fortunately they agreed to reduce the charge. I ended up paying the $4 toll plus a $15 administrative processing fee, but that’s significantly better than paying $88.

I know to watch out for extra charges for insurance, fuel, car seats, navigation systems and satellite radio, but this was a new one to me.

Silvercar
Some rental companies (like Silvercar) don’t tack on extra fees for toll charges.

Rental car companies have a variety of approaches to dealing with tolls, and none of them are very customer-friendly. To avoid getting hit with “administrative fees” and other bogus charges, I recommend checking your route for toll roads whenever you rent a vehicle. When a toll is unavoidable, find out whether you can use cash or pay in advance online. If not, your best bet may be to just cough up the daily fee to your rental company, or consider renting from Silvercar, which doesn’t mark up the cost of tolls.

I don’t think keeping the rental agreement would have helped Liz in this case, but it’s generally a good idea. In particular, make sure you save the pre-rental damage assessment for at least few weeks after the rental period. Those slips of paper provide valuable evidence to refute a claim against you, and they’ve helped several TPG contributors avoid disputes over damages.

Check out these posts for more tips on maximizing rental cars:

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Liz for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by Andre Kudyusov via Getty Images.

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September 26, 2017 at 01:15PM

My Experience Downgrading my Amex Plat Card

My Experience Downgrading my Amex Plat Card

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Earlier this year, American Express announced they would increase the annual fee on their premium consumer product, The Platinum Card from American Express, by $100 to $550 every year. After taking a closer look at all the benefits, I made the decision to cancel my card. Compared to other products, the Platinum Card felt archaic and stale – meaning it was time for a change.

In turn, I had two true options to turn to as a replacement for my card: the Amex EveryDay Card and the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Although the Amex EveryDay Card had no annual fee attached to it, the card only earned double Membership Rewards points on grocery purchases, up to $6,000 every year. With my want to travel, my penchant for purchasing gift cards towards my next trips at the grocery store and keeping some of the status of holding a charge card, the Premier Rewards Gold card seemed like a better fit. Besides, the $195 fee can be immediately reduced with the $100 airfare credit.

With a month go to before my annual fee came due, I gathered my courage and dialed the American Express Platinum service line. The first time I attempted to call, the automated system hung up on me – which seemed to be a fitting start to my adventure. In my second call, I was able to use the voice prompts to speak with a human and explain my reasons to cancel my card.

I walked through my reasons very rationally and calmly. I explained that with the increased annual fee without benefits that enhance my lifestyle, the Platinum card no longer held the same value and I wanted to explore new options.

Before we talked about alternatives, my customer service representative tried to resell me on the benefits of the Platinum card, including the $200 airline credit and quintuple points on airfare and prepaid hotels. I explained that the Chase Sapphire Reserve offered a better travel credit, and the five times multiplier on hotels did not help me because I did not want to prepay for all my hotels through American Express.

Half expecting to get a retention offer, the customer service agent did not try any further to sell me on the benefits of the card. Instead, he beat me to my own option: downgrade to the Premier Reward Gold card. As a courtesy, I would keep my card number and “Member Since” date, as well as a pro-rated credit on what remained of my annual fee. After reading the terms and conditions, I accepted the offer.

So what happened next? My Platinum card was still usable for one month afterwards, but I wouldn’t need it – my Premier Rewards Gold card came within one week. However, many of the benefits were cancelled immediately: days after making the switch, I received an e-mail informing me I would no longer benefit from Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status granted from the card. While I did not activate my Hilton Honors Gold status from the card, I believe that would have been cancelled as well.

Overall, was it worth it? Yes – in fees alone, I save $150 every year and get better bonus categories, such as double points at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations. While I will miss some of the other perks, such as access to Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs, making the shift helps me get closer to my next frugal adventure, which is the point of this hobby to begin with.

 

Have you ever gotten better service from taking a downgrade? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!

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September 26, 2017 at 01:08PM

Shiver me timbers! Non-pushy marketing saves dosh and drives loyalty

Shiver me timbers! Non-pushy marketing saves dosh and drives loyalty

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Who said the traditional media model is dead?

Certainly, not Holiday Pirates, a sort-of social media driven metasearch for travel deals, which seems to be riding a wave in the travel space that nobody else has yet caught.

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September 26, 2017 at 01:00PM

Online auctions of Boeing 747s reflect shifts in the air-travel industry

Online auctions of Boeing 747s reflect shifts in the air-travel industry

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FOR many aeroplane enthusiasts, buying a Boeing 747 is the stuff of dreams. The “Queen of the Skies” is an icon from the golden age of air travel, a period the 1960s and 1970s when the industry was at its most glamorous. And owning one would be like having a little piece of aviation history.

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September 26, 2017 at 12:48PM

Unlocking a better alternative to soft brands

Unlocking a better alternative to soft brands

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This is a viewpoint from Ian Thorley, VP sales and marketing at Bellstar Hotels & Resorts.

The hospitality industry has recently undergone a brand explosion with over 110 distinct brands overseen by seven top corporate hospitality groups. The fastest growing segment within the hotel franchise universe are “soft brands” which allow hotels to be a part of the parent brand family, while keeping their original name.

These quasi-brands are aimed at converting the considerable number of independent hotels and resorts. But what is the true value that a soft brand brings to an independent hotel or resort and can a soft brand really improve the performance of a property?

Competition time

No matter what any brand officially says, their marketing teams know that all brands under a corporate umbrella are competing against each other. For example, now that Marriott Hotels and Sheraton are more or less under the same loyalty program, do they really offer a unique selling proposition to the guest?

Independent hoteliers represent roughly half of the global hotel industry. Soft brands, such as Marriott’s Autograph, Hyatt’s Unbound Collection and Hilton’s Curio, have been conceived to penetrate this market and increase unit growth.

Starwood believed many of their preferred guests also wanted to stay at independent hotels. To counter the renaissance of the independent hotel, major chains have taken the unique approach of accepting independents into the brand family. By doing so, chains are making the case that independents can perform well — all they need is excellent marketing skills, hotel management expertise and possibly access to a loyalty program.

Loyal subjects

Inevitably, when participating in any brand loyalty programs, there are additional costs that are above and beyond the usual marketing fees associated with brand affiliation.

The fact that Four Seasons performs strongly in guest satisfaction surveys compared with its luxury hotel segment peers while never offering its guests a brand loyalty program shows there is little correlation between a brand with a well-respected loyalty program and overall guest satisfaction.

Jerry Cataldo, president and CEO of Hostmark Hospitality Group, a US-based hotel management company that has Hilton, Marriott, and Choice among its various flagged properties said in an interview recently that resorts especially operate more profitably as independents then when they are flagged.

“You can’t justify the expenses of the brand. It’s a very seasonal marketplace, Memorial Day to Labor Day…You just can’t overcome the fees that are associated with it.”

Rating the difference

In fact, studies confirm this and show that non-branded hotels and resorts will, on average, have higher daily rates and, more importantly, produce higher RevPAR than branded counterparts.

Hotel owners really need to understand whether they will see the benefit of being in a branded family. Hotels with bespoke amenities, architecture and especially unique locations normally offer enough of an identity that any value in branding is lost. One could even make the argument that large convention properties with exceptional marketing and management are also wasting money by being branded.

Social contracts

The popularity of online reviews has also contributed to the renaissance of independent hotels. Word-of-mouth testimonials help to ensure predictability and have allowed travelers to be more comfortable in trying out new experiences. Prior to online reviews, guests valued the insurance of the sameness and consistency of brands with no surprises on beds, furniture, furnishings, and even menus. Effective operations, accounting, staffing, and training now, more than ever, dictate the success of hotels —not brands.

Bellstar Hotels & Resorts, a Canadian-based hotel management company which specializes in managing independent hotels, recently broke down the reservation costs of a top soft brand to confirm what previous studies have stated: that net revenue is much lower with a soft branded hotel.  A recent Cornell University study found that a brand conversion is expected to increase occupancy by an average of 6 percent.

Bellstar has introduced a calculator on its website to allow hotel owners to weigh whether an average increase of 6 percent in occupancy through a brand is enough to offset a significant difference in RevPAR for their own properties. For example, a Bellstar-managed independent property saw a 38 percent positive difference in RevPAR when compared to a soft brand.

Technology options

The proliferation of the mega-brands in the hotel sector, with specific brands aimed at converting independent properties,s being fueled with the mistaken assumption that access to both a brand’s distribution system and loyalty program guarantees success. However technological changes mean it is now possible for specialists of independent hotel management to offer state-of-the-art tools to drive just as effective messaging without significant cost outlays.

Now more than ever hotel owners need to weigh whether the slight increase in occupancy that brands may bring is enough “heads in beds” to offset the very large sacrifice in net daily rates that brands force onto their owners. Hotel management companies that represent independent hotels offer owners a terrific alternative in this new age and can drive much more significant returns for their hotel investment.

This is a viewpoint by Ian Thorley, VP sales and marketing for Bellstar Hotels & Resorts. It appears as part of the tnooz sponsored content initiative.

Image by BigStock.

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September 26, 2017 at 12:02PM

News: Thomas Cook seeks to expand own-brand hotel options with LEMY deal

News: Thomas Cook seeks to expand own-brand hotel options with LEMY deal

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Thomas Cook has entered into a strategic partnership with LMEY Investments, a Swiss-based hotel property development company, to develop and grow Thomas Cook’s own-brand hotel portfolio.

As part of the new partnership, Thomas Cook has acquired from LMEY a 42 per cent stake in Aldiana, a premium club and activity-focused tour operator and hotel management company based in Germany.

Aldiana currently operates eight club resorts located in Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Tunisia and Austria, with plans to open another four resorts over the next two years.

Following the acquisition, Aldiana will sit alongside Thomas Cook’s six existing proprietary hotel brands, bolstering Thomas Cook’s own-brand hotel portfolio with a popular club offering and broadening its reach to new customers.

In addition, Thomas Cook and LMEY have entered into an agreement to work together to create a joint hotel investment platform, in order to accelerate the growth of Thomas Cook’s own-brand hotels portfolio.

The partners intend to establish the platform by contributing a minimum of five owned and directly-managed hotel properties between them.

These seed assets, with a combined value of around £150 million, will be used to develop the platform into a fund focused on acquiring a pipeline of further hotel and resort assets across Thomas Cook’s destination markets.

Thomas Cook chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said: “The development of a strong portfolio of own-brand hotels is absolutely key to our success, allowing us to provide customers with a consistent and high-quality holiday, whatever their needs.

“Our new strategic partnership with LMEY, with its proven track record of identifying and redeveloping highly successful properties in sun and beach locations, gives us the perfect launch pad to accelerate this critical part of our strategy.”

Trading Update

Also today, Thomas Cook said summer 2017 was closing out as expected in a trading update, with the full year underlying EBIT outlook therefore unchanged.

Fankhauser added: “Thomas Cook has enjoyed a good summer.

“Customers from across our markets have shown a strong appetite for our holidays, picking a wide range of destinations in their search for the sun, with Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus proving particularly popular.

“Demand for Turkey and Egypt has also picked up as customers look for quality and value.

“Meanwhile, bookings to Spain, our biggest destination overall, remain level with last year as we continue to manage through what has proven to be a very competitive trading environment, particularly for the UK.”

The group will announce its full year results to September 30th on November 22nd.

Chief Financial Officer

On a busy day for the company, Thomas Cook also revealed group chief financial officer Michael Healy has decided to retire.

The board has appointed Bill Scott, currently director of financial reporting at the company, as his successor.

Over the next three months, Healy will lead a detailed handover to Scott, who will assume the role and be appointed as an executive director on the board on January 1st.

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September 26, 2017 at 11:06AM

News: Dubai International celebrates strong passenger numbers for August

News: Dubai International celebrates strong passenger numbers for August

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Dubai International registered another month of record passenger traffic with 8.2 million passengers welcomed in August, according to the monthly traffic report issued today by operator Dubai Airports.

Boosted by the seasonal rush of travellers, particularly UAE residents returning for the start of the academic year, passenger traffic at DXB reached 8,233,311 in August compared to 7,727,105 recorded in the same month last year, an increase of 6.6 per cent.

The year to date traffic totalled 59,353,368 passengers up 6.3 per cent compared to 55,851,148 recorded during the first eight months of 2016.

During August South America (up 27.4 per cent) was the fastest expanding market in terms of percentage growth followed by Asia (up 21.9 per cent), and Eastern Europe (up 18.8 per cent).

The average number of passengers per flight during the month remained high at 246, up 7.2 per cent compared to 229 recorded in August 2016.

Flight movements totalled 34,370 during the month under review compared to 34,967 recorded in August 2016, marginally down by 1.7 per cent.

Year to date flight movement totalled 274,549, down 1.5 per cent compared to 278,799 recorded during the first eight months in 2016.

Paul Griffiths, chief executive, Dubai Airports, said: “We are very pleased with the way things are shaping up this year, not only in terms of growth, which has been robust with passenger numbers exceeding the eight-million mark three times – in January, July and August.

“As we celebrate Dubai International’s 57th anniversary later this week, we will renew our commitment to make the world’s number one airport for international passenger volumes also the world’s best for customer service.”

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September 26, 2017 at 10:54AM

News: Qatar places latest $2.2bn order with Boeing

News: Qatar places latest $2.2bn order with Boeing

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Boeing and Qatar Airways announced an order today for two 747-8 Freighters and four 777-300ERs (Extended Range), valued at $2.16 billion at list prices.

The airline also received the first of its 747-8 Freighters at a delivery ceremony attended by Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways chief executive and Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Kevin McAllister.

“The addition of our very first 747-8 Freighter is a significant moment for our cargo division, and a welcome addition to our 20-strong cargo fleet of wide-body aircraft,” said Al Baker.

“As the world’s third-largest cargo operator, Qatar Airways continues to invest in fleet expansion, with a second 747-8F due to be delivered in November.

“This reflects our confidence in Boeing to continue to deliver an outstanding product that meets our exacting standards.

“We expect no less than perfection, and we are confident that Boeing will continue to deliver that.”

The announcement is the latest milestone in Qatar Airways’ relationship with Boeing.

The carrier became a launch customer for the 777X in 2013, was the first to operate the 787 in the Middle East and has 20 737 MAX airplanes on order.

“We are proud of our strong, enduring and growing partnership with Qatar Airways and we truly appreciate the value its business has brought to Boeing, its employees, suppliers and our communities,” McAllister said.

“As one of the world’s largest international cargo carriers, it is heartening that Qatar Airways has selected the 747-8 Freighter to meet the needs of its growing cargo operations and to see the important role the 777-300ER continues to play in its long-haul fleet.”

Qatar Airways currently operates a fleet of nearly 100 Boeing widebody airplanes and has more than 100 additional Boeing airplanes on order.

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September 26, 2017 at 10:45AM

News: Caribbean Tourism Organisation to focus on recovery at special session

News: Caribbean Tourism Organisation to focus on recovery at special session

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Caribbean Tourism Organisation to focus on recovery at special session
Grenada will welcome the CTO event in October

In the wake of the catastrophic impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on some member countries, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation is adding a special session to the upcoming State of the Tourism Industry Conference in Grenada.

The event will focus on how to recover and rebuild after a major disaster.

The three-hour session on Thursday, October 12this designed to explore and examine the issues and key recommendations to be considered as the Caribbean rebuilds after the monstrous category five storms, in particular, or other natural disasters it might face in the future.

It will focus on the economic cost of the disasters, including potential impact on gross domestic product, employment, the cost to rebuild and recovery time.

Delegates will hear from leading experts in disaster preparedness and mitigation, recovery, airport development and maintenance, airlines, telecommunications and travel, as well as representatives of the hotel sector and member countries that have experienced, and recovered from, major catastrophes.

“This is the time when not only do we have to focus on the state of the industry as we know it today, but because of the really strong hurricanes that have affected our region this year we have to focus a great deal of attention as well on our economic recovery as an entire region and how to rebuild with the resilience and structural integrity to protect ourselves in the future,” said CTO secretary general Hugh Riley.

Following the session a report will be produced to guide governments and stakeholders on how to move forward in this difficult time.

The State of the Tourism Industry Conference, which has as its theme, Supercharging the Caribbean Brand: Meeting the Needs of the New Explorers, is being organised by the CTO in collaboration with the Grenada Tourism Authority and Grenada’s ministry of tourism.

It will be held from October 10th-13th at the Radisson Grenada Beach Resort.

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September 26, 2017 at 10:45AM

News: Karl-Ludwig takes over as chairman at Lufthansa

News: Karl-Ludwig takes over as chairman at Lufthansa

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The board of Lufthansa has elected Karl-Ludwig Kley as the new chairman.

The decision comes after Wolfgang Mayrhuber informed members of the board that he would resign from office ahead of the annual general meeting of the company.

Kley holds a doctorate in law and has been a member of the supervisory board of Deutsche Lufthansa since 2013.

From 1998-2006, he was chief financial officer of Deutsche Lufthansa before becoming a member of the executive board of Merck from 2006-2016, serving as its chairman since 2007.

Mayrhuber deliberately wanted to implement the change in office of the chairman of the board six months before the end of his term.

He explained: “In the interest of continuous development and a forward-looking development, I have resigned from my mandate so that Karl-Ludwig Kley can assume the position as chairman.

“I am convinced that he will fulfil this role as a long-standing industry expert and manager with great success.

“I have also resigned with the reassuring knowledge that the company is showing a positive earnings trend and an overall strong performance.”

Mayrhuber, who has served the company for more than 40 years, began his career at Lufthansa in 1970 as an engineer in engine maintenance in Hamburg.

In the following years, he held different management positions of all levels within the maintenance division.

In 2003 Mayrhuber succeeded Jürgen Weber as chief executive of the Lufthansa Group.

During his time as chairman he created the basis for Lufthansa Group’s current structure by acquiring and integrating SWISS and Austrian Airlines, investing in Brussels Airlines and establishing Germanwings.

In 2013, Mayrhuber became chairman of the supervisory board.

“I am very pleased about my election as chairman of the board of Deutsche Lufthansa.

“This position entails a high degree of responsibility, which I will bear in the interest of shareholders, customers and employees.

“On behalf of all board members, I would like to thank Wolfgang Mayrhuber for his successful work and his great merits to the company,” said Kley.

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September 26, 2017 at 10:35AM