Cancun Car Rental Scumbags

August 13, 2011

This page was updated on August 18, 2011 with graphics and final comments.

Today I had a very frustrating encounter with a local car rental company. Since I promised them to make them known I am going to post this warning tale for other potential customers.

I had a tour to Dolphinaris in Cancun reserved for today. Since our resort is some 70-80 kilometers from Cancun location where we had our tour, they don’t provide transportation to our remote area. That’s why we decided to rent a car for the day. We also wanted to check out Zona Hoteliera in Cancun while in that area, as well as spend some time in Wet &Wild Water Park which is adjacent to Dolphinaris, and admission to which was included in the Dolphinaris tickets.

So as soon as I reserved tickets to Dolphinaris earlier this week I went on line to reserve a car. I had checked out a few car rental companies, including some international brands like Avis and Budget, before going on vacation. I found a local company Caribbean Rent a Car (cancunrentacar dot com) that had considerably more competitive prices. When I was checking it from the US the online price for a compact automatic Nissan Tsuru was $45/day, including all insurance and other fees. When I checked their website from within Mexico, the price was already $52/day. Price targeting based on geolocation is nothing new, so I decided to reserve a car with them at that price anyways. It was still a good deal given that other companies were offering a comparable car for at least 50% more. I also checked the rates with a rental car representative of America Car Rental in our resort’s lobby and they were offering the same exact car I found online for $88.

I did not have any concerns about dealing with a local company, as last year on vacation in Barbados we rented a car from a local company and received a great deal compared to international brands along with great personalized attention. So it seemed like a no-brainer to go with the local company I found online.

Once I started the online reservation process the next warning signal came up. Since my Dolphinaris tour was reserved for 10 AM, I wanted to have sufficient time to get to Cancun. Online reservation system allowed me to book the car for 7.15 AM. I was not sure that it was true, so I called their phone number to confirm that they can do it so early.  The guy on the phone confirmed there was no problem with that early time, so I proceeded with the online registration.

After I completed the reservation I received an email confirmation shortly after. !!! However the email said that my reservations time was changed to 8 AM due to the company’s office hours. I figured there was still enough time as I reserved for 7.15 just to have some cushion time.

To be on a safe side though, I called Dolphinaris to change my tour to a later time. They were very accommodating and changed my tour to 12.30 PM. I also received an email from them the next day with changed time.

Everything seemed alright at the time, and I proceeded with my vacation as usual with great expectation for Dolphinaris visit and a feeling that everything was taken care of. The email from the car rental company mentioned that the representative would meet me at the lobby of my resort at the appointed time.

Today in the morning I came to the lobby at about 8.05 AM looking for the representative to get my car. I was waiting for about 15 minutes as the front desk clerk told me that a rental company rep should be calling out my name. This did not happen so I called the phone number listed in my reservation.

This call was a beginning of a very prolonged and frustrating experience. The guy customer service rep on the phone informed me that there was some problem with the reserved car, but they would be able to offer me a bigger car at a little bit higher price. If you ever rented a car in the US you know that in case when a company does not have a requested car size, but they have a better car, they offer you that car at the original rate of the ordered car. Therefore I told the rep that I would take a bigger car at the original rate I had in the confirmation letter. He told me they could not do it that way, but he would talk with his manager to see what they could do for me.

I asked him just out of curiosity what was “a little bit higher” rate. It was $65 – a whole 25% more. On my books I consider “a little bit higher” shouldn’t be more than 5-10%. And at any rate, I felt it was not fare for them to ask for extra money after all reservations and rates had been confirmed. I guess we are “too spoiled” by the customer service and policies common at (inter-)national car rental brands in the US. I also asked the phone guy where was the company representative  who was supposed to meet me at the lobby. Turned out it was the same guy who was at the desk of the rental car place in the lobby – America Car Rental, i.e the guy who had quoted me $88 for the same car a few days earlier. Apparently Caribbean Rent a Car and America Car Rental is the same company under different names. Now it all started to look like a classical “bait & switch” scam. Anyways, the phone rep promised to call me back in a few minutes after talking to his manager.

After 15 minutes of waiting I called back again. The same rep told me that the manager was a bit busy and the rep had not had a chance to talk to him yet. I was getting really aggravated by the whole situation because I was now really getting late from my 8 AM reservation, no one was communicating with me unless I called them, and I was being played games with. I told the rep on the phone in so many words that he would tell his manager that if I were forced to pay higher rate I would do it,  but I would make sure to share the ugly extortion experience I had with their company on tripadvisor.com and other online venues (such as this blog). At this warning the rep became just as apprehensive as I was and told me that they would not get intimidated by such statements. Based on my short experience with them I assume their company had been slammed before by aggravated customers and their reputation is so below it that they have nothing more to fear.

At that moment I knew I needed some contingency plan. I did not cancel my reservation with Caribbean Rent a Car at that moment, but I hang up on the guy and went to the concierge to ask for the phone numbers of rental car international brands. I explicitly asked not to give me any more local dealers. I got three companies and called them to see their rates and if they could deliver me a car ASAP.

One of them – Executive (I later found out that it is a Mexican national car rental company) said they had a car available and could pick me up in five minutes from the resort to take to their office to write up the rental contract and give me a car. It was $70/day, but I would rather pay that, than $65 to the crooks with no sense of customer service that I had dealt with before.

America Car Rental - scammers

America Car Rental - scam alert!

While I was calling other companies and making reservation with Executive my wife stopped at the America Car Rental desk one more time to ask about the status of our reservation and when the car would be ready for us. The company representative told her that “our reservation had been canceled and he did not have any cars available for us.” What a grand finale for a lousy business model and appalling customer service! Notice, that they did not even call me back to inform me about their “executive  decision” to reject my business. I was sure glad that I did not wait for them and had another car reserved in the meanwhile.

Given my overall experience with Caribbean Rent a Car/America Car Rental I have little doubt now that advertised online prices are bogus and serve just as a bait to lure a customer and then to coerce them to pay a higher price when a customer is cornered and may have no other choices and limited time. Imagine if this reservation were for a drive to the airport to catch your flight back home. In that case I would just cough up extra money without arguing, because the stakes of missing the plane would be much higher. Even in our case, reservation for Dolphinaris was a few hundred bucks, and I only tried to protect my consumer rights because I had some extra time for maneuvering.

At the Executive car rental office in Puerto Aventuras we filled out all the papers just to run into the next hiccup. When I sat in the car I saw immediately that it had manual transmission, even though I had asked over the phone for automatic only. The guy looked confused, but he offered us an upgrade to a bigger car (mid-SUV Dodge Journey 7 Passenger) at the same price of $70 without arguing. I don’t know if it had been a part of another game, but I am willing to give a benefit of doubt to him. So I personally don’t hold this little mishap against them.

Overall, it seems that the car rental in Mexico is quite a murky business of hit and miss. I read some feedback on Executive upon returning to the US, and some customers at other locations had been scammed there too. So be prepared to deal with “unexpected” problems, as they seem to be built-in into the system, and proceed at your own risk.

I wonder however, how the international car rental companies behave in that environment. Do they keep up their standards that customers in North America and Europe are used to, or do they slide into the same lackluster if not outright scamming practices common for local operators?