The case of the missing car rental agency

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 11, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, car rental, cruise, disaster, Erica Silverstein, hotel, insurance, vacation package.

Travel is always a little trickier in foreign countries, even if you're dealing with a U.S. company. Lisa D. had a spot of trouble when she tried to rent a car in Italy.

"I booked a rental car for pickup at Rome's Fiumicino airport through a major online reservation service. Upon arrival at FCO, I found that the rental car company was not located with the other rental car companies, and was instructed to go to the "tourist window" at Terminal A. Of course, when I arrived there, the window was closed. Personnel at the airport information booth could not help, simply telling me to direct dial the rental car agency. I tried that, but of course the phone number provided by the reservation service was disconnected. I then called the reservation service directly (on my mobile from Italy!) and was placed on hold for 20 minutes only to be told that they could not help me find an alternate rental car.

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"I went online at an Internet kiosk but could not find an automatic transmission car in all of Fiumicino airport. I waited close to three hours for the tourist window to open, only to be told that the meeting point for my rental car agency had been moved to terminal B three weeks earlier. Once I found the correct window at Terminal B, I was told that the rental car office was actually not in the airport, but in the town of Fiumicino (10 minutes away), and had to take a shuttle there. Did I mention that I had my sister and 75-year-old mother with me? The entire process took over five hours."

What to do

In the U.S., it's usually easy to find the desk for your rental car agency, and you're on the road in no time. If you plan to rent a car overseas, always ask where you'll need to go to pick up the car, so you have that information before you get on the plane. Also ask for an international phone number to call should you have problems once overseas.

As Lisa found out, cell phones are handy in emergencies, but the calls aren't cheap. Consider getting an international phone card or even renting an international cell phone for use on your travels abroad.

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