When D and I went to Panama for the first time in July, we were trying to find information on renting a vehicle in Panama and whether to get full insurance or not and although we did find some information, in general the information was sparse so I thought this would be a good topic to blog about. On our first trip to Panama we rented a vehicle through a Budget dealership in Panama City. We booked our rental on-line. As with any car rental, the price quoted is always the price without the extra insurance, which we were fully aware of. Here comes the tricky part – how much insurance to get? For us and for most credit card companies, insurance is included when using their card. So first thing any new traveller should do is check with their credit card company to see what type of insurance they have and what it covers. However, in Panama, according to the research I had done, if you were to get into an accident, they will charge the full replaceable cost of the vehicle you are renting back to your credit card and it will be up to you to get the money back from your credit card company upon returning to your home destination. Not to mention, it is a legal nightmare!
Well for our first trip to Panama we didn’t want to take any chances and opted for the full package, which of course more than doubled the original cost of our online quote and being that we were going to be doing some driving in Panama City (which is one of the craziest cities to drive in that we have experienced) we wanted to have the security of knowing that there would be no hiccups should we be involved in an accident. Lucky for us, all of our travels were uneventful and we got the vehicle back to them in one piece.
So when D and I returned to Panama in December, we knew we did NOT want to have to do any driving in Panama City and arranged our itinerary so that we would end up renting a vehicle from the airport in David and fly from David to PC to catch our flight home to Canada. This time around we chose to rent from Thrifty Car Rental and chose NOT to get the full insurance package because D felt comfortable driving in David (although still a little crazy – not nearly anything like PC – lol). We opted just for the liability insurance – which you have to get – and would deal with the insurance through our credit card company should any mishaps occur.
After Thrifty went through the process of explaining the different insurance options and we telling them our decision NOT to go with the full insurance package we had to sign a waiver saying that our credit card would be charged the full amount of the vehicle’s worth should we be involved in an accident which we did. So we were given an invoice which showed that our total rental charge would be $461.00 US. However, and this is where everything gets interesting, we had to give them a deposit of $700.00 US, and the difference would be credited back once the vehicle was returned in good shape. We have rented vehicles before and for some rental companies, they will always ask for a deposit greater than the initial cost just in case their are some cleaning fees, damage fees (like smoking in vehicle) etc, etc that will need to be charged after the fact. OK then – slip is signed and we are good to go.
Now let’s fast forward to mid January when my credit card statement is received. As I am going through my transactions I notice that we were charged the deposit fee but were never credited back the $239.00??? Hmmm, that’s odd – we returned the vehicle in good condition and they signed off saying that everything was good?? So D proceeds to try to find a Thrifty number on line where he can inquire about this transaction. After finally getting through to who he thought was the correct person, he is informed that in Panama it can take some time for this credit to show up and to give it a couple more weeks but if he wants to talk to them directly, he would have to phone David, Panama himself. Uggghhhh – really !?!?!? Well, as it turned out D was going to be returning to Panama at the end of January, so it was decided he would call them then.
So now it is time for D to fly out and with all the necessary rental paperwork in order he is good to go. The next day after his arrival in Panama City, he proceeds to the Thrifty car Rental shop and, wouldn’t you know it, he will have to talk to the rental company in David directly – of course he does – lol. This, however, did not deter him. So with correct phone number now in hand he was off. After reactivating the handy-dandy $18 dollar cell phone that was bought on our first trip to Panama the call was made. Fortunately, he talked to the same lady we dealt with in David who spoke fluent English. She said she would have her manager look into it and D was to call her back in the next couple days. Two days later D calls back and voila, yes, we were correct the refund hadn’t been put through yet and she assured us that it usually takes some time to for the refund to be processed (really, really?? it has already been over six weeks – how much time do you need???) but alas she assured us that it would show up by the end of the month. Keep in mind it is now almost the end of January – so did she mean the end of January or the end of February? – lol. We are fully aware of the philosophy of “mañana” and “poco a poco” in Panama so figured we would wait until the end of February.
Fast forward again to today….. So with my latest CC receipt in hand yet again, I am diligently scouring all transactions looking for our refund of $239.00 and wouldn’t you know – you guessed it – no refund! Are you kidding me – really, really!!! It has now been 2 1/2 months since the original transaction. Ok – so now It is now time to call the CC company and put in a formal dispute. This is where it gets even more interesting! While talking to my CC representative, I am told that this is quite common practice in some countries for them to delay, delay and delay putting in their refund. Why you might ask? Because a consumer only has 100 days from date of transaction to put in a formal dispute against a transaction on the CC and many merchants know that so they continually delay in the hopes that this deadline will have lapsed and then there is nothing the consumer can do – they can kiss that refund good-bye! Wow – what a sleazy scam! Anyway, for us, I was able to get in before the deadline and will be filing my official paperwork in the next week once the necessary form is mailed to me in the mail. Good thing I still have my original receipt from Thrifty.
On a side note, friends that were travelling with us in December also rented a vehicle from the same company and they were never actually charged the deposit amount and only the amount they were supposed to be charged??? Strange? So why were we treated differently than them? After some thought I have come to this conclusion. You see, they paid for ALL the insurance and we didn’t. So in the end they must charge the extra fee to people who opt out of the extra insurance and return their vehicle in good shape in order to squeeze that little bit of extra money out of them. So travellers beware – make sure you are being charged what they say you are being charged and if you are overcharged, keep in mind that you have 100 days from the time of transaction to put in your dispute complaint with your CC company. As for Thrifty – I will NEVER rent from them again!