Australian “free” fares must be free from now on

It’s a seductive little move: offer free flights, and then slap the passenger with taxes and additional fees. Tiger Airways just did it this month. It attracts potential customers, generates buzz … all the good stuff that an airline needs in this market. A new law, however, is going to bring all this to a close. Air carriers will have to disclose all the “extra” costs up fronts, and free, for once, will mean free.

And, it’s not just the airlines. This overhaul of consumer protection laws covers any company that sells travel – including hotels and town car companies. It could even rope in dive tour providers.

We can debate who loses with this development forever, but the winners are immediately apparent: anyone who voted for this law looks like a consumer rights champion. Beat up on the airlines, if you’re an Aussie elected official, and you’re really asking the voters to let you keep your job.

Car rental scams to look out for

Whenever I’ve rented a car, I’ve always felt a bit anxious wondering what option to take when it comes to the insurance–or if the price is going to truly be what the information says it will be. Driving off a car lot in something I don’t own is thrilling on one hand, but disconcerting in another. What if something goes wrong?

So far, I haven’t been scammed, but I’ve probably paid for insurance I didn’t need–that loss of use business makes me wary–and I’ve double and triple checked what it is I’m signing up for. In many cases, I’ve been able to work out a better deal like trading up for a roomier car at the same initial rate for a smaller car.

Chris Elliot outlines scams to watch out for in his article “Hell on Wheels: Four Car Rental Scams.” They are scams because they unfairly tip in the car rental companies’ favor if a customer doesn’t pay attention to the fine print. Here are the three that I’ve watched out for myself. For the fourth one, read his article.

1. Refueling- For example, as with happened with us this summer when we rented our car at the Bellingham airport, the car rental person offered us the refueling charge option. At first it seemed like a fair deal, but it only would have been be a fair deal if we brought back the car with an empty tank. In our case, we turned him down and refueled making sure the needle went above the F right before we hit the airport. Elliot says that sometimes car rental companies will charge refueling anyway, even if the tank is full, but the needle is a tad below the F.

2. Doing anything outside of the initial terms of the contract. If you bring a car back early you can pay for a much higher rental feel. If you’ve rented for a week, you have a week rate. One day earlier puts you into the pay by the day category. I’ve always stayed within the original contract so this hasn’t been a problem. Years ago I added an extra week to a car leasing deal in Paris for not much extra money, but that sort of deal may be long gone.

3. Damage to the car. Car rental companies have also been known to charge for the same dent more than once. Technically, if the car is damaged while in your care, your insurance is responsible, unless you have the insurance through the car rental company. Elliot suggests taking pictures of the different sides of the car before you drive it off the lot to prevent the chance you may be charged for something you didn’t do. This fall I had a car rental after a car accident and made sure the guy marked down any ding I saw no matter how small. The car was white which made me feel nervous the whole time I was driving it. I found myself parking far away from other cars whenever possible.