Price discrimination in car hire Belgium-Germany

I want to rent a car in Brussels for 4 days at the end of August, for a trip to Germany for Rhein on Skates. The round trip will be about 900km, with 2 drivers. We need a small car – Polo or Clio or something like that. I have a German address, and the other driver has a Belgian address.

So first question: book using the Belgian or the German versions of the main car hire websites? Avis BE or DE, Hertz BE or DE, and Europcar BE and DE? Each site deals with residence differently – Europcar allows residence to be set regardless of the landing page you use, while Avis and Hertz default to residence in the country of the domain name of the site.

Having worked that out, what are the prices for 4 days of hire, with 2 drivers?

carhire-avis

With Avis, booking in Belgium is €1.00 cheaper than booking in Germany. The German price stipulates unlimited mileage, and while the Belgian site does not list this I assume it is included.

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carhire-europcar

With Europcar, stating your residence is Germany makes the price €5.47 more expensive than putting Belgium as your residence. Here prices contain 1000km as standard.

Oddly, listing Belgium as place of residence gives you a larger range of hire locations, including “Brussels Center Crown” that is conveniently located close to central Brussels, but isn’t available if you live in Germany.

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carhire-hertz

With Hertz, the price differential is the opposite – the German price is €4.41 cheaper than the Belgian price, if you pay when you collect the car. If you are in Belgium you can pay immediately, and save some money. But here if you book in Belgium you get only 700km included by default, while if you book in Germany the distance is unlimited. Plus trying to work out how much an additional driver costs eluded me altogether on Hertz’s website – hence the lower prices listed here than for Europcar and Avis.

This whole thing leaves me bewildered and annoyed. There can be no tax-based reason for these differentials, as Hertz’s pricing is opposite to that of Avis and Hertz. This strikes me as price discrimination by nationality, pure and simple. Then the companies do not allow you to compare like with like, even within the same company. I wonder what can be done to solve this?

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7 comments

  1. Miriam

    Just saw this in FB’s European Commission news feed:

    Renting a car this summer?

    Today, we issued an open letter urging six major rental car companies in Europe to stop online discriminatory practices as reported by consumers.

    Reports highlighted practices of automatic rerouting following the identification of the consumer’s IP address. While some consumers were prevented from completing their booking online, others were given different a price after having entered their country of residence.

    We are calling on companies that are not yet complying with the non-discrimination principle to report on how they have reviewed their practices by 30 August 2014.

    To find out more about our action see: http://europa.eu/!PQ36hR
    Image credit: http://bit.ly/1nIqSNm

  2. Jon

    @Olivier H (second comment) – it’s hard to tell. I booked – in error – through Europcar as a Belgian resident until I got to the payment screen, and then I entered a German address and it added the extra on at that stage, while not informing me of any change to the terms…

    @I wonder – no, that’s no good as a solution. Because if you pay with a credit card online you need to enter your address and that has to match the address your bank has or else the payment may fail… So a VPN doesn’t really solve it.

    @Bob – fine for people who have a number of addresses…

  3. Bob Beck.

    It’s bizarre and wrong. Booking the same car, from and returning to the same location for the same dates is often significantly cheaper via the UK site of Hertz or Avis than the Belgian one and I’m the same driver. Were I a US citizen, it would be considerably less again.

  4. I wonder

    So if you have a collection of VPNs you can pick and choose the booking location that applies to you?
    Or would need an EU-wide portfolio of addresses and bank cards as well?

    Either way it’s certainly not single market friendly.

  5. Oliver H

    You pick them up at the same centres, but you book from different places, and as such, it is likely that different terms apply.

    The only way to prove price discrimination would be if you book on location, without any online booking, and get different prices depending on your residence.

  6. Jon

    @Olivier H – I disagree. These are the same cars, hired from the very same centres. So maintenance, insurance etc. will be precisely identical. The only things that are different are the terms (kilometres included), and possibly taxes, but the latter does not matter here as far as I am aware. And anyway, as a consumer I want price transparency please!

  7. Oliver H

    It doesn’t have to be price discrimination. There are plenty of things that go into the cost of a car rental. This might just be an expression of how well the respective company negotiated their insurance and maintenance contracts locally and the system calculating the rates based on residence as site of doing business in the booking process.