Revisiting car hire price discrimination – 1 step forward (Europcar), 2 steps back (Hertz, Avis)

Back in July 2014 I discovered some price discrimination in prices for car hire, when hiring a car for a Belgium-Germany trip. The details of that discrimination can be found here, and the largest difference was €5.47.

Little did I know that the European Commission was looking at the very same issue at the same time, cumulating with news about the Commission’s investigation in August. The European Commission’s press release is here.

As a result of this convenient parallel experience I have been asked to a European Commission conference in Brussels today entitled “Buying Services everywhere in the Single Market“. I view it as my role here to try to defend the consumer side, based on my own experience. The slides presented are here.

As part of my preparation I have re-visited the car hire issue, re-working my July 2014 example. Now, as then, I have looked for 4 days of car hire (this case Friday 13.3.15, 0800 until Monday 16.3.15 at 1800), with two drivers, and looking at prices with Avis, Hertz and Europcar.

Here are the results.

Hertz
Slide1
Slide2

Hertz has managed to actually make the situation *worse* since the Commission investigation. The difference is now €20.06! It is also impossible to get a book-ahead price when booking from Germany.

Avis
Slide3

At Avis, things are little better – there was €1.00 difference here in July 2014 and now there is €6.28 difference.

Europcar
Slide4

Finally! Progress! Europcar has actually listened to the Commission, and now offers the same price.

So where are we with this case? The Commission’s naming and shaming seems to have made Europcar change its prices, while the situation with Avis and Hertz is worse than it was, and in the Hertz case much worse. Only tighter EU law can change this practice!

(Note: there are also some differences of terms here. BE Hertz 900km / DE Hertz km unlimited. Avis km unlimited. Europcar 600km included in both cases. Also note that Hertz prices when booking in Sweden are even lower than in Germany – just €141.52. Europcar discriminates when it comes to the €-£ exchange rate)

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  1. skgölkasölgkas

    Another thing you could discuss is the difficulty to get the same price and services as the locals do. For example, Denmark has introduced a card known as a Rejsekort (http://www.rejsekort.dk/). There are three different types of cards. You can see the differences at http://www.rejsekort.dk/koeb-rejsekort/sammenlign-rejsekort.aspx (click on the British flag at the top to change the text to English).

    When you use the travel card, you are charged a reservation fee when you begin your journey: 25 kr if you use a personal or flexible card, or 70 kr if you use an anonymous card. If you travel across Storebælt or Lillebælt or between any of Nordjylland, Midtjylland and Sønderjylland, then the reservation fee changes to whopping 600 kr if you use an anonymous card. The reservation is refunded when you get off, and you are instead charged the correct price for the journey, but with a high reservation free, there is likely going to be more money left on the card when you return home. Also, retired people have to pay the adult price when using an anonymous card instead of the lower price for retired people. Also, a personal card is issued free of charge whereas an anonymous one costs 80 kr. As you can see, there are some advantages with the non-anonymous cards. The problem is that it is very difficult to get a non-anonymous card if you do not live in Denmark, effectively forcing lots of foreigners to use the slightly less favourable terms associated with anonymous cards. Let’s take a look at the registration process…

    Danish residents can order a Rejsekort on the Internet and do not have to visit a ticket office. Anyone (Danes and foreigners) getting a card at a station should fill in https://www.rejsekort.dk/~/media/Rejsekort/Skemaer/DSB/dsb-r201-bestilling-rejsekort-over-18-aar-20130730-jkob.pdf (Danish) or http://www.rejsekort.dk/~/media/Rejsekort/Skemaer/DSB/DSB-R201E-Bestilling-Rejsekort-over-18-r-v2-201301001-JKOB.pdf (English). Different forms should be used for people under 18 years old. This form is fairly easy to fill in.

    Non-Danes should also fill in https://www.rejsekort.dk/~/media/Rejsekort/Skemaer/DSB/DSB-R225-Customer-Identification.pdf (bilingual in Danish and English) as it is not possible to find information about non-Danish people in the CPR register. This is where all problems begin. You begin with entering your address outside Denmark in the section entitled “Kundeoplysninger (Customer Information)”. Very simple: I know where in Sweden I live. After that, you will find the next section: “Postadresse i Danmark (Postal address in Denmark)”. Wait a minute, the whole idea is that I live outside Denmark and that I therefore do not have a Danish address! Most non-Danes do not have a Danish address, so this creates a big problem for people applying for the card. I managed to solve this problem by filling in a friend’s address. I have heard from other people that you can apparently get around the problem by simply filling in a random Danish address. It seems that the address neither is verified nor used for anything anyway. However, many people will not attempt doing this and will therefore not manage to get past this step. There were a few other Swedish people at the ticket office at the same time as I was there, and they just gave up when they were faced with this requirement.

    The next problem begins in the section titled “Vedlæg to forskellige kopier af legitimation (Attach two different copies of ID)”. The “ID1” is easy for Swedish people: you just show your passport or driving licence. The “ID2” part is more difficult. A “sundhedskort” seems to be a health insurance card showing your name, address and CPR number, and it seems that it expires regularly and that you will always have a recent one. We do not have that system in Sweden. I have a similar plastic card, but it is around thirty years old and does not show my current address. I don’t know whether this plastic card would work as “ID2”, should the address be up-to-date. “Bopælsattest” or “andet” is what you will have to use instead. The Swedish tax authority can issue a “personbevis”, which I guess is what the form refers to as a “bopælsattest”. You go to the tax authority’s website and requests a “personbevis”, which is then sent to your home in Sweden. Unfortunately, most temporary visitors to Denmark are unaware that you need to request a document from the tax authority in order to benefit from cheap tickets, so few temporary visitors will have the document when they get to the ticket office in Denmark. Returning home and waiting for a couple of days to get a piece of paper from the tax authority will usually not be an option, forcing the person to get the anonymous card instead. All too complicated. I had luckily looked this up in advance and requested the right paper from the tax authority and brought that to the ticket office in Denmark and managed to get myself a personal Rejsekort, but most Swedish visitors will probably fail as they do not have this document. I don’t know what documents you can use as “ID2” if you live in other countries. Everyone in Denmark carries a “sundhedskort”, and there are probably similar cards in other countries, but the “ID2” requirement is a big hurdle for some people.

    Another problem: Here in Stockholm, we have a plastic card for the local buses. You can create an account at https://sl.se/sv/mitt-sl/inloggning/#/skapakonto and then log in on the Internet to top up your card or have it replaced if lost. The problem is that you can only create an account if you live in Sweden and have a Swedish “personnummer” (the Swedish version of the Danish “CPR-nummer”). It was simple for me to create an account, but foreigners are going to run into trouble and won’t be able to get any assistance in the event of a stolen card. Similarly, London’s Oyster cards supposedly require a British postal code.