Travel: Upgrade? It's a con

`The woman who dealt with me was most insistent that I needed a larger car'
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The Independent Culture
WHETHER YOU order a pizza or a piano, you expect the supplier to deliver more or less what you requested. But in the case of car rental in America, what you ask for is rarely what you get.

The story so far: last month I pre-booked an economy-class car in Florida. At the rental depot, I was put under pressure to upgrade to a bigger model. I resisted, and was given a larger car anyway, because there was not a single small car to be found anywhere on the rental lot.

A fortnight ago, some readers revealed how free upgrades can virtually be guaranteed so long as you don't succumb to the salesperson's spiel. But not everyone has been so fortunate. Professor Anthony North, of Leeds, for example. He, like me, had pre-booked an economy-class car before flying to America.

"I presented the voucher at the crowded Hertz desk at Washington International airport and, having settled various details about insurance, I was presented with an agreement. I did not read it through and presumed that the places where I signed related to the matters I had agreed to. The car was a larger size than I had expected. I supposed that they had given me a larger car because they did not have one of the size ordered. When we arrived at our hotel and I read the agreement, I discovered that I had signed to accept an upgrade for a substantially higher charge. I had neither asked for nor been offered an upgrade."

Eventually a helpful rental clerk at the Hertz office in central Washington solved the problem by tearing up the agreement and replacing it with a new, cheaper one, while letting the Norths keep the same car.

The word "upgrade" was mentioned frequently when Geraldine Blake of west London arrived at Sanford in Florida to pick up her car:

"The woman at Dollar who dealt with me was most insistent that I needed a larger car, saying that as a woman travelling on my own it would be dangerous in a small car, particularly where my luggage would be on view. I told her that Iwould take my chances, and so with very bad grace she handed over the keys."

When Ms Blake reached the car, she was astonished. It was huge. "I really enjoyed my two weeks in Florida, but I deeply resent initially being made to feel nervous because someone wanted to make an extra buck."

ANYONE IN Brighton on the Sunday of the last Bank Holiday weekend would have found the place packed with visitors taking advantage of the sunshine and the extraordinary "Anywhere for pounds 1" deal offered by Thameslink Trains. The bargain resulted in huge homebound crowds at the station and left thousands stranded for the night. Leslie K Robinson sensibly left his home in the Sussex town on the day and used the deal to go walking in the Weald, but believes Thameslink deserves some praise:

"This was a brave experiment which in some ways was a spectacular success. The crowds of football proportions pouring into Brighton during the morning was a sight for sore eyes: kids in prams, mums, dads, grannies. Loads of people who probably hadn't been on a train for ages. Someone on the local BBC radio station commented that they only had to go to Disneyland to see how to manage queues."

So will Thameslink repeat the exercise?

"It's certainly something we'll consider again," says the company's Martin Walter - which will be good news for local charities, which stand to earn all the ticket money, totalling around pounds 30,000 for the day.

ALL OF us who use trains, not to mention buses and bicycles, are getting nervous about John Prescott's White Paper on transport - whose publication has been postponed more frequently than a Virgin train. Anyone hoping for a shift towards less destructive forms of travel may be disappointed, judging by the way existing facilities are treated so risibly.

On the first working day of National Bike Week, one of the few cycle lanes in the London borough of Tower Hamlets was blocked by a council van while the driver went shopping.