Battle of the Alamo refund: Woman left in lurch at Geneva by car hire firm has long fight to get

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The Independent Online
MARGARET KINSMAN is furious about the service she has received - or failed to receive - from Alamo, a national car rental firm.

Not only did it fail to provide her with the hired car she paid for before going on a week's holiday to Switzerland, it has also failed to compensate her for the cost of hiring a replacement. Whenever she calls the company, she is told to contact its headquarters in Florida instead.

Ms Kinsman, a lecturer in English literature at South Bank University, said: 'When I called the last time, I spent an hour beforehand watering the plants in order to calm me down. But I am extremely cross at the way I have been treated. I want my money back. Most importantly, I do not believe this is how any company should be treating its customers.'

Ms Kinsman's problems began when she decided to hire a car from Alamo during her holiday in Geneva in May. The car was booked through Holiday Autos, based in central London.

She said: 'I booked a Renault Twingo for a week for pounds 149 and paid for the car in advance on my Access card. When I arrived at Geneva airport, an Alamo representative gave me a tacky photocopied letter.

'It said that owing to a 'temporary' shortage of vehicles Alamo was unable to supply me with my car. I should simply hire another one, pay for it, send in the receipt and there would be a prompt reimbursement of my bill.'

Ms Kinsman hired another car from Avis at a cost of pounds 355, which also went on her Access card. When she returned to Britain she contacted Alamo at the company's UK headquarters in West Drayton, Middlesex. She said: 'They first told me that Alamo in this country does not deal with complaints and that if I needed a refund I would have to go to the company's headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. They then told me that the person responsible for refunds was coming over to Britain from the United States in a couple of weeks and would I like to wait until she came over.'

In the past two months, Ms Kinsman has written several times and made at least 12 phone calls to West Drayton. She was recently sent a cheque for pounds 177 from Florida, well short of the pounds 355 she paid Avis for a replacement car.

Sandy Richards, the company's public relations manager in Fort Lauderdale, said: ''The reason why there was not a full refund was that there was a mistake in the currency calculation between dollars and pounds. We are sending her an additional cheque, with our apologies.'

However, Ms Richards said the cheque would be for just pounds 29, not the cost of hiring a replacement car from Avis: 'Ms Kinsman will have to go to Holiday Autos and get the rest of the money from them.

'They did not forward any money to us, and they are the ones who should be refunding her the remaining pounds 149.'

Asked whether, given Ms Kinsman's time-consuming efforts to get a refund, the company should offer her some compensation, Ms Richards said: 'I do not believe that we would be doing that.

'If she had to make some calls then we would be prepared to pay for those. If she would like to send additional copies of her telephone bills to us in Florida, that's fine. We will consider them.'

Clive Jacobs, chief executive at Holiday Autos, the largest car-hire agent in Europe, said: 'I can understand why Ms Kinsman is angry. What Alamo's representative in Geneva should have done is tell her to get in touch with us in London for a refund.

'If she gets in touch with us here, we will offer her a full refund plus compensation for the trouble she has been through. We will then sort the matter out with Alamo.'

(Photograph omitted)