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Avis charged me an extra €345.63 for returning a car two days early

Picture this scenario. A company hires me to work for them in house for a month. I ditch my normal per day rate and give a special price for the entire month. The contract specifies that it is a special rate for a full month.

In the end, the company decide they do not need my services for the final week, and they let me leave early.

What should I charge the company? I think most people would expect me to charge the original fee. After all, I booked time in my agenda for that final week and might not find other projects to take up the time.

But what if I told the client that because they were not using my services for the final week, I was going to charge then four and a half times the original price? What would the client think of my business? Would they ever use my services again? Would they recommend my services to other potential clients?

My bad experience with Avis

This is what happened to me when I hired a car from Avis.

I needed a car from 26 April to 16 May, and found a great price with Avis, at just €98.11. Adding a few extra days did not change the price, so given the frequency of strikes in France, I decided to extend the booking to 18 May, so that if my flight got cancelled I would still have the car for the extra two days.

The booking included the following clause:

AvisTerms

For those who don’t speak French, it says “You shall not be refunded for the days that you do not use the car”.

This made perfect sense. If my flight went ahead as scheduled, then by returning the car on 16 May, I’d pay the same price as in the original booking and wouldn’t receive a refund.

Things turned out rather differently.

Unlike the conditions stated on the original booking, the conditions I signed when I went to collect the car said that the price was subject to hiring the car for at least 21 days. Yes, I realise that I should have queried this when I collected the car, but I’d already tried to check it would be fine and had been reassured by the above condition printed on my original booking. Sadly, the part about the minimum of 21 days was not among the three sections that I had to initial, otherwise I might have spotted it.

I returned the car, and thought everything was in order, but when I got back home and checked my credit card statement, I noticed a charge of €345.63, even though I thought I’d already paid everything I had to pay. It’s a good thing I checked the credit card statement, as I received no e-mail informing me of the additional charges until after I asked for clarification.

Of course, I’ll learn the lesson and in future I won’t return a car early without explicitly checking with the car hire company first. In this particular case, I did mention to the member of staff at the counter in Lyon that I was planning to return the car early, but I only mentioned it in passing, and did not specifically ask if it would result in a higher charge. It didn’t even occur to me that a company would charge more for an early return. It just didn’t seem logical.

Were Avis within their rights to make the additional charges? Perhaps. But it seems a strange way to treat one’s customers.

By returning the car early, I was making the car available to be hired by other customers. There was plenty of space in the company’s car park, so I can’t for the life of me work out why they needed to charge me an additional fee for returning the car early. And not just a small fee – one that made the total price four and a half times more expensive than the original price!

If I ran any kind of company that hired out any kind of product and a customer wanted to return that product early, I would always allow them to do so, and would never charge them extra to do so.

Fortunately many other car hire companies agree with me. Here’s what some other companies say:

Europcar

Can I return the vehicle early?

You can return your hire early with no penalty however if your reservation was pre-paid you won’t get a refund of any rental days you have not used.

Enterprise

Can You Return a Rental Car Early?

At Enterprise, we do not charge customers more for returning a car early, and you will only be charged for the days you had the vehicle (excluding prepaid reservations).

Firefly

Q: What happens if I return the car earlier/later?

A: In case you return the car earlier than the specified drop-off date and time, please note that there will be no refund.

In case you return the car later than the specified drop-off time and date, please note that there will be a grace period of 29 minutes. In case you do not return the car within this period, you will be charged a full day of rental, at the current rate.

(The latter is pretty similar to what Avis’s conditions said, but I know from experience that Firefly don’t charge you extra if you return the car early.)

So, with Europcar, Enterprise and Firefly, you usually pay exactly the same price for returning the car early, and you never pay more.

Had I been charged a small fee, I wouldn’t have been so indignant, but having been charged an additional €345.63 simply for returning the car early, therefore causing no inconvenience to the car hire company, I’ll probably not be hiring a car from Avis again.

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Discount code for GoOpti and for Flixbus

To get a €5 discount with GoOpti, use the voucher code RFLID5M5H3VW on the payment page.

GoOpti is a door-to-door service, so although it costs a little bit more than the train to the airport, you won’t have to get a taxi or walk 1.5km to the train station. The service can take you to any of the recommended airports near Brescia: Bergamo, Verona, Milan-Malpensa, Milan-Linate, Venice-Marco Polo.

GoOpti also runs buses in other parts of Italy: Bologna, Cesena, Faenza, Ferrara, Forlí, Genoa Airport (Genova), Imola, Mantua, Modena, Padua, Parma, Piacenza, Pordenone, Ravenna, Regio E., Rimini, Rovigo, Savona, Treviso, Triest, Udine and Vicenza.

In Slovenia, GoOpti runs shuttles to and from Bled, Brnik, Ljubljana, Maribor and Murska Sobota, with connections to Budapest Airport in Hungary, Graz Airport in Austria and Trieste Airport in Italy.

In Croatia, it operates in Opatija, Pore, Portoroz, Pula, Rovinj and Zagreb, with connections to Belgrade in Serbia and Budapest Airport in Hungary.

In Austria, it shuttles run to and from Graz, Salzburg and Vienna airports and connect with Klagenfurt and Villach. From Salzburg airport you can connect to Munich airport in Germany.

For Flixbus, the following code should work for the next month, provided that you make the purchase using the app. But this code can only be used once, so first come, first served! Discount code: CRL623BB8HB.

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Reaching new, expanding markets through translation

Oshikango and El Pertús

Oshikango is a town on the opposite side of the country to my home in Oranjemund. When I first visited Oshikango, situated on the border with Angola, I couldn’t help but be reminded of El Pertús, a small town straddling the French-Spanish border in Catalonia. There are many parallels between the two.

As you approach El Pertús, you see a notable increase in the use of French, rather than Catalan or Spanish, on the signs of local businesses, the economy by the border being very much geared towards those living in France who venture south in search of cheaper goods. In bygone years there would have been no change in language as you headed into the old county of Rosselló, but centuries of language assimilation policies in France have depleted the use of the Catalan language north of the border, where it now has only a small presence, mainly in rural areas and among Perpignan’s gypsy community. The most obvious sign of the region’s Catalan roots is found on the letterboxes of houses, where you’re more likely to see names like Pujol and Ferrer than Dupont, albeit sometimes in a Gallicized form (e.g. Poujol).

The situation is very similar on the Namibian-Angolan border. To the south, the people speak the autochthonous Ovambo language, known as Oshiwambo by the locals, using the Oshikwanyama dialect; like in Catalonia, to the north of the border live a people with the same surnames, separated from their families by an aleatory line drawn on a map by a distant government, who, for the most part, have now abandoned their mother tongue and replaced it with a major international language, in their case Portuguese.

Like in El Pertús, the signs erected by businesses in Oshikango are in what is now the predominant language spoken north of the border, i.e. Portuguese, rather than in English and Ovambo, because so many people cross over from the north to buy cheaper goods.

Border checks

Of course, there are also some striking differences between El Pertús and Oshikango. First, the border in El Pertús is much more porous. The shops and restaurants, though situated in Spain, lie north of the checkpoint, which since the Schengen agreement is rarely manned anyway. The actual border runs along the kerbside of the main road through most of the town centre, which means that although the main road is entirely in France, the pavement and the shops and restaurants on the east side of the road are in Spain.

Namibians and Angolans can cross each other’s borders without obtaining a visa (neither my British nor my Irish passport allows me to enter Angola without a visa), but they must still pass through a border checkpoint and fill in lengthy forms. Once you’ve cleared the checkpoint, as you drive across the border you might notice a car driving straight towards you. That’s because as you drive on the left, approaching traffic from Angola will be driving on the right! You must pick the right moment to switch to the other side. A far cry from the motorway border overlooking El Pertús, where traffic crosses from one country to another while driving at 120 km/h.

Another major difference is the type of people crossing. In El Pertús, you’ll find families and pensioners popping over for a paella, or perhaps a working-class man coming down from Perpignan for cheaper cigarettes and beer. In Oshikango, you’re more likely to find people running small businesses coming over to buy stock from the wholesalers that abound in the Namibian town. Many come by bicycle, and it’s quite amazing just how much weight they can stack on their pushbikes. I use the word “pushbike”, rather than “bicycle”, to describe the return trip because they are pushbikes in the literal sense: the Angolans carry so much stuff that they must push the bikes back over the border with their hands.

Good translations for a new market

Like in Spanish Catalonia, Namibian businesses have tapped into the market created by those who venture across the border from the north. As mentioned earlier, monolingual Portuguese signs abound in Oshikango. But head further south into larger towns like Ondangwa and Oshakati, and the Portuguese language is still omnipresent, albeit often appearing alongside English or Ovambo. Even 800 km away in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, there are still many signs in Portuguese. Unlike in Oshikango, however, the Angolans who travel to other parts of Namibia are not small business owners stocking up on cheap goods, but wealthier Angolans travelling for business, leisure, shopping, education or medical treatment.

Namibians are aware of the Angolans’ purchasing power, which is why so many businesses translate their content into Portuguese. And unlike in Catalonia, where poor French and English translations abound, Namibian businesses seem to be producing very good Portuguese translations.

Olá Namibia

One noteworthy example of good translation practice is Olá Namibia. Produced by Sandgrouse Publications, this free annual booklet is funded by advertisements placed by Namibian businesses, mainly Windhoek-based. Almost all the adverts are only in Portuguese. The magazine publishers organize the Portuguese translations, sending the English texts supplied by the advertisers to qualified translators in Portugal.

The companies advertising in the booklet have clearly spent a lot of money on graphic design. It would have been a real shame had they compromised on the quality of the translated text, as so many companies in Europe do. If graphic designers produce poor-quality images for adverts, it adversely affects the image that the company seeks to portray.

The exact same thing happens with the text. Advertisers can spend large sums of money on producing good-quality texts, but those efforts are wasted if those texts are poorly translated.

Sandgrouse Publications can be very proud of the excellent quality translations they provide for their clients, who are thus able to portray a professional image to the wealthy, demanding customers who come from Angola. Other publications and advertisers would do well to follow their example.

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