By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: Booking.com’s so-called service is in reality a very profitable Three-Card Monte hustle.
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Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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I’d like to share with you an experience I just had using Rentalcars.com and save you a bunch of travel money in the process. I reserved with them to drive a small van to Germany, to pick up my daughter and help her move back to France, since she is changing positions with Huawei. Something came up and I had to change my reservation at the last second. I knew about Rentalcar.com’s 48–hour limit to get a full refund. Unfortunately, we have terrible Internet service where I live in France. After I made the cancellation, the router connection dropped for 15-20 minutes. By the time it came back on, I was only five minutes late past their 48–hour limit. 10:05 instead of 10:00.
Given that things like this happen all the time, I was shocked that there was NO grace period. I got an email confirming my cancellation, while thanking me and keeping the entire €135.
I immediately contacted them via a chat screen in my online account to explain the situation. They told me to take a flying hike – tough luck Charlie. I asked to speak to a manager, they said there were none, but they promised one would call me later that day. I even asked for the phone number that I would be getting the call from, to put it in my Contacts, so that it would not be blocked. They again confirmed that I would be getting a call from Manchester, England that day.
No surprises that the call never came and when I tried to call that number, no answer. The smell of online rip-offs was in thick in the air, thus the next day I got back on and they told me, “Oh, the reason no one called me is they could find no one who could speak French”, since all the Chat communication had been in French. Ha–ha–ha, sure. I replied that I speak fluent English and is somebody going to call me? They promised me someone would that next day and of course no one did. Being an online Mafia consigliere, Booking.com never had any intention of calling me. It’s the classic gangster capitalist war of attrition for me to give up.
When I got back onto Chat AGAIN, they told me to make an official complaint in my Rentalcars.com account, which I tried to do for three days. How convenient, the button was unavailable to do so. Again, all very well planned out to get me to give up in disgust. This is how online rip-offs work. I again complained in their chat window two different times.
I finally got a robot email asking me to rate my “satisfaction” with my “rental experience”. It was only then when I clicked on it, gave one out of five stars and expressed my extreme “total dissatisfaction”, that I even got a link to make an official complaint.
Now a week later, I eventually got an email giving me the opportunity to explain my rating. I spelled out the situation. The representative’s loan shark response the next day was that it was beyond their control. Why? Because the vendor, which in this case was Enterprise Car Rentals has this 48-hour cancellation policy, they were already paid by Rentalcars.com and there was nothing they could do about it.
Again, 98% of customers would say, “OK”, yet I went onto Enterprise.com saw that their cancellation policy was 24 hours not 48 hours, thereby confirming that Mafia Booking.com kept my €135. I then emailed back Rentalcars.com and pointed out that they were either misinformed or lying to me, because it was clearly not Enterprises Car policy, sending them the link. They then replied that well really, it was Rentalcars.com policy after all, thereby admitting that they had lied to me.
Nevertheless, it didn’t matter, I could take a flying hike – Rentalcars.com was not going to reimburse me – not even a little bit, a token amount – to make things right. Hence, I lost €135 (US$162) for something that was beyond my control and which happens all the time, all over the world. Being on a fixed income in very expensive France, that is a lot of money for my retired wife and me.
What I ended up doing was simply going directly to Enterprise and Europcar and got a much better deal. Not only that, but with Europcar I was able to use my United Airlines/Air France mileage club account, to get credit for eventual free plane tickets, rentals, hotel rooms, etc.
I got lazy with the click bait, like too many of us. What I just confirmed after traveling to over 85 countries on every continent but Antarctica and Australia, is that these online aggregators really offer no value and are designed to rob you blind. What they do is sell you lower service categories, while charging a higher rate and skimming the profits in between, plus ripping you off with “gotcha” reservation changes and cancellations.
In my case, with Rentalcars.com they gave me only 200 kilometers a day, while charging me the rate for unlimited kilometrage, and it was all very glibly hidden. I would have had to go to the bottom of page three to find it. When I went to Enterprise and Europcar they were the same price as rip-off Rentalcars.com and offered unlimited kilometers. Given that Rentalcars.com was likely going to get a cut of that €0.75-0.95/kilometer overcharge and my roundtrip to Germany and back was 1,500 kilometers, I luckily averted a one-month bankruptcy. Can you imagine?
Another case in point. I went online to Kayak, another Booking.com rip–off, to buy a plane ticket, for a not-so-far-away writing assignment. I even chose to pay extra to fly with Air France and not the budget airlines, so that I would make sure to have a checked–in bag included in the price. When I got to pay window, it said in small print below that I was only allowed one handbag to take on board! Luckily, I was paying attention, which these loan sharks count on not happening: travelers are frequently busy people and in a rush. Smelling a rat, I did not pay Kayak, while leaving the reservation pending online.
I then picked up the phone and called Air France.
When I explained to their very helpful agent the situation, she saw my pending reservation and told me that it was their lowest of three fares. If I wanted to check in a bag, it was no problem and the cost was €158 roundtrip, whereas on Kayak it was €189, she telling me that was the business class rate, yet with no checked–in bag! Needless to say, I closed the Kayak window and got my ticket directly with Air France. Otherwise, if I had not paid attention, I would have gotten stuck with a $75 excess baggage fee and Booking.com would have likely gotten their cut.
This is another clear case where gangster online aggregators like Booking.com, Priceline.com, Kayak.com, Agoda.com, Rentalcars.com and Opentable.com (all Booking.com’s umbrella Mafia) stick you with inferior service, charge more, rake in the difference, then fleece you with extra charges in the process.
It is much better to work with a handful of service providers, develop a relationship with them, you will save much more money and get way better service in the long run.
My good friend and comrade Andre Vltchek, may he rest in peace, always did the same thing. He traveled constantly all over the world and worked with 4-5 international hotel chains, 4–5 rental car companies and 4–5 airlines, whereupon he was treated like royalty for his direct contact. He constantly got all kinds of upgrades, coupons, discounts, freebies and other perks, which he could never get by going through gangster aggregators like Booking.com. He would ask his hotels to make nearby restaurant reservations, so you can bet they were rolling out the red carpet to keep getting referrals.
Andre proved that with a tiny bit more initial time invested, you get much better and cheaper service over the long run, by getting up close and personal with travel vendors.
If you want to use a full-service travel aggregator, I can recommend Trip.com. It is Chinese and Baba Beijing keeps businesses much more honest, by mandating all kinds of regulations that protect the consumer. This happens when customers make official complaints using China’s Social Credit System (SCS), which is designed to punish greedy, lawless businesses, protect the people and environment (http://chinarising.puntopress.com/2018/03/24/west-attacks-chinas-social-credit-system-to-deflect-from-its-fascist-panopticon-china-rising-radio-sinoland-180325/). Unfortunately, in the West, we have no real proactive consumer SCS like the Chinese do and online robbers like Booking.com know it and blatantly exploit us. Booking.com
Another online travel provider that is much better than the Mafia Booking.com group is TripAdvisor.com. On a US consumer review website, it gets 4-4.5 stars out of five for trustworthiness and customer satisfaction, whereas Booking.com gets 1.7-2 stars out of five (https://hoteltechreport.com/news/booking-alternatives).
Clearly, I am not alone. Why take the click bait and get fleeced for more money and less quality?
Friends, fans and follower of China Rising Radio Sinoland, please join me in boycotting the Booking/Priceline/Kayak/Agoda/Rentalcars/Opentable Mafia family. It specializes in online Three Card Monte to steal you blind, while offering much less value.
We can have the pleasure of costing them a few thousand dollars/euros, even though it is a faceless, global vampire squid, with $15 billion in annual revenue (that’s right!). The employees I was in contact with are soulless, low level henchmen doing the dirty work.
Booking.com is loyal only to its zillionaire corporate officers and board directors, who are each making many millions of dollars. The €135 they stole from me paid for their oligarchic, gangster capitalist lifestyles. Don’t believe me? Just take a look (https://www1.salary.com/BOOKING-HOLDINGS-INC-Executive-Salaries.html), not to mention making sure their high-rolling preferred A-shareholders and hedge fund lenders get rich – while the hapless customers are their parasitic hosts getting sucked dry.
In closing, be a smart traveler like my good friend Andre Vltchek: build direct relationships with transportation, airline and lodging/restaurant providers. You will save thousands of dollars/euros over the long haul and get much–much better service.
Like Andre, I was doing this in China and Thailand for many years, got lazy since having to move back to France last summer to retire (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2020/07/17/had-to-rush-to-france-to-keep-the-family-house-from-being-sold-to-an-outside-buyer-thank-you-trump-for-the-plane-tickets-china-rising-radio-sinoland-200717/), and clicked on their bait.
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