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Mexican rental car hat dance

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, March 4, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

Don't let the Mexican rental car hat dance put the brakes on your spring break fun.

If you're preparing to head south to sunny Cancun, the Riviera Maya or other Mexican beach destination for spring break, beware of the old Mexican hat dance involving rental car insurance.

Here's how this hat dance works: you're booking your rental car online and lock in a killer rate of $9.99 a day for a midsize that purports to include all fees and charges. But when you arrive at the car rental counter, the agent informs you that you are required to purchase their rental car insurance. Since you don't want to spend your spring break on a Mexican bus, you reluctantly agree.

Christopher Elliott, a travel troubleshooter with National Geographic Traveler and the Consumer Travel Alliance, recently heard from one Canadian reader whose locked-in weekly rental car rate of $97 more than doubled to $268 on his next credit card statement due to the added rental car insurance .

Elliott says the problem lies not with shady operators but with online travel sites such as Hotwire and Europcar that fail to disclose the mandatory rental  car insurance rules before you purchase your package.

What can you do? Raise the roof, of course – and not just on your rental convertible.

Complain to the offending Web site in writing,  copy your state's insurance commissioner and, what the heck, throw in the nearest American consulate in Mexico just to get their attention. Kick up enough of a fuss and the online portal may credit you the difference, as Hotwire did for the above traveler.

You might also want to contact your credit card company asap and dispute the charge. That puts the payment on hold and prompts them to investigate the matter before forcing you to pay the disputed amount. Some operators faced with an inquiry and possible "charge-back" will agree to pay all or part of your outlay just to avoid the bad press.

Have you found yourself roped into the Mexican rental car insurance hat dance lately? Were you successful in protesting this fast shuffle?

Me, I kinda prefer the bus.

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