Who is the bigger travel dufus?

Today I’m thrilled to introduce a new Monday feature: Don’t go there. It’s about all the places you shouldn’t go when you’re traveling. And I promise it’s going to be a lot of fun!

This is a story about mistakes — yours and mine.

“Yours” would be what Carla Christensen did when she landed in Kona, Hawaii, recently and picked up her rental car from Budget. She grabbed the keys and drove away, without taking a “before” picture of her vehicle.

“Mine” would be failing to read Christensen’s entire email. I’ll have more on that in a second.

Both of these screw-ups underscore the importance of being careful when you travel, a lesson that can’t be learned in a single sitting. It must be constantly reinforced — and relearned.

I’m living proof.

Actually, Christensen forgot more than the “before” photos, which she could have easily snapped on her cell phone. She also forgot to take an “after” image, which might have exonerated her in the case of a frivolous damage claim.

So when she received a letter claiming she’d damaged her car, she didn’t know what to do. The claim had photos of a car that looked like her vehicle, but she couldn’t be sure.

“It also includes a car repair estimate and a summary from them with a line for loss of use,” she says. “Also included was an incident report form to be completed by the customer, which of course I had not filled out. Someone else completed the form.”

She adds, “I realize you hear this all the time, but I did not damage the car. The damage depicted in the photo was unmistakable, large, and on the driver’s door. Thus, the attendant would have seen it, as would have I and my sister.”

As many of you know, in addition to writing about travel on this site, I advocate for travelers who run into problems, like Christensen. That’s how this case landed on my desk. Christensen was hoping I would contact Budget and could persuade it to drop the claim.

As is my standard procedure, I asked to see the emails between her and the car rental company. A few weeks later, I heard back from her.

And here’s where my mistake happens.

“Based on your advice I wrote to Budget and this is the result,” she wrote. The next two paragraphs left me with the impression that Budget had sent her a form denial, which is what I would have expected.

I should have kept reading.

I forwarded the correspondence to the car rental company. You can probably guess what happens next, right?

I heard back from Budget, which basically asked me, “What’s your problem?”

Before I fired back an email that asked, “No, what’s your problem?” I decided to read everything. Perhaps I’d missed something.

Yes, I had.

Dear Carla,

Thank You for contacting Budget.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please be advised, the above mentioned claim has been rendered as closed for any property damage to Budget vehicle.

You may refer to this email as the closing document for the same.

If you have any queries, please feel free to contact Budget.

That’s right, Budget dropped the claim after Christensen sent a brief, polite email to the company, contesting its bill. Evidently, it had sent her the wrong claim.

The lesson? Whether you’re renting a car or reading an email, be careful. Something to remember next time you pick up your car on the Big Island — or anywhere else.

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