How to (not) rent a car in the Dominican Republic with Avis

I have rented hundreds of cars in dozens of countries. While it is usually a straightforward process, there is always a risk involved. Rental companies may not be what they seem and the car is a big asset that you are responsible for over so many days.

My go-to rental car company is Avis and for my hire last week the price was $32 for a compact car at Punta Cana International Airport in the Dominican Republic.

Airline Credit Cards

Road conditions – read irresponsible other drivers – are a hazard in the Dominican Republic, but the eastern peninsula isn't too crowded so I was looking forward to spending a day in a well-cooled car, driving around the east coast.

However, when picking up the car at the Avis airport station, things started to unravel quickly.

I usually decline the Supplementary Liability Insurance (SLI) and Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) since I have liability insurance in the US (and it is included for many other countries) and CDW is part of my credit card package.

At first the agent refused to accept my rental since the car pick-up requires a passport, a US driver's license and a credit card. I was able to convince him otherwise as he checked my stay details at the hotel.

Now liability insurance is usually included in most car rentals anywhere in the world. The US is one of the few places in the world where it is not. I could not validate before the pick-up if my US insurance would cover rentals in the Caribbean. The cost per day (!) is $13.95 at Avis and I was prepared to pay for that.

I did, however, plan to decline the additional $18.95 CDW that Avis offered. I have a MasterCard version of the Chase Sapphire and as far as I know, no countries are excluded. It's different with the Visa version where rentals in certain countries aren't weren't covered:

Losses from rental transactions which originated in Israel, Jamaica, the Republic of Ireland, or Northern Ireland.

The latest explanation of benefits for insurance products associated with Chase Sapphire makes no mention of excluded countries.

Airline Credit Cards

American Express excludes big parts of the world completely (for all cards):

Coverage- Not all vehicle types or rentals are covered. Coverage is not available for vehicles rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand (including for Business Platinum Card Members). For all other Small Business Card Members, coverage is available only within the United States, its territories and possessions. This product provides secondary coverage and does not include liability coverage.

American Express even denies claims if you used a coupon as part of the payment!

…value of that coupon exceeds more than the cost of one rental day, you ARE NOT Covered by the AMEX Rental Car Protection, and your claim will be denied if you file.

Anyhow, now the agent got really worried and explained to me that he would charge (not just authorize) $2,000 to my credit card which would be refunded upon return of the vehicle in the same condition. He also pulled out several forms which had to be signed in front of a notary (!) – just across the hall – to make sure I would accept any responsibility.

At this point I just lost interest in my car rental – that was much different than even my experiences in Mexico. I walked away from the deal, hired a cab and took the local bus for the same route for $30.

Conclusion: Just because it is a familiar car rental brand, don't expect the same treatment or rules in another country. Stay away from car rentals in places that aren't really road safe.

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