The European Commission is today making public a letter which was sent recently to the CEOs of six international car rental companies which offer their services to consumers in all Member States of the European Union.
The letter refers to several complaints received from consumers concerning discriminatory practices for renting a car online. It urges the car rental companies to stop their discriminatory practices that prevent consumers in various Member States from getting the best price offered online and therefore from benefiting from the opportunities of the single market.
Michel Barnier, Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Internal Market and Services, said "The Single Market should be a daily reality not only for major international companies but also for consumers in Europe."
The Commission's letter points out practices of automatic rerouting following the identification of the consumer's IP address. The IP address may also prevent the consumer from completing any booking online. Alternatively, with no rerouting, the consumer may be given a different price after having entered his/her country of residence on the website of the car rental company concerned. In a recent case, a consumer from Germany saw the announced price increase by 100% for renting a car in the United Kingdom after entering their country of residence.
Some car rental companies are complying with the non-discrimination principle, but it is not yet fully applied throughout the sector. Since the Commission's letter was not followed by effective and comprehensive review of the practices by three out of the six car rental companies contacted, the Commission decided to make the letter public, in the interest of consumers.
The Commission asks consumers to be vigilant and look for good service at competitive prices across the EU's single market. It calls upon Member States' authorities to use their enforcement powers to the full in order to ensure that EU and national laws are applied forcefully to protect consumer rights. Finally, it will watch developments carefully in this sector and take whatever action is necessary to make the single market a reality for consumers as well as car rental companies. The Commission has asked the car rental companies which are not yet complying with the non-discrimination principle to report on how they have reviewed their practices at the latest by 30 August 2014.
Six companies were contacted. SIXT, ENTERPRISE and GOLDCAR replied to the Commission's letter in a satisfactory way. EUROPCAR, HERTZ and AVIS replied in an unsatisfactory way; the Commission has therefore requested further follow-up by 30 August 2014.
The EU single market offers consumers and businesses access to a broad range of services and opportunities. Businesses are able to sell to a wider group of customers, and consumers can access services that might not necessarily be available, or are more expensive in the country they live in. This is where EU rules play a vital role. The Services Directive in particular prohibits companies from using unjustified discrimination in access to a service on the basis of nationality or place of residence of the consumer. In June 2012, the Commission already published guidance which is not only relevant for consumers renting a car but also for consumers purchasing services and goods online.
Rental and leasing of cars account for 5.5 % of the complaints dealt with by the European Consumer Centres Network. Price differences between the various country-specific websites of the same car rental company can be significant. Yet these price differences are often applied to the same service provision taking place in the same location and by the same provider. Consequently, the costs incurred for supplying such services should not differ significantly on the grounds of the place of residence of the customer, so different treatment of EU consumers coming from different Member States is unjustified.