Car Rentals Abroad:

Expensive 'Glitches'

When CoGo reader William Early of Fairfax Station headed to Italy for two weeks, he reserved a car with Avis for $537. But when he arrived at the Avis counter in Milan, he found a reservation form with preprinted X's in the boxes accepting theft and collision insurance -- for an extra $603.

Early protested that his credit card covered rental insurance and was told not to worry, that he wouldn't be charged. Yet a bill for $1,140 later showed up on his credit card.

Meanwhile, Guy Meredith of Washington reserved an Avis car in Italy for 10 days, expecting to pay $367.45. He was told on arrival he owed another $330 for "compulsory insurance."

Both men reserved through Travelocity.com, which is rightly proud of a relatively new "total pricing" feature that includes taxes, surcharges and other fees in price quotes. So what's up?

"We are very sorry," Avis-Europe spokesman Chris Wermann told CoGo. Collision insurance is not mandatory, as Meredith was told. Theft insurance is mandatory in Italy and a number of other European countries, but the price should have been included in the costs Avis-Europe reported to Travelocity.

"The new [total pricing] system, which aims to make pricing much clearer for customers, has only been live for a couple months, and it would appear this is a minor glitch in the system," Wermann told CoGo.

He said Avis-Europe has fixed the glitch by activating new reporting procedures to Travelocity and others. Early and Meredith, he said, would be getting letters of apology and refunds for all insurance charges.

Many car insurance policies and some credit cards cover rental car insurance. Check before leaving home to be sure.


When Heaters Kill

As many as two dozen campers die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning from propane camping heaters, and this is the time of year they start dying. A new generation of portable propane heaters can keep you warm yet safe, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The commission is touting heaters with oxygen depletion sensors (ODS) that automatically shut down the heater when oxygen levels start to drop. Although the heaters are designed for indoor use, the commission still advises turning them off before going to sleep.

CoGo was surprised at the difficulty in locating the heaters. Sears, several major camping stores and even RV stores said they were not yet carrying them. Finally, a Web search fournd "Mr. Buddy," an ODS-equipped heater for $92.95, at www.propaneproducts.com, 877-409- 1618. Bad name, life-saving product.


The American Society of Travel Agents passes on a great tip, especially meaningful for customers of recently bankrupt National Airlines: Section 145 of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act says passengers holding tickets on a bankrupt airline are entitled to fly standby, within 60 days, on any airline that serves that route. The accommodating airline may charge no more than $25 . . . Get 20 percent off Eurostar for train travel between London, Paris and Brussels. You must buy the ticket by Friday; travel by Dec. 15. Details: www.raileurope.com, 800-387-6782 . . . BMI British Midland has suspended its direct flights between Manchester, England, and Washington until June. Ticket-holders can get reassigned to another airline or request a refund . . . Delta passengers heading to Latin America or South America should check new baggage restrictions in place during the holiday season, now through Jan. 15. Details: 800-241-4141.

Bargain of the Week

Midwest Mix

ATA is discounting flights between Reagan National and eight Midwestern cities, including South Bend, Ind., Madison, Wis., and Des Moines. Round-trip flights are about $174, including taxes. Purchase tickets at www.ata.com by midnight tonight. Travel on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday Dec. 3-Dec. 19 and Jan. 7-Feb. 12.

Reporting: Cindy Loose, Carol Sottili.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to:

cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.