Holidaymakers who have paid to rent a car via the agency Atlas Choice are reporting that bookings have been unexpectedly cancelled, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal – with a number of customers reportedly left car-less and stranded at foreign airports.
We've seen complaints about Atlas Choice from more than 50 customers in the last two days alone, on Twitter, Facebook, review site Trustpilot and by email. The firm acts as a worldwide car-booking agency, with customers booking a car on its website before collecting it from one of the company's partners, which include Hertz, Avis, Europcar and Budget.
Atlas Choice, which was replying to complaints on social media earlier today, has now deleted its official Facebook page and Twitter account, and as of Thursday afternoon its website stopped taking bookings.
Its site states: "Atlas Choice is a trading name of Evershine Travel Ltd". The bankruptcy division of the High Court has confirmed to MoneySavingExpert that on Wednesday (21 December) Evershine Travel Ltd filed a notice of intention to appoint an administrator – with Deloitte being the proposed administrator. The notice will expire in 10 business days.
We've made several attempts to contact Atlas Choice for comment today, but it has so far failed to respond.
'Left at car desk with no car and small baby'
Some customers told us they'd received emails a few days before travelling informing them their booking had been cancelled, while several have reported turning up at car collection desks run by partners of Atlas Choice, only to be told they would have to pay again if they wanted their bookings to be honoured.
One customer told us: "I went to pick up the car I ordered through Atlas Choice from Belfast City Airport last week, only to be told that Budget would need to charge me again otherwise I couldn't have a car. I was left with no option. I've tried so many times to reach Atlas Choice by phone but no one answers."
Here are a few of the other complaints we've seen:
@AtlasChoiceCoUK @atlaschoice Your service is a joke. Cancelled my car with no email. Trying to get away for xmas. Not answering phone.— Rob Alderman (@raldrmn) December 22, 2016
@atlaschoice Left at car desk at Gatwick with no car and small baby even though Atlas took my money! No answer on phone.— Anne Bowman (@anne_bowman) December 20, 2016
@atlaschoice cancelling my rental car, keeping my money and providing no other option 2 days before I fly home for Christmas. Seriously?— Tom Richards (@thricha) December 21, 2016
@atlaschoice is this a joke? I have received a call on my way to airport that you have not paid the car I have already prepaid to you! #scum— vafman (@vafman) December 22, 2016
What is Atlas Choice saying?
Though we've been unable to get hold of anyone at Atlas Choice today, despite repeated attempts, multiple customers have said they've received identical emails from the firm stating that due to "exceptional circumstances" their bookings may not be honoured by partner companies. The email reads:
I am writing to advise that unfortunately due to exceptional circumstances the Atlas Choice voucher for your upcoming car hire will not be honoured by the car hire company indicated on the voucher.
As a result of this I would advise you to contact the car hire desk in advance to check that a car will be available to you, to confirm the price with them and further confirm how this car should be paid for at the desk or prior to the pickup.
If no car is available or the price is not suitable, please may we suggest that you arrange with an alternative supplier urgently as Atlas Choice cannot assist at all in this matter on this occasion. Please note that should you purchase any local extras that are outside the original booking package which have nothing to do with Atlas Choice, that would be at your own discretion and Atlas Choice will not be liable for that.
The contact details for the supplier you had booked with can be found on your voucher. Once your hire period has completed please contact Atlas Choice at the contact details on the voucher.
You should also contact your credit card company to start chargeback proceedings against Atlas Choice in relation to the total cost of your original booking (including pre-paid extras) which was paid to Atlas Choice as Atlas Choice are currently unable to refund you. Your credit card company should be able to refund faster than Atlas Choice.
If you have purchased Excess Refund as a part of your booking, we recommend that you purchase this online with another provider who specialize in this separately prior to collecting your vehicle as this might be significantly lower cost than paying at the desk.
I must reiterate that Atlas Choice cannot assist in this matter on this occasion. Please accept our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience that this causes, especially at this time of year.
I've got an upcoming booking with Atlas Choice – what should I do?
Check your booking and find out which of Atlas Choice's partners (such as Alamo, Avis, Europcar or Hertz) is actually providing your hire car. Then get in touch with that firm ASAP to check whether it will honour your booking, and whether you'll be expected to pay again.
If your booking isn't being honoured, or you're asked to pay again and can't afford to, you may have to consider making alternative travel arrangements.
MoneySavingExpert has approached a number of Atlas Choice's partner firms to find out how they intend to help affected customers, and we'll update this story when we know more.
My booking isn't being honoured – can I get my money back?
Some customers with cancelled bookings have reported receiving the email quoted above, in which Atlas Choice says it is unable to refund customers, and advises them to start chargeback proceedings against Atlas Choice to get a refund from their card company.
Chargeback is a customer service guarantee for credit and debit cards which means if you don't receive the goods you bought on a card, you may be able to get your money back.
However, payments made on credit cards may qualify for even stronger legally binding protection in the form of Section 75 – a law which means credit card firms must protect purchases over £100 for free.
For full information on how to claim under either scheme, see our Chargeback guide and Section 75 guide.
If you've travel insurance for your trip, it's also worth checking with your insurer whether it will refund you for your car hire booking.
Have you been affected by a cancelled Atlas Choice booking? Get in touch with the MSE News team.