The mystery of the reappearing $400 cancellation fee

Question: We signed up for a two-year contract with DirecTV back in the fall of 2011. At about the same time, DirecTV released new equipment called the Genie. I called up to see if we could get the new equipment and was told we could. There was no mention of a contract extension for the new equipment.

In January of this year, we were looking to cut some costs and we looked at lowering our DirecTV package to save some money. I called customer service and asked to get switched to a less expensive package. I also asked if my new customer credits would be affected and they said they would not be affected if I changed programming. So as a result, I went through with the change.

I received my February bill and sure enough, the credits I was told would not go away were all gone. I called back to customer service to inquire about this. They told me the credits were gone due to me changing my package even though I was told it would not be affected. I changed my package back again and they said the credits would show up on my March bill again.

I then received my March bill and only half of the credits were back on there. The one that was missing was the $10 HD for life credit. I called customer service again and they said that I can’t get that credit back again due to the programming change in January, even though I was told first it wouldn’t go away and then when it did go away, I was told it would come back.

My issue was escalated to a manager as well as the accounts department, both of which said they would look into it. I received a call back within a week and again they said they could not do anything about getting the credit back on there.

I explained that this was unfair and against what I was told on the phone several times. They apologized but said they could not do anything about the credits anymore even though they were promised to not go away.

I then asked to get out of my contract due to these issues and was told I could do that but there would be a near $400 cancellation fee. They said my contract was not up until the fall of 2014. They said it had been extended when I got new equipment, even though there was no mention of a contract extension when I had received the equipment.

I just sent the letter into them today but have a feeling it will not matter. Please help me in any way you can with trying to get this cancellation fee removed for me. — Matt Solum, Salt Lake City, Utah

Answer: What a mess! You’d expect the terms and conditions of your purchase to remain the same, and if they don’t, that a company like DirecTV would inform you of a change in writing. But that’s not what happened.

DirecTV offers what’s called an HD Access for Life discount. But in order to qualify for it, your account must have a base package of Choice Xtra or above and maintain auto bill pay or joint billing for the lifetime of the account. If any of the requirements are not kept, the offer is removed and can’t be reinstated.

In other words, your actions permanently voided your discount.

Here’s the timeline of events, according to DirecTV: In February, you contacted customer service to have your programming changed to a different package because you had lost some channels when switching to its “Entertainment” package. At that point, you were advised that all credits would start on the following month’s bill, minus the HD Access for Life discount.

About a month later, DirecTV’s records show you called about your missing discount. You were told your account no longer qualified for the offer because the programming package was below the “Choice Xtra” package. Then you called back, asking DirecTV to reinstate the discount again, and when that didn’t work, you closed your account.

DirecTV’s records also show that it received a third-party verification call regarding your order.

“We reviewed the call to confirm he was informed, and accepted, the programming agreement,” a spokeswoman told me. “The purpose of the third-party verification call is to ensure the customer is fully informed of the terms and conditions for their offer, including the details regarding any applicable agreement, the timeframe of agreement and how the early cancellation fee is calculated.”

DirecTV’s records suggest everything was done by the book.

“I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do,” the spokeswoman told me. “All charges are valid.”

I’m sorry, too. If nothing else, this illustrates the importance of a paper trail, as opposed to doing everything by phone. DirecTV has recorded transcripts of the phone conversation. You only have recollections of the phone calls. I would say the company has an unfair advantage.

Next time you have a billing question, try contacting DirecTV in writing. You can contact it online, which creates a paper trail that levels the playing field. If that doesn’t work, try appealing your case to someone higher up. Here’s a list of current executives. The email convention is

But why wait? You decided to appeal the rejection to an executive, even after it appeared the charges would stick. DirecTV waived your fee.

Should DirecTV have charged Matt Solum a $400 cancellation fee?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’d be very leery any time a change of any kind is made to a package like this (or to a cell phone account) and would definitely ask for the new terms in writing. Glad the OP was able to get out of the contract finally, though!

  • sirwired

    “DirecTV has recorded transcripts of the phone conversation. You only
    have recollections of the phone calls. I would say the company has an
    unfair advantage.”

    Or, put another way, DirecTV is telling the truth, and the writer is mis-remembering things to his advantage.

    That said, I do see your point… if you live in a two-party consent state, many businesses will refuse to talk to you if you inform them (as required by law in those states) that you are recording the call (even though they are already recording.) For those that live in single-party consent states… most cell phones have a call recording feature it would be to your advantage to use.

  • rn74

    Not necessarily true. DirecTV claims they are telling the truth. I don’t see anywhere were they actually produced those recordings.

    I had a similar dispute with AT&T. I told them not to renew our business internet / phone contract service. I called twice to confirm it as we approached the date. Each time, they said I was not going to be under contract. When I finally went to cancel a few months after the date the contract was to cancel, they sent a bill for $1,400 for violating the terms of my contract. They made similar claims. I told them and their collections people I would never pay until a judge ordered me to do so. I suggested they get their “recordings” ready because I know EXACTLY what I said.

    She then admitted to me that they really only had notes, not recordings that go back beyond a few months and processed a credit.

  • PsyGuy

    I voted no, “saying” they have recorded conversations is not the same as producing those conversations. They almost never go back to the tape to review a conversation, it would be too expensive and time consuming. Usually they just want to sound more credible then they Re, knowing the only way anyone would ever hear them is too go to court, and that assumes they are “available” and something has happened to them. Many businesses think that their “official business records”, which amount to a representatives notes entered into a computer are more valid then someone else’s notes. They can put anything they want into a record they maintain and create.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    This reminds me of something to note about DirectTV and Dish’s various discounts and enticements they offer, in return for auto-billing and payment. The reason they do it, and probably other subscription-based providers, is to have your good credit card number on file. In their fine print — I know for a fact that Dish’s does, and DirectTV’s fairly likely — they give themselves the right to charge whatever credit card they have on file, for whatever reason they feel like it.

    That’s why they always throw in minor freebies, in exchange for auto-billing, so they have your CC# on file.

    If you see a dispute looming on the horizon with either of them, before you go ahead and cancel service, just call your credit card company, say that you lost your card, and have them send you a replacement. Then go ahead and cancel the service. Saves you a lot of grief later. You’ll be in a much better position to argue your beef on its merits, instead of going the chargeback route.

  • Andre_K_FL

    DirectTV and Dish seem to have a big problem with false promises and lying to customers judging by the consistent posts on the internet which are all similar in nature in one way or the other.

  • EdB

    I recently had an issue with DirecTV about an ETF and was getting no where over the phone, so I wrote to the upper management. I got a call back, which was recorded on voice mail, saying they would review the call and make a determination after they reviewed it. The next day, got another call from them saying they couldn’t find the recording and the ETF stood. In talking to them, they later said that it didn’t matter what was on the recording, the ETF would stand. When I pressed them on why they said they would wait until after listening to the recording to make a determination, they said they wanted the recording for training purpose. If that was the case, why even tell me? What that said to me was they did find the recording, it did back my side and they ETF should not apply. But since there was no recording now and it can’t back my side, they get to apply the ETF. Because of this, I will never do business with DirecTV again or even recommend them to anyone. I have already steered at least two people away from signing up for DirecTV so far.

    Chris was able to help me on this one and get it removed. Thanks again Chris.

  • EdB

    I’m not sure about your interpretation of the two-party consent, or I am missing the point you were trying to make. If they play the announcement first, “This call may be recorded….” and you stay on the line, you have both consented to the call being recorded. No where in the announcement was the condition that only one party may record it. Both parties have agreed it may be recorded, so it can be recorded. Now if you play the announcement first, they have the option of hanging up. Otherwise, they have consented, just as you did when you didn’t hang up, to the recording and they also have the right to record. This is how I have seen it explained by several lawyers in other conversations about keeping a recorded trail.

  • Christopher Elliott

    My pleasure to help!

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’m dealing with a lot of DirecTV cases. I hope the company gets its act together soon.

  • sirwired

    In a two-party state I believe the law requires each “recorder” to state they are doing so.

  • sirwired

    I simply took Chris at his word when he says that DTV has recordings.

  • EdB

    I would check up on that interpretation because it doesn’t sound right to me based on other information I have found. If one party say, “This conversation may be recorded….”, there is no implication that it is only permission for one party to recorded it. Now if the announcement went something like, “We may record this conversation…”, I would agree to your interpretation because that implies permission only for a single party.

    I know we have some lawyers who do follow this blog. Maybe one of them can shed some light on the matter.

  • EdB

    From my experience with DirecTV, they have recording until the recordings prove them wrong and then suddenly they disappear.

  • Cherity

    I’ve been with DirecTV for approximately 12 years now. It took some time, but I finally managed to figure out how to get things done and to my liking — I only speak with the CUSTOMER RETENTION department. No one else! Customer Service always tries to prevent me from being transferred to that department, but I REFUSE to talk with anyone but them. No Customer Service supervisor or manager has ever helped me in any way. Customer Retention seems to have the authority and control as to decisions on promotions, equipment, credits, moving fees, ETFs, etc.. What ever they say they are going to do for me, they do. Not to mention they are a pleasure to deal with. LOVE THEM. As for any other department, namely Customer Service, they simply have NO idea what the heck they are doing or saying. I avoid them at ALL costs!

  • Chasmosaur

    My Dad recently signed up and then ditched it within six months because of this. In fact, he didn’t want to give them his CC# at all, but they told him they just needed it to run some sort of test. I told him he should have known better – my billing has been steady and unwavering for 7 years, and I pay by check every month. They can’t play games without it showing up on the bill I’m about to pay.

  • Extended Stay In Miami

    Customer Service always tries to prevent me from being transferred to
    that department, but I REFUSE to talk with anyone but them. No Customer
    Service supervisor or manager has ever helped me in any way.

  • Greg

    Either DirectTV should HAVE TO share the telephone recording they relied on when making this determination (fair’s fair!) or they should just do it the old-fashioned way with – gasp- snail mail. A written disclosure (in 10 point minimum font size) of all changes to terms including the contract extension and a signed acknowledgement would have ended this before it began, leaving both parties with no doubt as to their agreement. Also this document would have a table of existing charges and highlight JUST THE CHANGES to existing terms to avoid wading through 25 pages of 4-point legalese and doing a side-by-side comparison of the two documents. Can you tell I’ve done this before?

  • Josh S

    Show me a company that gives you that option (prior to actually making the change and receiving an after-the-fact contract terms in the mail), and I’ll take your advice.

    Can’t tell you how many times someone on the phone has promised A, B, and C, with X, Y, and Z terms, and I ask to get a copy of that in writing or an email, and they respond, “I’m sorry. We don’t have the ability to do that.” It’s total crap. They sign you up to a “written” contract through verbal authorization.

  • Josh S

    They may very well have recordings. That doesn’t mean that the recordings verify the claims that DTV is making.

  • Rebecca

    Having worked as a supervisor in a call center, I can tell you that calls are digitally recorded and relatively easy for management to access. It is neither expensive nor time consuming, as you claim.

    That being said, my experience was that customers were either lying or grossly exaggerating at least 75% of the time I went and listened to a recorded call. I’m not saying either way about the OP, just my experience.

  • Rebecca

    It doesn’t work to get a new credit card number with large companies that autobill. They have an agreement with visa/mastercard to automatically transfer to your new number. In other words, they process the old card info and it is automatically converted to your new card (for at least 90 days) without them ever knowing the number.


    Good points for not using Direct TV

  • Rebecca

    The same is true for Tmobile. I have had the same experience. Weird!

  • emanon256

    Its Emanon here. Discus gives me a bad gateway message every time I try to post.

    Wow, Direct TV is even worse than Dish. I am glad they finally waived it. I also thought the early termination fee went down each month, the fact that after two years they still wanted to charge $400 is just nuts. I miss the old days of TV when we had many companies to choose from all competing with low prices and great service. Now they all have excruciatingly high prices, or ridiculous contracts.

  • pauletteb

    In light of DirectTv’s records, the OP’s “recollections” of his conversations with the company’s reps come across as disingenuous at best. It always amazes me that people complaining to Chris don’t stop to think that he’s going to research the issue from both sides and not just take their word for what happened.

  • emanon256

    I was having problems with a company a few years back my client had a contract with for their hardware. The company would send the wrong (more expensive) equipment and insist I ordered it, or they would send lesser equipment at the price of the higher equipment and insist that I was quoted the higher price on the phone. They would not allow me to place orders via e-mail, phone only. Then they would refuse to refund shipping because they said I ordered it when I didn’t and they would charge a re-stocking fee. They always said they reviewed the phone calls and that I was mistaken and that I did order the additional and/or more expensive equipment. So I started recording the phone calls. After playing the phone calls back for a supervisor, I got all of my money back, and was able to get the client out of the contract with no penalty. They also gave me a $100 credit as an apology which I never used. Its sad that we have to do this. And in case you are wondering, the company is called Insight Enterprises, Inc. and while I/’my client was made whole, I don’t feel badly sharing this so that no one else has this problem.

  • emanon256

    Sooooo True!!!

  • emanon256

    I used to supervise a call center as well, Ive told some funny stories about it on here in the past. Sadly, we didn’t record the calls. I wish we did, but the equipment was too expensive. We did monitor calls, though, but not all calls. We had new employes listen to veteran employees calls for a week, then the veteran employees listened as the new employees took calls for the next week. Whenever something was questionable, we also had someone listen in.

    When ever someone was escalated to me, and I had to put them on hold to look something up, call another office, etc. I would use mute, not hold, and always heard some very interesting comments out them them. Typically it was cursing about being on hold, but some times people would talk to whomever they were with about how they were ripping us off, or about how they have me going and they are going to get their money or that they told one person one thing and me another just to mess with us. Very often, the customer would admit to lying to us when I was on mute. One time someone even asked someone else to pass the weed. I really wish we recorded those.

  • Matt Solum

    I forgot to mention to Chris, at least I think so, they actually let me listen to the January call a few weeks ago. After the call, I emailed the executive I had been dealing with and a few days after that the fee was reversed. What was interesting was that there were no notes on my account about that call so they even questioned that I had called. So the fact that the call was recorded was in my benefit. After the call was reviewed, it showed that it was in my favor and I was right.

  • rn74

    But we don’t know what their records show. We have only their word that they differ from what he said. Unless they played them for Christopher, I don’t think they prove a thing. I can say I have recordings of anything I like. It proves nothing.

  • EdB

    Now that the party involved in this issue has posted, we do know what DirecTV’s records shows – the customer’s “recollections” were correct.

  • missmc123

    Oh how I hate Direct TV. They lie and promise and double deal. I was flat out lied to by their sales reps. I was hesitant to sign up with them but after an hour on the phone with the rep who kept up his persuasion, I agreed to go ahead with the lowest $29 plan. The rep then told me if I signed up to the $54 plan I could get free installation and then downgrade to the $29 plan the next month with no penalty. WRONG and LIE. If I downgraded, I would lose all of the monthly rebates and they also lied and said I would get free DVR. I had written down the reps name and the time and length of the phone call and they said they had no way of retrieving the call to prove that he had lied. Im sure if it was an error in their favor, they surely would have found the recorded call. I cant stand Direct TV and their duplicitous business dealings.

  • emanon256

    Ive never understood these third party verification services. I have had to talk to them when upgrading my cell phone, and when redeeming frequent flyer miles for someone else. Do the work for the company, or is it a third party service? If its a true third party verification service, why don’t they send a transcript of the agreement and changes and call to both parties? Any one can say that a third party verified something, but anyone can make that up two if its not provided to both parties. The next time someone promises me something by phone, I would like to use a third party verification service so that I have a record of what they promised.

  • EdB

    My understanding is the third party verification company is supposed to maintain the record (recording) so if there is a question later, they can be reviewed. It would prevent what I suspect happened to me where a recording proved my side, but gets lost by the company in the wrong. The third party company is suppose to be independent, but they know who pays the fees. I remember a lot of companies doing that in the past but haven’t had any dealings with one for some time. Kind of makes me wonder if using one could have been the result of legal action against the company because of shenanigans with losing recordings.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thank you for the update. Well, that definitely changes the dynamic of the case. I’m glad you chimed in.

  • Cherity

    LOL. Yes, I can tell and I agree. I have my account set up so that if any changes are made, I am notified by email of those exact changes and charges.

  • FishySounding

    More people not reading details…..

  • EdB

    More businesses telling customers one thing then doing another….

  • Andrew F

    With the termination fee of $400, they don’t really want to RETAIN you. If you are out of contract — sure…

  • SK

    I bet there is another case when they can find the calls – small claims. If they still don’t, it would be in the customer’s favor…

  • Oh My Gosh EightOEightwireless

    Isn’t that the truth?

  • Oh My Gosh EightOEightwireless

    sirwired how could I find out which states are which?

  • Josh S

    And not all call centers have that capability or technology. YMMV, and of course you have to take them at their word about what was said and the actual contents of the actual recordings.

  • EdB

    They restarted his two years when he got the new equipment. When I had my problems with then, I found a story about how DirecTV was found guilty of renewing contracts without notifying customers. Sounds like from this they may still be doing that. The ETF is calculated at $20 for each month left on the contract. So he had 20 months left, which fits in the time frame of the story.

  • Rebecca

    Not all, that’s true. But I would bet a large company like DirecTV does.
    I agree they should allow the customer to hear it if they cite the call record in the response to a complaint, like in the OP’s case. I was just pointing out that its not a difficult process for a large company, like some people must think. And having been one to actually go back and listen to recordings, the vast majority of the time the customer was incorrect.

  • Rebecca

    I once had a person on mute say they were pretending to be their mom (to steal her credit card and take a large cash advance), and saying how she thought she was tricking me. I knew already something was amiss, but I was able to tell the mother when I called her who it was!

  • emanon256

    That’s awesome!!!!! I miss those days, I always had so many good stories.

  • cahdot

    speaking of directv-i got an email on my phone email account from them changing my contract-i’m not sure how they got my phone email(i do not share it)but it said to go into my account and agree or printout and sign and return they have long legal document i;m not about to engage them in email from my phone and i do not want to change my agreement so i will call them and am dreading it maybe i will tape the conversation via my cell phone..

  • EdB

    Are you under any type of contract with them now? If so, and the change is significant enough they need you to sign a new contract, then I wouldn’t sign it and tell them you want to keep the original agreement. If you are not on a contract, I would definitely not sign anything as they are probably trying to put you into a contract.

    Or, since you never game them your cell phone address, it could be a phishing attempt. If it is critical for DirecTV to get you to sign something, they will call.

    I would suggest not calling them though. Send them a letter asking for clarification as to what these changes are. Get a paper trail going.