OFFER

In 2014, beware of the word “free”

Mega Pixel/Shutterstock
Mega Pixel/Shutterstock
How dumb do they think you are?

As the dust settled on the now-finished holiday shopping season, I couldn’t help but wonder. One study concluded it was one of the strongest seasons in recent memory, adding that more than seven shoppers said they plan to take advantage of “free shipping” offers, while nearly half expect “free” returns.

I nearly choked on my espresso when I read that. Did they just say “free”?

Right about now, half of you are saying to yourself: TANSTAAFL! That’s shorthand for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” and you’re right, of course. Bonus points if you can tell me which Robert Heinlein book it’s from. (Yeah, I grew up reading sci-fi novels.)

The other half? “Grinch!” (Belatedly.) Or worse.
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The unauthorized guide to fine print, holiday edition

Zoon/Shutterstock
Zoon/Shutterstock

When Ben Blout invoked a big-box store’s “low price promise” after discovering a lower price on his merchandise, he learned something customers rediscover every holiday shopping season: some restrictions apply.

Make that lots of restrictions.

“They told me they won’t match any printed advertisement that is not valid for at least one week,” says Blout. “Specifically, their price match excludes timed events like early bird specials and door busters.”

Fine print is a problem any time of the year, of course. But most consumers get foiled by it around the holidays, in part because more people are shopping, and in part because of the extra offers with the extra restrictions.
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Verizon won’t honor its “Triple Play” gift card offer

Aruna Gabalis/Shutterstock
Aruna Gabalis/Shutterstock
Steve Schuster signs up for Verizon service after it offers a bonus of $200 in prepaid Visa gift cards. But the plastic is never delivered, and now Verizon is refusing to pay. What now?

Question: I recently accepted a job offer in the Washington area and established new phone, cable and Internet service with Verizon. Suffice it to say I’ve had a laundry list of problems. All have been resolved but one.

I was offered $200 in prepaid Visa gift cards for signing up for my Verizon service. Now, a Verizon representative says because of the discounted plan I have, I’m not eligible for the gift cards.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: There’s no such thing as a free cruise

Question: I think I’m entitled to a refund from a company called Your Travel Headquarters, and I need your help. My girlfriend and I recently got a call from the company, saying that we had won a free cruise and that we needed to call them back that day to redeem it.

We did, and asked all the pertinent info about the trip, and how much it would cost and if there were any other fees and expenses. A representative explained that it was a “free” promotional trip and that the only thing we had to pay was a departure fee of $190 and any expenses that we might incur getting to the cruise ship’s port of departure in Miami.

I asked specifically, “Is that all?” He replied, “Yes, those are the only expenses and no other charges would be applied.” According to him, we had 18 months to use the trip, and we needed to pay the $190 immediately or we would forfeit our prize.

Last month, we decided to book a date, only to later find out that it would cost another $550. I told the representative that I wanted to cancel, and be issued a refund since we were misled. He flat-out refused, saying, “We have a no-refunds policy.” What should I do? — Michael Mihalik, Harrison, N.J.

Answer: I think you’re entitled to a refund, too. I can’t remember an unsolicited offer for a “free” promotional cruise that didn’t include some kind of gotcha clause in it. Yes, the cruise is free but getting there will cost you. Or we have to “hold” the cruise with a nonrefundable deposit (hey, if it’s free, why do you need to pay to confirm it?).
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Hey American Express, where are my 50,000 points!

amexReidun Gauger and her husband Georg have been loyal Northwest Airlines customers and American Express cardholders since 1972. So when they were offered 50,000 each from Amex during their transition to a Delta awards card, the couple jumped at the chance.

They should have read the fine print. Amex withdrew its verbal offer when the Gaugers tried to collect their points, leading to a series of heated exchanges between the company and its customers.
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