The unauthorized guide to fine print, holiday edition


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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5 things customers say during the holidays – and what they really mean

It’s that time of year when you follow the herd to the mall and gorge on the displays.

That’s right, I’m talking about the irrational holiday shopping season. Think I’m overstating this? The authoritative National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts a 3.9 percent rise in holiday sales this year, meaning that collectively, Americans will buy $602 billion worth of gifts before the end of this year.

The average holiday shopper will drop $737 on gifts, décor and greeting cards, according to the NRF. That’s some serious gorging!

This year, I’m not going to tell you to avoid the frenzy. (What kind of Scrooge would I be?) Instead, as a service to consumers, let me help you understand what the other members of the swarm actually mean when they talk amongst themselves.
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Valet parked cars searched under TSA regulations

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What we’re reading

Valet parked cars searched under TSA regulations (WHEC)

Stores use cameras and cell phone signals to stalk you (International Digital Times)

Throwback lodging: Stay in another era (CNN)

Yes, your online travel agency sees E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G (Elliott)

Not again! Boeing 787 Dreamliner makes unscheduled landing at Boston airport (Los Angeles Times)
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Scammed: How to Save Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals

It’s official: I’ve just finished the final edits on my new book, Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals.

I just have to tell you about it.

Last summer, a literary agent I’d known for a few years asked me if I had a book in me. I didn’t want to write anything on travel, because I felt there were already several great guides on being a smart traveler.

But how about something about the relationship between consumers and businesses?
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Don’t lose your mind! 4 things retailers hope you won’t realize

When it comes to being a responsible shopper, we’ve all lost our minds.

I’m not kidding. Research suggests consumers do less thinking than expected before making a purchasing decision, and that they’re often unaware of the forces driving their behavior.

For example, a Yale study says capuchin monkeys share some of our basic economic decision processes, leading scientists to conclude that we make many consumer choices by instinct. When we try to ponder a purchase, we’re fighting tendencies that are probably hard-wired.
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How do I choose the right travel insurance policy?

Editor’s note: This is part two in a series of posts about travel insurance sponsored by Access America. Here’s part one.

Nina Boal needs a travel insurance policy. But with so many choices out there, which one should she buy?

“I want to see if I can buy appropriate policy,” she says. “I checked online, and can’t find any direct answers.”

She’s right. An online search for “travel insurance” is likely to pull up a long and confusing list of possible answers. But there are really just three options.
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Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program

When you buy a travel package through an online travel agency, you expect the price to be significantly less than if you booked each item separately, right?

So did Thao Tran when he was shopping for a trip to Chicago on Orbitz. But just for kicks, he asked for a price quote for the hotel and airfare.

Shockingly, the a la carte price was less than the package rate.

What the …?
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