Abe's of Maine
The New Jersey-based e-tailer and retailer, which sells appliances, electronics, housewares, fitness equipment, and other goods, says it will "gladly” help you exchange or return a product if dissatisfied, backing up its pledge with a “30-day money back guarantee.*” But that little asterisk hides a laundry list of exceptions to the policy: fitness equipment, large appliances, microwaves, wine coolers, humidifiers, security items, marine and camping gear, sunglasses, watches, software, TVs, computer components, laptops, tablets, and bicycles. And if you want to return many other items, for example, headphones, printers, gaming consoles, computer peripherals, and A/V receivers, they must be unopened.
Getting stuck with a flat isn’t the best way to find out your car didn’t come with a spare tire or jack, but that’s what you might discover if you drive a BMW. Most of the carmaker’s models now come with run-flat tires, which can get you to help after a simple puncture. But a blowout or rip in the sidewall means calling a tow truck. The disappearing-spare syndrome has been spreading to include even economy models from Hyundai, Chevy, and others. Check before you buy.
We have a pet peeve about so-called “freebies” automatically added to orders that force consumers to unclick the item so it’s not added to the shopping cart. When we shopped for a toaster on CompUSA’s website and went to checkout, a “free” download for computer antivirus software appeared on the invoice. The freebie, it says, lasts for six months. Afterward, you’ll get a bill for $49.99, according to a customer representative we phoned, unless you cancel before the subscription period ends.
This bold pitch from Delta was impossible to overlook. When our reporter booked a domestic economy flight (the restricted fares most people choose) via the carrier’s website, Delta offered him the chance to “add convenience and peace of mind.” “Flex this fare for just $737,” the offer shouted, as if you’d be crazy not to jump at the deal. Trouble is, our reporter’s super-saver fare was just $248, so Delta was tripling the price to make it refundable. Gee thanks.
The apparel merchant has different policies for online and in-store returns. If you return an online order to a retail location, you can only exchange the item or obtain store credit. If you mail it back, you can get an actual refund.
“We empower you to save money on air travel by offering ultralow fares with a range of optional services—including bags—for a fee,” Spirit proclaims on its website, “allowing you the freedom to choose only the extras you value.” Well, if you value almost anything other than airfare itself, you’ll likely need to dig into your wallet. The company just upped the freight to a maximum of $100 to stow a carryon in an overhead bin (it’s free if you can stuff it under the seat), depending on whether you declare the carryon in advance, at the airport, or wait until you’re at the gate. That’s more than you could pay for a checked bag.
The king of sports, music, and entertainment tickets charges customers $2.50 per order to print out their own tickets? That’s especially hard to justify since Ticketmaster will ship tickets for free via snail mail. But the company’s got that angle covered, too. If you choose to have your tickets mailed for free, Ticketmaster says they’ll ship within a leisurely 10 to 14 days of purchase, insufficient lead time for some events. Thus, you’re forced to trade up to expedited shipping (starting at $14.50) or choose to print them yourself. Gotcha.
Restocking fees have been around for years. But TigerDirect.com’s policy is vague and the penalty significant. To qualify for a return, the products “must be 100% complete, in the same condition as when sold, and in the original packaging . . . all packing materials, manuals, diskettes, CDs, digital media, blank warranty cards and other accessories and documentation must be included. Kits and other items assembled after purchase must be unassembled and returned in the manufacturer's original packaging.” Talk about stern language: “All returns will be inspected and products found to be non-conforming will be rejected or subject to a restocking fee” of up to 25 percent “at TigerDirect.com's sole discretion.”
Time Warner Cable
The broadband and cable giant recently announced it will begin charging customers $3.95 per month to lease a cable modem. Time Warner joins a list of other Internet biggies to do so, including Cox, Comcast, and Bright House. Although Time Warner and other companies allow customers to purchase and install their own modems outright, less-tech-savvy folks might be reluctant, assuring the companies a steady stream of extra revenue.
We all know how difficult it can be to decipher a phone bill. It’s especially tricky to figure out those mysterious fees when companies use official-sounding wording that sounds like they're charges mandated by the government and, thus, beyond their control. Case in point: Vonage. A reader sent us a letter from the company noting a $1 per month increase, to $2.99, in the “Regulatory, Compliance and Intellectual Property Fee,” RC&IP, for short. According to a Vonage spokesman, the fee covers “our regulatory-related and legal compliance expenses, including those related to customer privacy protection, anti-fraud protection and number portability, as well as intellectual property-related costs enabling our services. It also ensures that we continue to deliver best-in-class service and build innovative products that meet a range of customer calling needs.”