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How to Find the Best Deal for TV, Internet and Phone Bundles

Consumer Reports News: March 02, 2011 11:45 AM

You have to be a bargain-hunting bulldog who loves to dig and dicker to get the best deal for a triple-play TV, Internet, and phone package. When I tried to determine the lowest price offered by Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, the numbers were all over the place. (Comcast is by no means the only company with puzzling pricing, but since it's the largest cable company, many readers can relate to it.)

I found different deals online, from a phone rep, and from an online chat session with yet another rep—all at the same time. Even more confusing, the deals touted on the website weren't all valid in my area. I had to give a specific address, not just a ZIP code, to get any info at all, which I found annoying. My head was spinning.

To add to the confusion, I Googled "Comcast triple play" and I clicked on the first link, which turned out to be an "authorized retailer's" site. (The pricing is the same as that on the official Comcast site. My phone and chat contacts were with the dealer.)

On the Comcast dealer website, under "Today's Deals," I was surprised to find that ordering the three services separately would total $70 a month during a 6-month promotion, compared to $99 a month for a bundle. Huh? I thought bundles saved you money.

When I phoned to clarify this, a rep said the three individual services would jump to $170 a month combined after six months. Evidently, at that point, you'd be encouraged to switch to a bundle, which didn't go up nearly as much. The $99 bundle price climbed to $114.99 for months 13 through 24, according to the phone rep. The rep on the chat line quoted a higher price: $129.99 a month once the 12-month promo period year was up.

Prices for the double plays also skyrocketed after six months, from $69.99 a month to $126.99 for TV and Internet. Again, that would make a triple play more enticing. For some reason, the $69.99 double play wasn't available at my address—it would cost me $79.99. When I asked why I couldn't get the website offer, the rep said he'd have to confer with a manager.

There was an even bigger price discrepancy on the phone service. The website quoted a price of $19.99 a month for phone-only service, but both the phone and chat reps said it would be $44.99 a month from the get-go. Why does the website list prices that you can't get?

Talk about confusing. And cable companies aren't the only ones playing numbers games. I got a mailing for Verizon FiOS offering a $69.99-a-month triple play for a year (with no contract, by the way). At the Verizon website, the best price I could find for the same services was $84.99—even when I plugged in the home address at which I'd received the cheaper direct-mail pitch. Online, the double-play TV and Internet bundle was $69.99 a month for six months, then $79.99 a month for months seven through 12. Prices clearly are a moving target depending on when and where you get the info.

So what's the moral of this story? Do your homework. Look under every rock to see what kind of deals are out there, on websites, via phone, in newspaper ads. Ask your friends and coworkers what they're paying. And then push the company to give you the best deal you've heard about—not just when you're shopping around, but even when you're already a subscriber. And check Consumer Reports' bundled services Ratings (available to subscribers).

A colleague who already subscribes to a FiOS bundle said he calls to bargain every time he sees a lower price than he's paying, and so far, Verizon has given him the better deal every time. It may not always work, but what do you have to lose?

Have you run into anything similar? Tell us about your pricing plans and bargaining strategies in comments.

—Eileen McCooey

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