Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Update On Previous Posts (Updated) part of my Don't Leave Money On The Table series of posts, I wrote almost a year ago about saving asking for a discount. The following month, I wrote a couple of posts about using credit cards wisely and in the second of those posts, I mentioned which reward cards I used. I also wrote about Paribus, a service that monitors your online purchases for price drops and automatically files for refunds for you. Time for an update!

Asking For A Discount

A year has gone by since I asked for (and received) discounts on my internet and satellite TV bills. The discounts I was given have expired, so it was time to call and ask again. I didn't have as quite as much luck with my internet provider as I did twelve months ago. Last year, I was given a $23 per month discount. This year, the company was raising rates in February by $7 per month. I was only able to get a discount of $5 off the current full price, with that price locked in for a year. I mentioned that the price for new customers was lower. I was told that was only valid for new customers. I told them I had been a loyal customer for 10+ years and couldn't believe they would give a better deal to a new customer than to me. No go.

So I took my $5 discount and mentioned that I wasn't happy with it. About two days later, I got a call from someone else at the company saying they understood I wasn't satisfied and what could they do, blah blah blah. I went through the whole explanation again. This time I was offered an additional $2 per month discount. I took it, as it was better than nothing, but I still wasn't happy. But since my total discount now was equal to the new price increase, I considered it a minor victory.

What Happened?

As I mentioned in my original post, asking for discounts doesn't always work. I also made a strategic blunder. This time, when I called I just went through the voice prompts to speak to a customer service representative regarding billing. Last year, I asked to talk to someone about downgrading or cancelling my service. I think not doing so this year was my big mistake. I was asking for something from someone who probably didn't have the ability to give it to me.

Unfortunately, I don't have any realistic alternatives for high speed internet in my area, so I can't threaten to cancel or even price compare with another company. I'm probably stuck until (if / when) Google Fiber comes to town. Still, my phone call saved me $84 per year.

Better Results With Dish Network

The discount I got on my Dish Network bill last year expired this month and I had better luck with them. I called and followed the prompts to speak to someone about changing my service. When I finally got connected to a person, I said I wanted to cancel because the cost was too high. The rep offered to look at what channels I watched and see if there was a cheaper package I might want instead. I told them I was just going to use an over-the-air HD antenna and Netflix, so there was no need to do that. I mentioned that I was receiving a $35 per month discount and that expired, which made the cost too high now. I was offered a $20 per month discount for 10 months, which I accepted. $200 saved!

Reward Credit Cards

I have an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card. This card earns me SPG points I use for free nights at the hotel chains owned by SPG (although you can also redeem them for frequent flyer miles on just about any airline). This isn't a huge benefit for me, as I usually only redeem them once a year, so I really only used this card at Costco, where they only accept American Express. The card comes with a $95 annual fee.

A couple of big changes happened last year that seriously reduced the value of this card to me. The biggest is that Costco dropped American Express and switched to Visa as its exclusive credit card. This change goes into effect April 1 this year. Since Costco was pretty much the only place I used this card, it was silly for me to pay the $95 annual fee for a card I would rarely use.

So I called up American Express and asked if they would waive the annual fee. I was flat out told no, they do not waive annual fees. I was offered to switch to a card that earned Delta Airline miles and only had a $55 per year fee, but I declined. I immediately asked for my card to be cancelled, which they did.

Doing so, I was struck by their complete lack of concern for losing a customer. The agent I was speaking with didn't seem flustered or bothered at all that I was cancelling my card right then and there. There was no effort to persuade me to stay (beyond the initial new card offer), no attempt to transfer me to a retention specialist, nothing. She just read me some fine print regarding the cancellation and that was it. I got the impression they could care less if I used their card or not. This was really surprising because the few times I have called their customer support in the past, I was always given incredibly helpful service. It seems like American Express is going through an identity crisis these days.

The other factor in my cancelling this card was the merger of Starwood Hotels and Marriott. Like others, I am concerned with how this merger will change the loyalty program. Starwood brand hotels are typically higher end than Marriott and the customer loyalty program has some of the best perks out there. Those will probably disappear soon. But, as I said, I really only stayed in their hotels once or twice a year, so it's not a huge loss.

I attempted to get my card's annual fee waived for a year just so I could see how useful the card would be to me with these changes. I'm not willing to pay $95 to perform that experiment, so I canceled it. As an added bonus, this card had the highest interest rate of all my cards (not that I carry a balance) and was my only card that had an annual fee, so it felt good to toss it.

The Costco switch to Visa is actually better for me, since my Chase Freedom Visa is the card I used almost daily and it will now be accepted at Costco. I earn 1% to 5% cash back with that card and it has no annual fee.


In August last year, I wrote about Paribus, a company that monitors your online purchases from a couple of select websites and automatically files requests for refunds if something you purchased drops in price. When I signed up, Paribus almost immediately found me a $25 refund on a pair of shoes my wife bought. Since then, they haven't found a ton of refunds for me. According to their website, I've made 57 purchases that they have logged and I've received $53 in refunds. Nothing exciting, but nothing to sneeze at either. I suspect my lack of savings is simply due to the type of items I purchase from Amazon. I tend to buy smaller items such as books and various household sundries. I rarely buy big ticket items or fancy electronics, but Paribus still manages to find some rebates for me. For example, I got $2.33 back on a replacement water heater sacrificial anode I bought last month.

That changed yesterday. We've started doing some improvements to our house (after saving up funds through our budget) and one of the projects we are doing is upgrading our TV systems. We're trading out our old rear projection non-HD TV that was 15 years old for a new LED flat screen. I purchased this through Amazon - not only because the price was good, but because I specifically wanted Paribus to monitor the price for me. A week after the purchase, I got notification from Paribus that the price had dropped $200 and they submitted a refund request for me. The next day, I got confirmation from Amazon that I would be getting a $213 credit applied to my credit card! Paribus charges 25% for their service, so I only get a net $160 refund, but I'm not complaining. (Looking back at my previous post, I noticed my first refunds were given in the form of Amazon credits. The last two I have gotten have been actual credits posted to my credit card, which is even nicer than Amazon credit.)

As part of this project, I also purchased a TV wall mount, a DVD player and a new AV receiver. I'm hoping Paribus will find some rebates for those as well. If you are interested in joining Paribus, drop me a note or leave a comment and I can get you a code good for a discount on your first refund.

(UPDATE: 5-23-16) Amazon has changed their price matching policy. From now on, they will only price match televisions. Given this, I have cancelled my Paribus account, as Amazon was the only retailer I used it with. I wonder if the popularity of sites like Paribus and Earny, which tracked Amazon prices for users, was a contributing factor to this change.


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