I took them up on the offer, followed all the directions and sent in my rebate form the next day. This is the step that the cynical Conor (me) believes they hope you won't do (so they get the benefit of offering the rebate without having to give you the cash -- and it's your fault since you didn't follow through). Of course, being the pedantic person that I am, I *always* fill in the form and send it in just to make sure they pay up.
Well, today -- approx 6 weeks later, I receive the "the rebate". I was expecting to receive a check like any other rebate program that I've ever participated in. A check that I could exchange for cash at my local bank, or just deposit into my account.
However, that wasn't to be. Cingular sent me a "Rewards Card". This is a Visa debit card that supposedly carries the value of my rebate.
Perhaps I'm over-reacting, but I'm not at all happy with this. In fact, I'm downright pissed. This is some form of bait-and-switch that should be illegal. When you offer a rebate to your customer, you should provide them with a CASH rebate, not a debit account that they somehow have to figure out how to use.
For the smart ones out there who were thinking, just use the card to get cash -- no dice. I thought the same thing, but alas the rules include:
Your card is valid only in the U.S. and may not be used for cash withdrawals or at any cash dispensing machine.
It's even invalid at the gas pump. If you want to use it to pay for gas, you have to go inside the station and wait in line.
And, of course, it expires in a relatively short period of time.
What are the problems with this debit card model?
- Cingular hopes that this is another deterrent for the user getting the full value of the rebate. At the minimum, it will slow down the transfer to cash to the user as the user finds ways to make use of the debit card until it is used up.
- Most facilities are not setup to allow you to mix multiple payment methods, especially online merchants. This means that to get the full value, you have to find a collection of things that add up to the exact amount of $$ on the card (the card even prohibits you from adding $$ to increase it's value up to a value you would want to spend.
- Cingular hopes that nobody will be able to use up the exact amount ($100 in my case) and so they will profit from the remaining cents left on the card. The only way to totally use it up is to find a friendly merchant who will let you use multiple cards on the same purchase).
- I'm sure there's some slice of the transaction fee paid by the merchant that somehow makes it into Cingular's pocket (yes, cynical Conor strikes again).
In fact, as I was writing this blog entry, I went to Amazon to try to use up the entire value of the card right away. However, I ran into that "single card" problem for a purchase (so my $100.75 purchase wouldn't work as it was 75 cents over the value of the card). I ended up spending $92.86 of it (just couldn't find something worthwhile to purchase for $7.14 and so I have to remember the card and the amount so that if I do end up making a purchase again, I can use up the rest of it... Perhaps some candy at the local grocery store).
Can you tell that I really hate the idea of this bait-and-switch reward card vs getting the rebate check? Cingular you should listen up -- this is the kind of thing that Elliot Spitzer likes to go after.