Friday, May 11, 2007

Sprint's hidden, optional charges. What bastards.

I decided that I wanted to get a Sprint mobile broadband card for my laptop so that I won't be tied to random little wi-fi hotspots. I've also been meaning to upgrade my old phone to one that supports bluetooth so that I can field calls through my portable GPS unit.

So I call Sprint and start going through the process of upgrading the phone. The CSR's computer was having issues so everything took forever. I was put on hold throughout this process about ten times. Half of the delays were due to her lack of knowledge; she'd put me on hold so she could go find out the answers to my rather straightforward questions.

I chose the Sanyo Katana in Sapphire Blue. The Website lists the price for new customers as follows:

$249.99 regular price
- $170.00 instant savings
- $50.00 mail-in rebate
$29.99 online price

Okay. Not bad. $30 for a new phone. But the customer service rep (CSR) tells me that my discount--for being a loyal customer for 2+ years (in fact since 1999)--is only $150.00 in instant savings with a $50 mail-in rebate. That's $20 worse than the new customer discount. As a continuing customer I am worth less to Sprint than a new customer.

This makes me upset. I point this out to the CSR and she eventually says, "Oh, I'm sorry, actually your mail-in rebate will be $70.00." Yeah right. What I strongly suspect is that the default rebate is $50 but the CSRs can, at their discretion, grant continuing customers the $70.00 rebate.

Okay, so the phone is still $30, but only after arguing with the CSR a bit.

Next she tells me that there's an $18 activation fee. Again this makes me angry. So again I point out, "so wait, if I have to pay an activation fee, then I'm still paying more than a new customer would."

"Yes, sir, that's true. I will waive the activation fee for you."

So not only is there a discretionary extra $20 rebate, there's also a discretionary $18 activation fee! The optional $38 that the CSR granted me is more than the phone itself is costing me!

Now all of this is happening at a snail's pace. Just getting this far has taken 45 minutes.

We move on to putting in the order for the mobile broadband card. At least there are no suprises on this one - until she mentions the $36 activation fee. I'm completely flabbergasted. And by this point we've been on the phone for 65 minutes!!! She wisely says, "but I'll waive that fee too since you've had to wait so long for all of this." Damn right you will. "I'll also waive the $12 shipping charge."

So now the discretionary credits are 20 + 18 + 36 + 12 = $86!

The mobile broadband card is $80. For a $30 phone and a $80 card, the CSR had (at least) $86 in discretionary credits. $30 + $80 = $110 for new equipment is one thing, but $110 + $86 = $196 would be nearly twice as much!

The phone arrives the next day. I call to activate it and... guess what?!

"There is an $18 upgrade fee."

I tell this CSR that the previous CSR didn't mention anything at all about an upgrade fee and that it's completely unacceptable. After a couple minutes of arguing with him, he says, "okay, I will waive the upgrade fee, but this is a one-time only deal; I'm making a note in your account that now you know about the upgrade fee and all future phone upgrades will charge you an upgrade fee." I agree that this is fair (since, in all likelihood and especially after this experience, I will switch carriers when it's time for a new phone).

20 + 18 + 36 + 12 + 18 = $104 saved. The amount of discretionary CSR credits is now only $6 short of being exactly twice as much as the equipment itself. In other words, by being annoyed as hell at them I got the equivalent of a 50% discount. But what gets me is that those are all discretionary discounts. Sprint is more than happy to charge two times more than the advertised price and is just hoping to get away with it. And at the same time they know some people will call them on it and so they have already authorized their CSRs to back off on the overcharging (albeit one hard-fought charge at a time).

It's like saying, "Milk costs $2.50. That'll be $5."

"But you said it's only $2.50!"

"Oh, you're right. I'll give it you for $4."

"But you said it's $2.50!!"

Shouldn't there be a sense of embarrassment here? Where's the sense of shame? I understand the brutal Wall Street profit motive, but this is just infuriating.

I have not yet received the mobile broadband card. I'm afraid to think what other hidden charges the CSR will try to stick to me when I activate it.

So obviously it's good policy to always argue and complain with the Sprint CSRs. Who knows, you might save yourself 50%.

Just ridiculous.


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