10 Things your wireless company Does NOT want you to know!!
Though my passion is wine and food...I have been working in the cellular industry for over 6 years now. I have worked in customer service, billing, retail and business sales. I am constantly amazed by the stories I hear from people who have been screwed over one way or another by wireless companies. I do not think, for the most part, that the companies are malicious, but I do think that they are out to make money and that the consumer gets run over, frequently, in their drive to make larger and larger profits. So I decided to provide a quick top 10 list of things that you should know if you want to get the best deal you can from them. The largest companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile) all pretty much operate the same way. There are some smaller companies out there that do things differently or have different models and these tips may not work for them.
1. If you EVER pay the asking price for ANYTHING in a retail store then you are wasting money!!! This may be the cardinal rule of wireless. Now, I don't mean that you shouldn't buy things from the retail stores, what I mean is that you need to be savvy. Wireless sales is a lot like used car sales, much of the transaction is negotiable. There is almost always a better price out there and in many cases, a little homework can save you money on everything from the activation fees to the phones themselves to the accessories. Now, I am talking about CORPORATE retail stores. A word to the wise, be VERY careful about the local "John's Bargain Cellular Hut"....many indirect agents do not have to play by the same rules as the corporate stores and have been known to sell used equipment, stolen equipment, defective phones or to do screwy things with your bill...and if you have an issue, you usually can not go to the corporate store to have it fixed...you have to go back to where you got the equipment from. There are many that are good, small, local business that will treat you right, but you need to make sure you are comfortable with the person you are dealing with...kick the tires a little first is all I am saying.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to go to the corporate stores, just make sure you are not blind sided, some of the 3rd party stores are designed to look EXACTLY like the corporate stores. My advice, either really know who you are dealing with in the 3rd party store (owner, recommendations etc) or go to a company that you have faith in. There can be great deals to be had from Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, Best Buy etc. and you know that if something goes wrong that those companies will back up the product. What I recommend is to spend about 30 minutes shopping around online. Doing your research ahead of time can save a lot of time, money and headache when you actually go to buy something. The websites for the major companies will almost always beat the prices of their brick and mortar stores and even if the prices are the same, you might get out of those annoying mail-in-rebate or maybe get some free accessories for going online...since their cost is much lower online, they do in many cases pass that savings on.
2. Rebates- Ok, so nobody likes rebates, and if everyone actually sent in their rebates, companies would stop doing them...it is because many people do not do them at all or they do them incorrectly that companies continue to do the rebates..it is just extra profit for them when you don't send it in! Here are my recommendations for rebates.
Avoid doing them in the first place - Try to get out of the rebate. Check online to see if they offer instant rebates if you order online, many companies do. If you are buying in the store and they mention the rebate, ask for an instant rebate, tell them you have had bad experiences with rebates and do not think you want to buy if you have to do a rebate...ask for a manager, and politely tell them you really want to buy but really do not want to do the rebate. Many times they will give an instant rebate just to get the sale.
Make sure you do them correctly - If you end up having to do a rebate, make sure you REALLY follow the directions. Any little mistake can invalidate the rebate. Make sure that you cross your t's and dot your i's. Most rebates require the original receipt from the purchase, the UPC to actually be CUT off of the box and the rebate form filled out completely and legebly. There are almost always deadlines to the rebate submission, so make sure you get copies of everything and send off the originals by the deadline.
DO NOT THROW OUT YOUR PACKAGING!!!- You need the UPC to do the rebate and you can't return or exchange your item if you do not have the packaging that it came with!! A good rule of thumb is to wait until you know that you want to keep the phone you purchased and then send in the rebate....usually, once you have sent in the rebate and mutilated the box to get the UPC, you will not be able to return or exchange the phone.
3. Activation Fees - Telecom companies are notorious for nickel and dollaring their customers...activation fees are just annoying beyond belief. Wireless companies really want your business, they really want you to spend all this money with them and they want you to sign a contract....but they want you to pay them for the privilege to do these things...seriously...What the HECK? I would say that you never need to pay an activation fee. There are two ways to accomplish this, the first way will be to go through a channel where they do not have activation fees, many of the wireless company websites offer free activation as does Costco and many of the larger wireless indirect companies. Ask specifically about the activation fees and make a stink about them. If you are in a store that wants to charge them, ask (politely) for them to be waived. tell them about the other options where there are no activation fees. if they want to keep the sale they will probably at least meet you halfway and waive a couple of the fees etc.
4. Batteries - Cell phone batteries are about $40 on average in a retail store...they are about $10 online. Amazon has the best prices consistently on REAL OEM batteried just like you would get at the wireless store. For example, Motorola Razr battery for $5.95, Blackberry Bold for $15, LG standard (fits about 75 phones) for $7.95. These prices are all less than 25% of what you will pay at the store for the SAME THING!!! And I am talking about OEM batteries, not the generic ones. Unless you are in dire need of a battery, I would recommend visitng Amazon and saving some money!
Most carriers warranty the batteries of their phones for a certain period of time. If the battery is acting up and you have not gotten the phone wet, and had it for under 1 year, check with your carrier to see if the battery is covered under the warranty. Other rules of thumb are as follows. Do not just leave your phone on the charger forever..though the days of memory effects with batteries are pretty much over, the battery has a certain number of charges on it before it starts to degrade, if you are charging it unnecessarily, you are shortening your batteries life.
5. Moisture Indicators- Ok, if you got your phone wet, own up to it. Moisture indicators are just one way of telling if the phone was wet. A technician will know if you are stretching the truth as there may be corrosion, moisture in the phone or condensation under the screen. HOWEVER!! There was a great article in the Boston Globe (see article linked below) about how moisture indicators can give false positives. See link. A special note...moisture can happen from humidity as well, so don't take your phone into the bathroom while you shower as the steam can both mess the phone up and turn the indicator to show it got wet. Same goes true for sweat at the gym...keep the phone away from all types of moisture. If you do get it wet, try removing the battery and putting the phone and battery in a zip-lock bag with about 1 cup of dry rice overnight...the rice will absorb the moisture and this may bring the phone back to life. Boston Globe Article
6. Phone Warranties - Most devices have a one year warranty from the manufacturer. Most of the major carriers will actually do the warranty for you on behalf of the manufacturer as they want you to get back to using your phone ASAP. Rules of thumb are that the warranties do not cover physical damage (damage caused by dropping, sitting on, running over, getting wet or otherwise damaging your device.) Warranties are for manufacture defects. If your phone is acting weird, dropping calls, shutting off or generally falling apart, I would contact your wireless carrier first as it may be covered under the warranty. Some issues such as broken hinges, keys coming off can be what are called "known issues." This means that the company is aware that some type of design defect or other causes certain thing to go wrong with a large number of phones of a certain model..these are usually also covered under the warranty...Google the model and "defect" and see of you can get more info on the problems with that phone...it may be worth a free phone! Most replacements that you are sent or given in the store when a warranty is processed will be refurbished phones. These are generally fine as they must pass the same inspection as the new phones, but some can be sub-par. The chances of getting a new phone instead of a refurb decreases as the phone gets older so you may not have an option, but the refurb should also have a warranty of some type so be sure to ask about that.
7. Accessories - Most chargers have over a 2000% markup....yep...2000%....those chargers you see for $29.99 full price cost the companies around $1. Now, mind that they buy them by the millions, so you will not find a good quality charger (i.e. one that will not fry your phone) for $1, but you should be able to get a nice OEM charger for around $5 online and they have many inovative chargers like the iGO which allows you to use one charger for all your devices, you just buy different "tips" for the different devices which cost much less and you can use one charger for all your gear. Many of the indirect dealers will include certain accessories for free with the phones when you sign a contract, so check on that as well. The same is pretty much true for most other accessories such as cases, clips, headsets, even the fancy wireless ones..most I am also a big fan of DC inverter. These are available at many electronics stores and are a great way to allow you to use your home chargers for electronics while in the car (I have one and love it as I can charge my laptop in the car while I am driving or while on a long trip.) I included a couple of great ones below from Amazon.com...great value as they cost about what one car charger costs.
8. Contracts - Ok, so even though people do not like the idea of being locked into a contract, the reality is that when you sign a contract, the wireless company subsidizes the phone you get, so lets say you buy a new Blackberry and they charge you $99.99 in the store for the phone when you sign a two year contract...well that phone probably cost the company $250 to $350, so they are actually losing money on the phone. They will do this as they know they will make the money back over the term of the contract. This is why most people suffer from sticker shock when they do not want to sign a contract or when you want a new phone but are not eligible yet. Even the cheapest phones with ZERO features are around $75 to $100 full retail, let alone a fancy-smancy PDA or Blackberry. Basically, if you want to stay with one company, you like your plan and do not need a new phone every 9 months, then contracts are actually good for you as they allow you to get a break on the phone. If you do not want to stay with one carrier, like to change phones etc, then you are better off buying your phones 3rd party and just activating them month to month with no contract. There are many places to get a phone with no contract for far cheaper than walking into a wireless store. Ebay and Amazon are great and just make sure that the seller has a lot of great feedback and make sure that you confirm that the phone you are buying works with the carrier(s) that you want to use it with...this is very important!
9. Employee Discounts - There is a pretty good chance that if you work for ANY branch of the government (Fed,military state, local, school etc) or for a company that has more than 50 employees OR has a contract with a specific wireless carrier, that you are eligible for an employee discount on your personal phone. These discounts are usually anywhere from 8% to 25% off your monthly bill depending on the size of the employer and the contract(s) they have negotiated. There are several carriers that even allow retired persons to get discounts if they retired from the Military etc. In addition, you may also get other goodies, like discounts on accessories, phones etc. It is very easy to find this out and I have provided the specific web-pages for each of the main carriers below. Usually you sign up for the discount using your work e-mail so it is VERY easy! I have listed the Websites below for checking your eligibility.
AT&T - http://www.wireless.att.com/businesscenter/
(right hand side it asks for you e-mail)
Sprint - http://sprint.p.delivery.net/m/p/nxt/ais/wdyw.asp
T-Mobile - I do not think they have a online portal. Call 611 from your T-mobile Handset.
10. Billing Overages - So we have all been there, we open up our bill and it is SEVERAL hundred dollars more than we thought it was going to be! I have seen bills that were over $10,000 for one Internet card for one month!!!! (note..do not take your phone or Internet card to another country and assume that just because it is working, that the usage is included in your monthly plan...IT IS NOT!!!) The first minute is just disbelief, then anger....at the offending person and the company...how dare they!! But lest face it, these charges are from us going over, or using more then we thought we were going to. The first bit of advice I have is to make sure you know how to check your usage which can usually be done online, through your cell phone, or by calling customer service. A rule of thumb is that carriers will allow you to change your plan as long as the bill has not generated. So if you are going over your minutes, text etc. just call them up and have them bump you to the next plan, they will charge you the difference between the plans but you wont have the overage. If you do get an overage bill, treat it just like an accidental over-draft at your bank. Call your customer service (this is almost always a better option then going into a store as stores usually have a limit to the credits they can issue whereas the customer service centers and customer retention teams have much more ability to give credits. Tell them it was an accident, if there are extenuating circumstances that caused this (family emergency, lost a job, moved etc.) then let them know and ask if they can re-rate the bill, this means basically bump you top the higher plan to cover the overage and charge you the difference but not the overage fees. If the charges were caused by international roaming this can be harder as your carrier will actually be getting a bill they have to pay from their roaming partner company, but it is worth a shot.
Extra Tip- Whenever you are dealing with any employees, be polite but firm. For the most part they really do want to keep you happy, but be realistic, these companies have rules and need to make money, they are not in business to give you free stuff all the time. If you are polite and firm you will be amazed what you can get. Don't be afraid to ask for a supervisor or a manager but always be respectful to both the lower-ranking rep and the managers, this will get you far as in most cases they can do something to help you out but if you are being a jerk, they are less likely to put forth the effort.
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