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February 20, 2017

Uncommon Way to Save on Rental Cars

Filed under: Autos,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

A friend recently called MrConsumer to complain about high rental car rates in Florida, which used to be available at giveaway prices for years. Not anymore. He was seeing rates in the $500-range for two weeks in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida. Yikes!

He then saw one rate at Budget for $458 — a bargain by comparison — and grabbed it.

PIE reservation

Some bargain.

MrConsumer went to checking around to see if he could find a lower rate. What infrequent travelers may not know is that there are coupon codes and rental car group discounts available if you know where to look. You’ll find these codes and coupons at places like warehouse clubs (no membership required generally to reserve, but you may be asked for a membership number at the rental counter), at membership clubs like Entertainment.com and AAA, and through various other organizations.


Budget coupon

Using those codes only yielded prices in the low $400s. To save a lot more, you have to use a technique that rental car companies don’t advertise.


Instead of picking up the car at the airport, get it at an in-town location. You can still drop it off at the airport on the way home for convenience and not pay any airport fees.

Going through the pricing exercise again, selecting Clearwater, FL instead of PIE (the airport) as the pickup location, yields dramatic savings.

downtown prices

$291 instead of $458! Of course, you have to get downtown from the airport. But, in this case, it is under three miles away and less than a $10 taxi ride.

These techniques won’t work in all cases, but as you shop for a car rental, give it a try. And don’t forget to keep checking back to see if prices have dropped. In most cases, you can cancel the old reservation without penalty and just make a new one at the lower price.


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February 13, 2017

When the Chips are Down in Fat, Are the Calories Too?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:40 am

Diet-conscious consumers are probably attracted to low-fat products. And in the case of potato chips, they probably feel a bit less guilty indulging in that treat if it contains less fat.

Enter Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat potato chips:

Cape Cod potato chips

Now don’t assume that the reduced fat chips on the right have 40% less fat than the Cape Cod regular chips on the left.


fat reduction claim

The reduced fat chips contain 40% less fat than the market leader, Lay’s potato chips. Lay’s has 10 grams of fat per ounce, Cape Cod 40% Reduced has six grams – 40% less as advertised, and regular Cape Cod has eight grams. This means that Cape Cod Reduced Fat chips contain 25% less fat than their own regular chips — still a substantial savings.

Dieters, however, are not only concerned about fat but calories as well. Would you care to venture a guess as to how many fewer calories Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat chips has compared to their regular chips?


Cape Cod chips nutrition label

What? The lower fat chips have exactly the same number of calories — 140 — as their regular full-fat chips? Yep, that’s what the nutrition (alternative?) facts label says.

How can that be? The portion size is exactly the same – 28 grams — as is the number of chips per portion, but there is 25% less fat in one product.

So we posed that very question to the PR folks at Snyder’s-Lance, the makers of Cape Cod chips. And we also wanted to know whether they felt they had an obligation to dispel the likely consumer misimpression that their 40% fat reduced chips were lower in calories than their own regular variety. In reply, after three attempts to obtain answers, all the company (through their PR firm) would say relevant to our questions was this:

With regards to the calories in each item, we adhere to the strict FDA regulations that dictate how companies must calculate and report nutritional information.

Clearly something just doesn’t add up here. The company should be able to explain to customers how it is possible that their substantially reduced in fat product offers no caloric savings if in fact the label is correct.


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February 6, 2017

Samsung Tries to Kill Lawsuits Over Exploding Phones

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:14 am

Everyone has heard about the exploding Samsung Note 7 smartphones by now. Cars have caught fire when the battery in the phone ignited. People have been burned. Airlines banned the phone. And finally Samsung recalled them at a cost of over $5-billion.

But what about people who bought the phone and suffered personal injury or property damage? It seems like Samsung is trying to burn them twice.


20-second CBS Video

What? Deep in the product box they tucked a mandatory arbitration clause on page 16 of the instructions preventing people from suing them. What foresight (and sleaze).


mandatory arbitration

Watch the full CBS News story here.


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January 30, 2017

Walgreens Misleads Customers on Rewards Program, Potentially Pocketing Millions

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

Consumer World Investigation

[Pressed for time? Read a summary of this story here.]

Like many drugstore chains, Walgreens has a loyalty program and they call it Balance Rewards. You earn points on most everything you buy, and points collected can be used like cash toward future purchases.

In April 2015, the company recognized some of the less appealing aspects of the program and notified members via email and on their website that starting May 31, 2015 they would have more ways to earn points:

Walgreens email

Great news — one can now earn points on prescriptions. (That asterisk only referred to limitations in a handful of states.) And sure enough, by early June 2015, Walgreens updated the main Balance Rewards webpage to indicate that “all” prescriptions – both 30 and 90-day ones — would earn points.

MrConsumer, like probably millions of others, orders 90-day prescriptions for maintenance drugs via Walgreens’ mail order service at Walgreens.com and was expecting to finally earn points on these purchases. It’s not a lot of money — you earn about a dollar for every three such prescriptions ordered or reordered.

Fast forward to February 2016. MrConsumer wondered how many points he had accumulated on prescriptions over the past nine months or so, so he checked his balance. A surprising ZERO was earned. He then wrote to customer service asking what happened and got this response:


Regretfully, you do only earn points for prescriptions if you fill your medications locally, rather than via Mail Order. Also, I have included a link to the Balance Rewards Terms and Conditions so that you may locate this information, if you would like to look.

That link to their February 2016 terms and conditions said nothing about online prescriptions being excluded from earning points. In fact, it said the opposite:


With the exception of photo orders (which require “store pickup” in order to earn Points), items ordered online and delivered to your home will earn Points as they would if purchased in store.

Now fast forward again to last week. Their website as of January 24, 2017 continued to advertise that you get 100/300 points for filling prescriptions both in-store and online, and that all prescriptions earn points:

Points online and in-store

– – –
All earn points

Note: footnote references shown above only relate to an exclusion in three states.

And this 2017 national television commercial also proclaims that all prescriptions earn points:

Walgreens TV ad

So, we asked Walgreens’ PR folks last Monday (January 23) why points were not provided as represented in advertisements and in multiples places on their website, and wanted to know what they were going to do to resolve the issue. In a statement, Walgreens replied:

“As stated on our website in the Frequently Asked Questions, only prescriptions picked up in-store are eligible to earn Balance Rewards points at this time. We are always appreciative of customer and member feedback, and take it into consideration as we continually review program materials. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.” – Emily Hartwig-Mekstan, Walgreens Media Relations Manager

Rather than admitting that the company unintentionally or carelessly goofed and that they would immediately fix the misleading representations, (or perish the thought, go back and make consumers whole), they suggested all was fine because one FAQ revealed the true facts. Incidentally, the main page for program details about Balance Rewards has no such FAQ except as it relates to drugs for pets and children. Only in the general help section for Walgreens.com under Balance Rewards, nowhere near where the points earning claims are made, is there a question among three dozen others that discloses that only prescriptions picked up in-store can earn rewards.

And remember that fine print terms and conditions statement (shown above) that says the only product category that requires in-store pickup to earn points is photos? Well, that was the wording until the day after our inquiry! Believe it or not, the very next day (1/24/2017) Walgreens inconspicuously amended their terms and conditions to now exclude prescriptions from earning points unless picked up in the store:


Exception added 1/24/17

What a coincidence in timing.

And to try to cover themselves on the main Balance Rewards page, a couple of days after our inquiry, they inconspicuously added a few words and a footnote to limit points earnings on prescriptions to in-store purchases only. These changes were made in the very places we had pointed out to them. We’ve highlighted their changes in red boxes below. [Compare to original.]

*MOUSE PRINT: (Use scrollbar below on the right to view.)

Walgreens Balance Rewards change

There is no word if they plan to change their television commercial.

In fiscal 2016, Walgreens filled 740 million prescriptions in its retail division, which includes mail order. It is unclear what percentage of those prescriptions were in-store versus mail order, but clearly, millions of consumers never got the likely millions of dollars of rewards that Walgreens promised.


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January 23, 2017

The New Math at Mio

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

Mouse Print* reader Jack K. recently wrote to us complaining about Mio water enhancer. This is a little bottle of concentrated flavor that you squirt into a glass of water to give it some flavor and maybe a few vitamins, all while adding zero calories.

Mio label   Mio side label

Jack says that despite the label promising that the product makes 24 eight-ounce glasses, he was getting much less and felt shortchanged. Since the amount a customer squirts into a glass could vary each time, our intrepid consumer used a measuring spoon, following the instructions on the side of the bottle which called for using about 1/2 teaspoon per glass. Lo and behold when he emptied the bottle he had only been able to make the equivalent of 16 eight ounce glasses of flavored water — one-third less than the package promised.

We did a little math using an online conversion program to find out how many half teaspoons are actually in a bottle whose net contents are 1.62 fluid ounces (48 ml).


Mio conversion

There are about nine and three quarter teaspoons worth of syrup in those Mio containers, which is slightly less than 19-1/2 half teaspoons. So just by pure mathematics, each bottle only holds enough product to make about 19 glasses of beverage rather than the 24 claimed.

We contacted the PR folks at Kraft to ask about this discrepancy. They responded in part as follows, without directly addressing our specific math question and example:

MiO Vitamins and our other MiO products are labeled properly.

Other Mio Vitamins products yield 24 servings and have prep instructions that indicate 1 squeeze of approximately 1/2 teaspoon (~1/2 tsp) per 8 floz. We clearly label that this is 2ml/about 1/2tsp for a 1.62oz 48ml) bottle.

So, if you want 24 glasses of Mio from each bottle, you’ll just have to use your handy 2-ml measuring spoon, which, of course, no one owns.


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