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November 20, 2006

Toys R Us Price Guarantee: We Match Prices Only When We Feel Like*

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:15 am

TRU logo Many shoppers like to buy at stores that offer a price protection guarantee. That means if you subsequently find an item you bought there for less money elsewhere or even at their store, they will give you back the difference.

For some who have bought toys over the past few weeks, the Toys R Us “Black Friday” sale is going to bring wth it an unwelcome surprise. A fine print footnote indicates that they are suspending the price guarantee:

*MOUSE PRINT: “Price Guarantee is not in effect for other retailer special offers or Doorbusters.” [Circular, November 23, 2006]

So, on the day with some of the lowest prices of the year, if you paid more at Toys R Us, it looks like you are out of luck, even if Toys R Us itself is selling the item as a “Doorbuster” for less. [Since they have capitalized “Doorbusters”, it appears that they are referring to their own early morning specials that go by that name.]

Of course, since the store has a liberal return policy, you could return the overpriced item, and repurchase it on the spot at the lower “Doorbuster” price. If Wal-mart or another store is offering a lower price, however, it looks like they will not match that price.

Thanks Toys R Us for suspending a good consumer policy on the day it matters most.

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November 13, 2006

Chase Credit Cards: How to Avoid 32.24% Interest*

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:03 am

Chase change in termsDo you ignore those fine print notices that credit card issuers send out from time to time?  They are often accompanied by a letter that says there will be a “change in terms,” but it leaves the details to the fine print enclosure.

“Change in terms” is bank speak for a price increase or change that is not in your financial best interest. If they were lowering your rates or easing any terms, they would boast about that in the letter.

Many [but not all] Chase credit cardholders just received an “IMPORTANT NOTICE OF CHANGE IN TERMS AND RIGHT TO OPT OUT” in the mail. For those who did not take the time to read it, here is the bad news and the good news:

*MOUSE PRINT: Your default interest rate is going up to 32.24%. But… you don’t have to pay it if you send them a letter by November 23 opting out of the change.

[The default interest rate refers to the penalty APR that will be used to calculate your finance charges if you pay late, are delinquent, or speak ill of the credit card company to your friends.] 

This notice is unlike similar notices in that your account will not be closed if you reject the changes. But like similar notices, they don’t tell you what the current terms are, so you can’t compare old with new.

It does appear, however, that in additional to raising the default interest rate, they are adding terms of when the default rate will be triggered. (For example, a default late in the month will be treated as if you defaulted on the first day of the billing period.)

Another change that is not obvious because the prior terms are not restated is the apparent lifting of the cap on balance transfer fees. In the past, on some Chase cards, the maximum fee  you could be charged was $75. Soon it will be unlimited.

Since most people have ignored this notice, they don’t realize the once in a blue moon opportunity they have been given to opt out of certain of the new provisions (APRs and default rules). Their silence will constitute acceptance of these terms, including the new 32.24% default interest rate. All that because they didn’t take the time to read the mouse print.

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November 6, 2006

Wendy’s Fries: Five Times Trans Fattier Than Claimed*

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:21 am

Wendy's friesBack in June, Wendy’s made a big announcement that they were switching to a new non-hydrogenated cooking oil that has “zero grams of trans fat per serving.”  Trans fats are considered heart-unhealthy because they raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.

So, it was indeed good news to hear that Wendy’s french fries would only have 0.5 grams of trans fat, no matter which size you bought — small, medium, or large. [See press release.]

Wendy grams

The big surprise is the amount of trans fat actually found in those fries based on independent laboratory tests.

*MOUSE PRINT: According to the November issue of Consumer Reports, test results from two different laboratories reveal the actual amount of trans fats found in a serving of Wendy’s large french fries averaged 2.5 grams — or five times the claimed amount.

Wendy’s stands by their claims saying they “rigorously tested and analyzed the fat content of its fries working with an independent laboratory.”  [See video link in this story.]

Since as consumers, we have no way of knowing whether nutritional claims made for products are true or not, we have to rely on the information presented by the seller. While no one should confuse french fries with a health food, the new Wendy’s fries are still healthier than their old ones, but apparently just not as low in trans fat as the company claims.

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October 30, 2006

Buying “Pink”: A Lure for Breast Cancer*

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:23 am

pink products October is breast cancer awareness month and many companies use this opportunity to contribute to the cause and to educate their customers about breast cancer prevention.

Some companies also try to cash in, and generously put, they seek to do well by doing good. They place pink ribbons on their products and in their ads to give well-meaning consumers an added incentive to buy their products. This is called “cause marketing.”

Those who track these promotions say that consumers should “Think Before You Pink“.

*MOUSE PRINT: Don’t assume that the mere purchase of the product will result in a substantial contribution to breast cancer causes, or any contribution at all. You have to read the details.

Eureka once put a sticker on their LiteSpeed vacuums proclaiming that they “will make a contribution to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation with every LiteSpeed sold.*”   According to Breast Cancer Action, their actual donation was only $1 per vacuum, and those models could sell for upwards of $200.

Sun Chips snacks sport the pink ribbon, but require you to visit their website and enter a special code from the package in order to trigger the company’s donation. Many people might just see the breast cancer information on the package and assume that a donation is triggered by the mere purchase of the item.

Viva towels requires you to redeem a particular coupon for an additional donation to be made.

Campbell’s has put the pink ribbon on two of their soups in Kroger stores, and the cans are flying off the shelf, doubling in sales. The donation: about 3.5 cents per can. (All told, on sales of seven million cans, Campbell’s will donate $250,000.)  Certainly that is a substantial sum, but still only a few pennies per can.

Mouse Print* is not suggesting that you shouldn’t buy these products, nor that companies should stop making such contributions. Rather, just be aware that less than you think may actually be going to the cause, and you may have to do more than just buy the product to trigger the contribution.

For more information, read this Wall Street Journal article . And to help you “think before you pink”, here are some questions to ask before you buy.

• • •

October 23, 2006

Frequent Flier Miles: Will Expire Sooner*

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:22 am

Fasten your seat belts, and keep your air sickness bag handy. Travelers are about to be hit with a double whammy.

Not only is it often difficult to redeem your hard-earned frequent flier miles for the flight of your choice, but now the miles on some popular programs are going to expire much sooner if your account is inactive.

Both Delta and US Airways have quietly amended the terms and conditions of their frequent flier programs to cut the expiration of banked miles from three years to between 18 months (US Airways) and two years (Delta).

*MOUSE PRINT for US Airways:

Effective January 31, 2007, active membership status is based on having earned or redeemed miles within a consecutive 18 month period. With our new Mileage Reactivation Policy, Dividend Miles members have an opportunity to reinstate their Dividend Miles accounts to active status for an additional 18 months for a $50 processing fee and reactivation fee of $.01 per mile. If members do not extend with this reactivation option, the Dividend Miles account will be closed and all miles forfeited.

So not only will the miles expire in half the time, they are graciously allowing you to buy them back at a ridiculously high price. It is not clear if the new 18 month expiration period is retroactive.

*MOUSE PRINT for Delta:

Starting December 31, 2006, we’re modifying the above policy and miles will expire after two years of account inactivity. Mileage balances of members who have had no SkyMiles activity within the last two calendar years (2005 and 2006) will expire on Dec. 31, 2006.

Adding insult to injury, Delta is clearly making their policy retroactive to already earned miles.

The easiest practical way to keep your miles from expiring is to either spend some of them on cheap things like magazine subscriptions, or earn more miles by doing business with one of the airlines’ partners. Here is the US Airways partner list, and the one for Delta. Both allow you to make purchases from SkyMall, for example, and earn miles. You can also buy something at and earn US Airways miles, or join NetFlix and earn Delta Skymiles. Be sure to use the link provided at each airline’s website if you are going to shop at an online partner. Going directly to one of the participating online stores will not earn you miles.

The bottomline is that these changes are nasty, and exhibit a degree of chutzpah. The airlines make it hard to spend your acquired miles on flights because they don’t make enough free seats available, and then they take away your miles if you don’t use them.

For more details, here is a New York Times article on the subject.

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