Discount Airfares: The Not So Fine Print*

Chuck Cohen, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor, makes fun of the airlines’ often ridiculous restrictions on deeply discounted airfares in this humorous article, appearing on December 1, 2006:

Backstory: The Not-so-Fine Print on Those Discounted Airfares

A fictional $99 fare to Paris comes with some, ahem, unexpected restrictions.

Great $99 roundtrip airfares from Chicago to Paris! (Some restrictions apply.) 

* All seats are shared.

** Travel must begin on a Tuesday and end on a Wednesday, unless it is a nonleap year, in which case it must begin on the flight captain’s birthday and end on his wedding anniversary, unless the captain is not married, in which case travel must wait until a full moon or Pamela Anderson starts dating Bill Moyers … again.

*** Fare will be paid in drachmas obtained at the current rate of conversion or the rate determined by a panel of economists chosen by the airline who are familiar with the Greek monetary system, and who are resentful of Bill Moyers dating Pamela Anderson and have vowed to take it out on any passenger flying from Chicago to Paris for $99.

**** One free bathroom visit per flight.

Story continued at The Christian Science Monitor.

eHarmony’s Free Trial: For Dating Blindly Only*

eharmony large We have all seen the TV commercials for eHarmony, an online matchmaking service, with psychologist Dr. Neil Clark Warren. He touts the free personality profile offered on his website that matches you to potential mates based on 29 key dimensions of compatibility.

With 12 million members, surely your match might be among them. So it was great news to read their newspaper ad about 10 days ago promoting a free weekend to “try eHarmony for free.”  “All weekend long you’ll be able to communicate with people you’re matched with for FREE!”

Buried in the “help” section was a “special notice” sure to disappoint many:

*MOUSE PRINT: “FastTrack and Photos are only available during the free weekend if you are a paid subscriber.” [website 11/17/06]

So, if you find the person of your dreams on paper, you will have no idea what they look like. Pardon the shallowness, but looks do matter. Now, since it is “free communication” weekend, you can simply ask for a picture, right?  Not exactly.

“Free communication” is a term of art used by eHarmony, and refers to an anonymous, structured communication system (“guided communication”) that uses sets of pre-defined questions that can be sent to the potential love of your life. You must go through four stages of “guided communication” before you get to more “open communication.” You cannot use “Fasttrack” that bypasses the canned questions and permits more opened-ended, but anonymous emails.

So, it appears you neither get to see nor really communicate instantly with your matches during the “free” weekend. For that, you need to subscribe to eHarmony for fees ranging from $59.95 (one month) to $251.40 (year).

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

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.