AAA Crams a Sneaky Optional Charge onto Some Annual Paper Bills

A New York reader wrote to us recently complaining about a sneaky “optional” charge that was tacked onto his annual AAA bill that he received in the mail. We then found a Massachusetts consumer with a similar problem (her bill is below):

AAA billClick to enlarge

*MOUSE PRINT:

AAA dollar disclosure

AAA added a $1 voluntary donation to their traffic safety foundation on this bill, and automatically included it in the “amount due” rather than as a separate box to check if the member wanted to donate. On this bill, the annual membership fee due should have been $87 and not $88.

The problem with this type of billing is this: Many members may simply rip off the payment stub at the bottom of the bill and send a check or enter their credit card number for the amount the stub says is due not realizing that the actual membership fee had been bumped up by an “optional” dollar.

AAA payment stubPayment stub from New York consumer

From a legal standpoint, this billing practice may well be classified as “cramming” — tacking a charge for a new item onto a bill without the customer’s affirmative consent and including it in the total due. As such, this may well be contrary to state consumer protection laws that ban deceptive practices.

We contacted AAA headquarters multiple times asking a series of questions about how extensive this billing practice was, whether it extended to those on autopay, how many people are affected, and whether they will change the practice. We received no response despite sending three email inquiries and calling twice.

Customers should not have to scrutinize every bill they get to make sure something they never ordered was tacked onto their invoice and included in the total. Just the way that the IRS includes a check box on your tax return so you can indicate if you want $3 to go to fund presidential elections, AAA should do the same thing if you want to add a dollar donation to their safety foundation.

There’s an old consumer maxim: it is easier to steal a dollar from a million people than steal a million dollars from one person.

We need your assistance to help determine how extensive this problem is since AAA operates as separate regional clubs around the country. Please look for your last bill from AAA to see if it includes an “optional” $1 charge or not. Either way, send a scan or clear photograph of it (crossing out your member number) to Edgar (at symbol) ConsumerWorld.org. In addition, use the comment section below to indicate what you think of AAA’s billing practice, and your experience with their bills. Please include your state, and whether you are on autopay or receive a paper bill in the mail. Thanks!

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18 thoughts on “AAA Crams a Sneaky Optional Charge onto Some Annual Paper Bills”

  1. AAA has being doing this literally foe decades. Every year they try to donate my dollar. I turned off auto renew.

    • If “The $3 IRS presidential fund does NOT cost you anything”, I would like to know where the $3 comes from. Corporate donations, fundraisers or maybe it comes from the taxpayers.

      • The IRS $3 Presidential fund is the only control you have over the tax dollars you pay. When he says it doesn’t cost you anything, what he is really saying is, you paid $XX in taxes last year. You can tell the IRS “I want $3 of that to go into this fund.”

    • We should really return to publicly funded elections. The amount of money spent on them now is insane!

  2. It does not surprise me that AAA hasn’t commented. Hopefully this is a regional issue and not standard procedure for the whole company. It’s funny that AAA doesn’t even really say what the organization your donating to does.

    I suspect that this is something AAA hopes garners no media coverage, but if it does, they’ll just change it, apologize, and pretend it was never supposed to be like that.

  3. I’m so glad this came up just now. My membership expires on April 15, so I took a closer look at the expiration notice and saw that I could save $5 by renewing online at AAA.com/RenewOnline. Online, the $1 was optional and not included in the total.

  4. Last summer I ripped off the pay’t part of the mail-in bill, but did notice the $1 “donation”, and debated about scratching it off and paying the $75 instead of $76. (I have a written note on the section of the bill that I kept.) This is in Maryland.

  5. Auto Club in southern California (ACSC) did not include a charge for this item. My late wife used to pay this bill, so I don’t know what the membership fees may have been in previous years. This is the first time for me to pay for the membership. I looked at all the fine print associated with the renewal and did not see any mention of this issue.

  6. How do you spell relief “C-L-A-S-S A-C-T-I-0-N”

    Edgar replies: Unfortunately, AAA has a mandatory arbitration clause that bans class actions in its terms and conditions.

  7. This is just one more example of a company doing something sneaky to separate us from our money. Here AAA consciously set out to cheat its customers. Shame on them!

  8. AAA Central/Western Massachusetts has been doing this for several years. After a couple of years of sending a check without the additional dollar (and not having any membership problems as a result), I contacted AAA, expressed my dismay at this practice, and demanded that they no longer add the additional amount. They haven’t since (roughly the past 3-4 years)(.

  9. I’m in Ohio, but part of AAA East Central headquartered in Pittsburgh. There was no additional charge on this year’s bill; not even an “optional” line to add any such donation. However, this type of thing is the reason I do not like using automatic renewal on anything. I want the opportunity to review my bills.

  10. Hi Edgar:
    This AAA type of billing has been going on for years. Imagine how much money AAA has gained from this type of billing. Since this dollar charge has been used for “AAA Foundation for traffic safety” is there any way to find out how much money has funded this foundation over the years and where is it being spent? We live in Massachusetts and checked a copy of our paper bill when our membership expired on 07/01/2016. It showed the optional dollar charge. We receive a paper bill every year and the latest bill showed the optional charge. I read the bill every year and deduct the dollar.

    Edgar replies: Hi Vincent… thanks for checking your old bills. I actually looked at the Foundation’s 990 tax returns and they take in about $6-million a year in contributions from all sources. I don’t believe all the regional offices cram their members’ bills or they would be getting much more than $6-mil in “voluntary” contributions.

    • Thanks Edgar for checking in the 990 tax return. I’m not sure this foundation has a staff which collects compensation for administration. If so, are they “a good job at a good wage”?

  11. AAA has been doing this for years, but I caught on to their scam from the very beginning. They never get that extra $1 from me, and never will.
    Just got my bill today and sure enough, there was $1 donation added on. But, nowhere did it say optional.
    I signed up for AAA 24 years ago in Ohio and now live in NJ and both states have had the donation added to the bill.

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