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Target and TripAdvisor Botch Free Membership Offer

Last week, Target offered Target Circle members a free one-year membership to TripAdvisor Plus (regularly $99) — a plan that provides special travel deals, discounts, and other perks. Consumer World even made it part of our “Bargain of the Week.”

TripAdvisor+ offer

Mindful of how many memberships work, we were concerned that the plan should not automatically self-renew after a year and stick readers with an unexpected $99 charge. Target explicitly allayed our concerns in the details of the promotion:


Target/TripAdvisor terms

Despite these assurances, the way TripAdvisor implemented the offer was the exact opposite of this. On the sign-up page, TripAdvisor not only explicitly said that the membership would auto-renew after the first year, but they also required you to provide your credit card number.


auto-renew and credit card

When advised by a reader what TripAdvisor was doing, we immediately contacted Target executives and PR folks. Later that day, a day-and-a-half into the promotion, Target called to say that TripAdvisor had changed their fine print to say that the membership would NOT self-renew. But looking at the revised sign-up page, they still were requiring a credit card in order to receive the free travel club membership. So, we asked TripAdvisor’s PR folks multiple times to justify why the company was still requiring a credit card to sign up. They did not respond, but their fine print explained it this way:


Your credit card information provided at checkout will be saved to enable more seamless hotel booking.

In our view it is totally inappropriate for a company to require a credit card when they are giving away a totally free service. If and when a member makes a reservation and buys a travel service, that is the time a card needs to be provided and not before.

So what do you think? Is it appropriate for TripAdvisor to require you to provide a credit card to get a year of their free service?

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20 thoughts on “Target and TripAdvisor Botch Free Membership Offer”

  1. Absolutely NOT! I protect my credit card information and to require it for a “free” deal is no deal to me. And one year later, if a charge shows up for membership “accidentally,” I get to contest it — that is no fun! So at the point the “deal” requires a credit card, it is no further a “deal” to the consumer.

  2. I assume that everything I see/hear/read through a light up screen is a lie (mostly because, in my experience, it is.)

  3. You can bet they’re going to use your card info to auto-renew. And TripAdvisor is a horrible company to deal with and difficult to leave. We once had to use our travel insurance (which we paid extra for) to cancel a trip and they only returned 25% of the cost, so we canceled our membership, which they then auto-renewed anyway. I had to delete my card info from the site and contact our bank to get our membership fee charged back.

  4. No !
    It happened to me with bjs. I thought I was getting a free 2 month access membership to bjs with no next year self renewing fee as I hardly go to that store. I went to the service desk and activated it. I never gave them my credit card number at that time. A year later a 50 dollar charge came onto my Mastercard. The company matched my onetime use of that free membership with my credit card and charged me. It took me hours on the phone to have it removed.

  5. one possibility is they planned on auto-renewing and when you brought up the issue made a quick code change to prevent auto-renew. No one mentioned the CC thing, so they didn’t change that. The customer service response was BS.

    a second possibility is the CC# may be more deeply ingrained in their system (for auto-booking), so removing it breaks things.

    a third possibility is the auto-renew is actually still active (at least for “one click” renew)

  6. Sadly, this kind of nonsense continues. If one is tempted to sign-up for such a “service”, use a temporary credit card number that you can get from many banks. After the sign-up is completed, cancel the temporary number.

    • Exactly. My Citibank card lets me generate as many virtual card numbers as I like and I set the max daily charge and the expiration date. Let them try to auto renew their $99 fee when my $10 daily max charge card I use is declined!

      • I was going to write something similar. I’ve been using Citi VAN for free trials like this for years and it has been great. Not only can you set a max allowed amount lower than what they’ll try to charge, but you can set the expiration date before the end of the trial.

        Virtual Account Numbers have allowed consumers to take back control of their CC usage. I’m very sad that other banks don’t offer the feature. I think there might only be one other bank with a similar feature.

  7. Apart from what I strongly suspect is dishonesty in this “deal,” there are far too many companies not protecting their data storage for me to leave my credit card info with them. There are three bills for which I use auto-pay and I decline to “make checkout faster” for others by allowing them to store my CC data. I always wonder how they are protecting the data of my CURRENT transaction.

    • That’s why Citi Virtual Account Numbers is such a great feature. The number, expiration, and CVV code are all different for each instance. I have dozens of different Citi numbers used with online vendors. If one gets compromised via a hack, Citi will just turn it off without needing to issue me a new physical card. And I have control to change the expiration date and max charge amount any time I want as well.

  8. It’s not appropriate because the implication that you are also agreeing to an auto-renew at the regular price the next year is hidden in the fine print. It’s a classic come-on. I’m seeing this more and more lately, from periodical subscriptions to so-called “free” antivirus programs, streaming services, lawn care companies, you name it. They bank on the fact that people will give them their credit card number not realizing what they’re contracting to and forget about it, allowing themselves to keep getting charged for something they don’t want year after year. I’m an old New Yorker from way back, I don’t fall for that kind of stuff, LOL.

  9. I am always looking for “sleazy” gotcha’s. But, I missed on AMC when I signed up for 1 year at $25 (mostly for some friends that were crashing for a few days and we binged Walking Dead). End result, I never used it again and forgot about a year later until I saw an $82 charge. I called AMC and they offered me a $24 courtesy discount. Fifteen calls later the charge was reversed.
    I now have a popup on mycalendar 2 weeks before any trials become renewed. I also ONLY use virtual credit cards, which I block after I post the money for the trial. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

  10. So common for companies to try sneaking by that kind of stipulation. Self re-new is how they stay in business, and thereby infuriate purchasers. All one can do is vote with their feet. Sad.

  11. No it is not right. When I am signing up for something free and reach a page requesting my credit card, I erase what I have filled out and forget about the “gift”.

  12. Definitely NOT appropriate and hints (loudly) of scamming. I also don’t like the idea of my credit card information just “hanging around” just in case!

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