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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:

*MOUSE PRINT:

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.

*MOUSE PRINT:

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:

*MOUSE PRINT:

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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When Canceling a Flight, Do You Get a Cash Refund or Credit for Future Travel?

Last week, the federal Department of Transportation proposed revised regulations to update airline refund rules. (See news story.)

In particular, much of the news coverage talked about airlines having to provide vouchers for future travel to passengers. Well, if you paid for your ticket by credit card or with cash, do you really want a voucher for future travel rather than a full refund? And whose choice is it for cash back or future credit?

It all depends on whom is doing the canceling. The proposed regulations add a new rule about what happens when the passenger cancels a reservation on a nonrefundable ticket because of serious communicable illness (and not the common cold).

*MOUSE PRINT:

A ticketed passenger would be entitled to a non-expiring travel voucher but not a refund if he or she is advised:

…not to travel by air because the consumer has or may have contracted a serious communicable disease as defined in 14 CFR 260.2, and the consumer’s condition is such that traveling on a commercial flight would pose a direct threat to the health of others.

Proof of a public health emergency, government restriction on travel, or a letter from a medical professional documenting the serious medical condition that could be contagious to others when traveling may be required by the airline.

And here’s a little wrinkle that has not been publicized: The airline can also deduct a service fee for processing the voucher if the amount of the fee was disclosed at the time the ticket was purchased.

Now what happens if it is the airline that cancels or substantially changes/delays a flight? The proposed regulation says that a delay of three hours or more or an outright cancellation qualifies you for a “cash” or credit card refund.

*MOUSE PRINT:

(5) … [provide] prompt refunds, within 7 days of a refund request as required by 14 CFR 374.3 for credit card purchases, and within 20 days after receiving a refund request for cash or check or other forms of purchases. Carriers may choose to provide the refunds in the original form of payment …, or in another form of payment that is cash equivalent as defined in 14 CFR 260.2. Carriers may offer travel credits, vouchers, or other compensation in lieu of refunds, but carriers first must inform consumers that they are entitled to a refund. Carriers must clearly disclose any material restrictions, conditions, or limitations on these compensations they offer, so consumers can make informed choices about the refund or other compensation that would best suit their needs.

As noted above, the airline can try to offer you a voucher for future travel in these circumstances, but they have to tell you that you are entitled to money back instead. You don’t have to accept a voucher. You can demand a refund.

The proposed rules are subject to public hearings and comment and won’t go into effect for some time.

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Delta to Economy Fliers: No Miles for You!

DeltaLast week, Delta quietly changed a policy so that basic economy class tickets purchased on or after December 9, 2021 would not longer earn frequent flier miles in their SkyMiles program. This big policy shift was not announced in a press release but rather via a fine print asterisked footnote on its website.

Here is a page from Delta’s website as of December 8 explaining how to earn frequent flier miles:

Delta Dec 8

And here is the same page a day later on December 9 with an added footnote.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Delta Dec 9

What a difference a day makes. For flights on or after January 1, 2022, basic economy passengers will no longer earn five miles for every dollar spent nor any miles at all.

What a sneaky way to take away a benefit that has existed for decades and decades.

Hat tip to Points Guy who first reported this discovery.