Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Are we "policy sheep?"

Last month while visiting my parents in Palm Springs, I used the public library computer to buy airplane tickets and reserve a hotel room for a business trip I had to take immediately.

Having done this procedure hundreds of times before, it never occurred to me that the website I used would have a calendar error.

I clicked what has always been the current month's calender next to the request, I clicked on what I assumed to be the current month.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a day later the calender next to the booking date was NEXT month's. So I immediately changed the airplane dates, for which I was penalized $150.

For the hotel, however, I was told I would be charged the full price (nearly $1,000) for the days I would not be staying a full month later. That when you click the "I agree to pay" box, you agree that you're booked hook, line and sinker, whether you're there or not, no matter the cost.

They ARE free, however, to re-book the room if it's empty.

I don't mention the hotel in this matter because it's not their policy - it's the online booking agent's - continental.com.

Every person to whom I spoke said only, "It's company policy." "It's our policy." "It's the policy."

I asked to speak to a supervisor and was put on permanent hold.

I called back and was never put through to anyone at management level. I believe I was talking to people in India. It was clear the "customer service" people I addressed had no idea what to do when I asked to speak to their supervisor.

Here's what I told them (paraphrasing, but I said it in a way that I told them I hoped they recorded):

"Just having a 'policy' does not mean that it is just, fair, or legal.

"Paying for services or products that are not received - that in fact you have no intention of delivering, constitutes FRAUD. Fraud is a crime. A policy supporting fraud is - without a doubt - illegal."

Even if there is a box that says - out loud or surreptitiously - you must pay whether or not you receive the services/product - is not enforceable because it is still promoting ... say it with me ... fraud. Which is, again ... say it with me ... illegal.

Clicking or agreeing to a fraudulent practice is still partaking in an unenforceable "policy" because by its very nature the policy is part of a fraudulent practice.

Now, the only reason these greedy policies have been able to get away with this is because we haven't protested or challenged this "policy."

Most of us feel that there's nothing we can do because they are this huge corporate monolith (or a bunch of sad little yes-people stuck in cubicles taking calls from people getting ripped off who are told only to say "It's our policy." "It's the policy." And nothing else.

Here's another point: while it's supposedly continental.com's "policy," the fact is that they did not charge me a full price for the airplane flight I did not take - they charged me for the change of dates.

I would have paid the fee for changing my hotel dates as a cost of doing business (even though I still believed that the initial website's calendar error), but they refused to change the dates - I would be charged full price for the hotel rooms on the dates I mistakenly reserved even though I was changing the dates and was staying at the same hotel on the new dates.

Alone? I haven't got a shot at getting my money back unless I were rich enough to take on these corporations surrounded by lawyers who simply point at the policy we are forced to click if we want to buy a ticket or hotel room and leave it at that.

Just because we are forced to click an agreement does not mean that it is an enforceable agreement if the agreement by its very nature is wrong, unfair or illegal.

But, Dearest Reader, I did something right.

I paid the bill with my VISA card.

VISA has its own policy: if you think you've been ripped off by someone you've paid with VISA? You report the suspected individual/company, and if they agree you have a good cause, VISA will take your case, representing you in an effort to 1) not pay the bill or 2) get your money back.

In this case they will also be challenging this policy, because even if the initial error on the website was responsible, the consumer is still held liable for payment by the corporation. In other words, even if the consumer were not in any way responsible for the booking error, they are still charged.

VISA can check out just how many of us have been charged for services never rendered - was that calendar error common or a fluke? Are we forced to agree to a policy that is in fact intended to collect "free money?"

While the error would not have been made if I had called in the reservation (which also costs more money these days), the fact is, for VISA, I have a paper trail a mile long thanks to my computer interactions.

Now, if you have been victimized by a policy that is clearly unfair or illegal, and you use VISA (I don't know if other credit cards have this customer-friendly policy), report them. Refuse to be abused and you know when you're being abused - when you're paying for something you never receive.

In my case, I explained my issue in detail to the VISA representative and she assured me, if all my evidence supports what I just said (which it does) that VISA will indeed put in a good faith effort to get my money back and investigate the policy.

I figure just fighting my individual case won't help the thousands - maybe millions - of others victimized by this practice. The policy has to be changed.

I'm also sending copies of my information and evidence to my US Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, requesting they investigate this "policy" and perhaps sponsor legislation that does not permit this abuse in the future.

I *hate* the thought of creating one more law for businesses to deal with, but every law like this is brought about by the abuse of consumers. These businesses assume consumers will sheepishly fold when they are told something is a policy, no matter how wrong, unfair, or in fact, illegal.

Contacting your US Representatives and Senators is something you can do even if you don't have all your papers - if it's been awhile since you had an experience like this or didn't keep your papers. They take plenty of anecdotal evidence - personal stories from people who have been victimized by a "policy."

To contact your US Representative, find out who they are and how to contact them here.

To contact your US Senator, find out who they are and how to contact them here.

VISA contact info is on your card.

The VISA rep told me that there are a number of hotels, airlines and other travel companies that have this policy - and my case will provide an insight into the policy's veracity.

Seriously, the word policy only means "a course of action." It is not a law.

Heck, even laws that are unfair or unconstitutional can be changed.

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  • At 4:33 PM, Blogger Jarrod said…

    Way to go! Keep up the fight. This is a microcosm of when corporations/people put profits over humanity and decency. (See the healthcare or wealthcare debate.)

  • At 4:50 PM, Blogger cp said…

    Thanks, Jarrod.

    I was ready to seethe in secret until I realized that there are undoubtedly hundreds of us getting sucker punched like this and it has to stop.

  • At 12:33 AM, Blogger Digger said…

    MasterCard have the same approach. I was charged for a full year's web hosting THE DAY BEFORE the company filed for bankruptcy. They got my money back.

  • At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Caitlin said…

    How absurd!!! I'm glad that VISA is looking into it and getting you taken care of. You get em', CP!!!


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