Thursday, April 28, 2011

Not Paying Twice For The Same Service

My line from years ago, “It’s not just the high prices, it’s the people that pay them”, seems to be coming back in style again these days. Thanks to technology. I’d sure like to know why so many people are so willing to pay for the same thing more than once.
People around me as well as millions of people I don’t even know are ruining it for others, right smack in the wallet. Because they are so willing to pay more than once for the same service, sometimes from the same company.
I’ll use what I call “pocket technology” as an example. “Pocket technology” is those devices that I and others carry with me much of the time. I contend it costs me a lot as it is. But it is barely a dent compared with what others are paying double for.
Granted, I carry an older cell phone because I like the features better than what I have found on many newer phones, including the phone I got “free” with my current service. But I don’t have internet on my phone. To my way of thinking, I should. After all, I am already paying a phone company a hefty sum for internet service. However, the company I am paying for my internet is currently only providing it for my home computers. In order to have internet on my phone, my phone provider (and others I have explored) seem to think it is justifiable to charge me a lot of money just for that. My contention is that I am already paying an internet provider, and they should be making it available to every possible device that uses it. I’m supposedly paying for the bandwidth, regardless of how many computers I have at home. Shouldn’t I be able to use my phone for this same purpose?
How dare they expect to charge me much more for the same service just because it is for a different device!
Separately, I carry an MP3 player during the week and at various times I’ll be able to listen to whatever I choose. The unit that I own has the ability to receive wireless internet, which has come in handy when free Wi-fi is available. (Although to me, it’s not really “free”, since I pay an internet provider the hefty monthly fee already.) This unit also holds up to 32 gigs of content.
Needless to say, I currently have more than four full days of music, audio books, radio shows, and the like in my pocket on many days. At times, it is not convenient to carry two separate personal devices with me (the phone and the MP3 player). But finances dictate.
Meanwhile, I already own a digital camera, a separate video recorder, and a pocket AM/FM radio for those rare days when I want to listen to something local, each of which work just fine. I got good price deals on each of those as well by shopping around. That sure beats choosing among a very limited selection from what is supposed to be a phone service provider!
I see no reason to spend literally hundreds of dollars for things I already have, or am entitled to. However, millions of people don’t see it that way.
If I’m already paying for cell phone service, have a MP3 player to hold up to 32 gigs worth of entertainment and information, and am paying for internet access, why should I have to pay again? If I were to “upgrade”, as some call it, I would need to spend upwards of $300+ for a new portable phone/MP3/internet/camera device. Then, I would be asked to pay a lot more in monthly service fees for the phone and internet access. While possibly not having as much storage for my music and other audio.
Why do so many other people have no problem with this? Why isn’t anyone else asking their internet service provider why their plan doesn’t also include the cell phone?
If others want to spend hundreds of dollars per year more for all of this in today’s economy, normally I’d be fine with that. But by doing so, there is no reason for the phone and internet providers to continue to gouge everyone with these duplicate charges for what is often a lower realm of capability.

Friday, April 15, 2011

No One To Call To Complain

Now the real reason that AT & T is trying to buy out T-Mobile becomes public, thanks to the digging of a reporter:

This makes it clear (unlike certain phone company connections). AT&T doesn't care about T-Mobile's better customer service and choices to make them a bigger and better company. What they do care about is eliminating a lower priced and better competitor. Plain and simple. Barring a miracle, this will be still another example of a large company buying out or supposedly merging with what was a competitor, and then making sure the customer base suffers for it.

Prior to this announcement, T-Mobile offered generally better pricing on most plans than AT&T, and unofficially had fewer complaints about its customer service than AT&T. As this article points out, if and when this deal goes through, T-Mobile customers will probably be stuck with higher prices for their next contract, and likely with more challenging customer service issues. All this while AT&T and the remaining larger competitors, already charging higher prices than T-Mobile, will have all eliminated their lower priced competitor.

Not nearly enough people are going to take the time to try and protest or challenge this sale. It would only be a small percentage of T-Mobile customers who would do so, and most of them don't realize the negative impact this "sale" will have on their monthly expenses. The government won't do anything to stop this. After all, this will likely result in a few million customers having to cough up an additional $10 or more per month for the same service(s) they are now getting.

Using a conservative 1,000,000 users at just $10 more per month creates an additional $10,000,000 each month to be taxed. At a tax rate of only 5% (and that is VERY low), it puts another $500,000 of tax money into our government. Money that wouldn't be there if this "sale" does not get approved. Trust me, that figure is more like 8% to 10% in tax money, and an increase of $10 per month might even be too low. It's not like T-Mobile would purchase AT&T and then lower the monthly cost for millions of AT&T customers. Never seems to work that way.

This will be even worse than the so-called "merger" of Sirius and XM Satellite approved a couple of years ago. Both services are now owned by one company, and most of the music channels are shared by subscribers of both. Never mind that the playlists have been reduced for those with Sirius Satellite compared to the past. There was not supposed to be a price increase. Technically, there wasn't. Yet, a Sirius subscriber wanting channels (such as sports and specialty talk) previously only available to XM has no choice but to pay an additional $3.99 (or more) per month IN ADDITION to receive them. Same for XM subscribers for some channels exclusive to Sirius. While the services share many channels among both. Again, millions of subscribers paying the extra money for the complete service (of the SAME company) are also adding to monthly taxes, so the government allowed this to happen as well.

There doesn't seem to be anything we as consumers can do, realistically. We can't stop the government from approving this sale. And the government doesn't want us to stop it. As you might expect, I have been a T-Mobile customer for the entire time I have had a cell phone. Their service has been as good (or bad) as the other companies, based on what I have heard and seen from friends and relatives, but their pricing has been consistently better. Now it looks like after this sale, I'll wind up paying more money for less customer service.

You can bet that with the addition of millions of customers, they won't add many (if any) more customer service reps. We'll have even longer wait times and more aggravation, and at an increased cost. My first reaction to hearing the news was to comment "I wanted to call AT&T to complain about this, but I couldn't get through". Weeks later, I still feel the same way. And there is no one to call to complain to.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Don't Go By "Their" Average Costs

Articles such as this one in the Chicago (area) Daily Herald always capture my attention, especially when they focus on the high overall cost of doing something that I personally enjoy doing.

The story focuses on how, for this new baseball season, it "would" cost a family of 4 more than $250 to attend a White Sox home game, with a Cubs game coming in at more than $300. For ONE game.

But before you expect me to go on about how we need more articles like this and how wonderful the points it makes are, think again.

As a Frustrated Consumer, I continue to not like these articles. Sure, the writer seems accurate and did her homework. Same with the articles about the costs of going to the amusement park, the movie theaters, and some tourist or family destination points. I understand that consumers want to know how the "family of four" is impacted financially.

Sorry, but I'm here to tell you that these writers (in general) in these stories are being way too kind to the entities which are, for the most part, getting away with charging such high prices. Just because people go to something with the "It's once a year and we know it is going to cost an arm and a leg" attitude doesn't mean we are all required to feed the system. Articles such as this one are the enemy. Even as much as I dislike high prices.

The figures they show (in general) include the expensive "extras", as if these are required costs. I'll get back to the baseball example later. For now, let's look at the movies, and I'll show you what I mean.

I don't have a link to the article, but I saw a similar (to the baseball one) story recently about how it costs "close to $60 for a family of four" to attend a movie. Obviously, that is an outrageous cost for just one movie. However, that figure is not realistic, because it includes "optional" expenses.

You see, we do not HAVE TO automatically invest in a $4.00 soda, $5.00 for a super duper large popcorn plus more money for butter (as if $5.00 won't cover their cost) for every person that walks through the movie theater door.

While the writers of these stories take the figures the movie theaters and chambers of commerce provide and make it appear that we all "have to" prepare for all of these costs, there is a more realistic way to look at it.

A family of four with two children doesn't need to wait until evening to all go to the movies. They can go AFTER lunch (when they are full, of course), or perhaps right before going to dinner right after, when they know a big meal is coming.

By paying matinee pricing, the typical family of four should be able to all see a movie for less than $30 per visit. Not upwards of $50. Keep in mind, we are not "forced" to be gouged for soda and snacks, especially since we are at the theater for such a short time. If some of the "families of four" still wish to indulge themselves and their kids and spend $30 to $40 on refreshments for all, so be it. But don't make it an "acceptable" average cost.

My "$30 per visit" figures $6.00 per person matinee, which is $24 total. However, some families will pay full price later in the day, or not know to look for a theater which charges reduced prices during the afternoon, and pay upwards of $9.50 per person, or $38 total.

To me, the $38 total is "expensive" for just one movie, especially when the theater visit is generally well under 2 hours, and when it can be done for $24. The article I saw should be reporting the "average cost for a family of four" as $31, splitting the difference of full price vs. a discount price. Either way, it's well under the "expected" $50 that the movie theaters want us to think it is.

Meanwhile, I happen to think that paying for than $6 - $7 for just one movie, at any time of the day or night, is quite high. I grew up during a time when most movie theaters had a "double feature" playing most weeks. Plus, they would show cartoons, "short features", or other forms of entertainment on the big screen prior to the start of the first feature, and sometimes in between the two movies. We used to easily be "at the movies" for upwards of 4+ hours. Going to the movies was what you did for an entire afternoon or evening.

Now, it has become what we do on the way to or way from something. Sometimes 100 minutes and you are out of there. No cartoons, short features. Instead, we have to watch commercials from advertisers and endless previews of other movies which will, of course, be coming to the specific theater you are at. And for this, the price keeps going up?

So, YES, it does cost a lot, in my opinion, for a family of four to go to the movies. Unless they can keep it well under $30. What and where they eat or drink is their option, not my "expected" expense.

Next, apply the same theory to baseball games. The above linked article, like others, "expect" people to buy souvenirs, food, drinks, etc. every time. They factor in parking, as if $20+ to park one car for less than 4 hours is an "accepted" expense.

The above linked article includes purchasing team caps for all four people. Say what? I would like to believe the parents would make certain the kids still have their team cap (purchased at a discount retailer for well under 1/2 of what they sell for at the ballpark!) before they go.

Baseball games in Chicago generally start after 1 in the afternoon (after lunch) and are over before dinner. Night games generally start after 7 PM. There is time to eat dinner before hand, at at quite a savings over the $10 - $12 per person a crappy hot dog, fries, and one soda costs at the ballpark. Even if that family of four all takes the bus or train to and from the game (at roughly $2 per person each way), the cost of transportation totals $16, which saves from the $20+ merely to park. That is, if they choose not to drive and park a mile or two away in a free spot and walk to save even more.

Again, anything beyond the ticket prices is an optional expense, unlike how this and other stories portray them.

Yet, even more than the movies, the cost of baseball (and other sports) tickets is outrageous. In Chicago, it costs at least $24 per ticket (other than the few bargain or special discount games) and often $40+ per ticket just to sit in the outfield seats. The ones with little to no protection from the sun and the elements, and the ones which are furthest away from home plate.

The "reporter" should be pointing out how a family of four could spend over $150 just on game tickets in Chicago again this summer. There would be enough of us to realize that even if we do this once per year, there may or may not be enough money left over to purchase any food or souvenirs during our visit.

I'll admit it's tough to stay away. I enjoy movies, but go to fewer and further between. And when I see one I don't enjoy enough or find fault with, I point it out to as many people as I can to try and save their money.

As a baseball addict over the years who has gone to literally 100 baseball games in person during each of several seasons, I now go 5 to 10 times per year when I can arrange for tickets at "enough" of a discount to meet my budget. We either park and walk, take the train, and eat before or after the games. Elsewhere.

To put it in terms of the above linked article, I may spend $258.68 on the White Sox this new season, but not for just one game. More like 10 games, with change left over. Yet, if only they were reasonably priced, I'd go all the time.