The balance on my T-Mobile pre-paid SIM mysteriously vanished a couple of weeks ago, despite the account having "Gold Rewards," wherein minutes supposedly don't expire for a year.
Here's part of the transcript of a chat with a T-Mobile support staffer, who patiently explained that qualifying for Gold Rewards does not actually mean that T-Mobile has granted them:
T-Mobile: I understand you want to know why your prepaid balance suddenly disappeared.
Rob Beschizza: That's right ... I'd topped it up only a few months ago
T-Mobile: Please hold on for a minute or two while I check this one for you. Would that be okay?
Rob Beschizza: And it should have lasted a year
T-Mobile: As I have checked your account, I found out that you are not yet in Gold reward status.
Rob Beschizza: I am looking at my account right now and it says "You are qualified for Gold Rewards!"
T-Mobile: Your Gold reward status will take effect on your next refill.
Rob Beschizza: So I have lost the $40 remaining balance?
T-Mobile: Yes, that is correct Rob.
T-Mobile: I apologize for the inconvenience.
I imagined that it was my own fault: the word-dance around "qualification" and "status" is just the sort of small print trick that's easy to miss. However, the agent's claim actually contradicts T-Mobile's own FAQ, which says you gain the status and the perks as soon you qualify. Emphasis mine:
Gold Rewards is a status that is reached once a T-Mobile To Go customer has applied more than $100 worth of refills (in any combination of $10, $25 or $50 refills) to his or her account or has purchased and applied a $100 refill to the account. Once a customer reaches Gold Rewards status, he or she automatically receives 15% more minutes for free and any unused minutes won't expire for a full year!
Another FAQ entry expands:
If you ... have already reached Gold Reward status, all unused minutes won't expire for one year from the date you last applied airtime to your account.
A third FAQ entry contains more evasive language and changes the deal's name to "Gold Reward Rates," but still says you receive Gold Rewards minutes when you qualify for them, not at some future date when you buy another round:
Gold Rewards rates take effect as soon as you spend over $100 on refills. ... NOTE: The 15% bonus minutes are included as part of the 1,000 minutes you received when you qualified for Gold Rewards.
In yet another T-Mobile FAQ, it's made clear that you receive Gold Rewards status as soon as you qualify for it:
You'll reach Gold Rewards status once you've applied more than $100 worth of refills (in any combination of $10, $25, $50, or $100 refills) to your T-Mobile To Go account. Once you reach Gold Rewards status ... any unused minutes won't expire for a full year!
Remember, T-Mobile said I didn't have this status, even though I've paid my dues.
Given how poor the carriers' customer service generally is, I'm fine with getting tricked by fine-print wrangling over the difference between "qualification" and "status." But T-Mobile's rationale for cancelling the minutes I paid for contradicts all but one of the FAQs I could find. T-Mobile explicitly promises that when you spend $100, you "reach Gold rewards status" and that "any unused minutes won't expire for a full year."
Is it really that difficult to have a no-BS rate schedule and to stick to it?
Update: So after writing this, I decided to call. T-Mobile gave me the same run-around regarding "qualified for Gold Rewards" not being the same as "Gold Rewards status." However, the operator offered a $20 credit when I pointed out that last FAQ entry.
I took the offer, so that I can put it to bed. Commenters Stumo and Michiel are likely right that the best way to have gotten the full amount back would have been to put the dispute in writing -- another next step could have been to email the corporate brass directly.
Photo: Karl Baron