T-Mobile: “You are qualified for Gold Rewards!” does not mean you are qualified for Gold Rewards

kalleboo_at_flickr+tmob.jpg

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

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Email is dead, but you can try your luck at besc...@gmail.com
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17 Responses to T-Mobile: “You are qualified for Gold Rewards!” does not mean you are qualified for Gold Rewards

  1. technogeek says:

    Noticed that myself, since I slapped a $100 deposit on the account when I first got the phone… but I was too busy at the time to make a stink about it. I agree that it’s a gratuitously rude practice.

    Having said that, the T-Mobile prepaid plan is still a better deal than any of the other prepaids I looked at, and they have good coverage in my area, so I’m staying with them for now. Basically, this comes down to “They’re all bad; this one is least bad.”

  2. Rob Beschizza says:

    I know — there’s nothing better than T-Mobile price wise, unless you have absolutely minimal usage (<50 minutes a month), in which case Net10 works out cheaper.

    “They’re all bad; this one is least bad.”

    That’s what was so frustrating about it. Even if they had just told me to FOAD, as a rational consumer I’d have to stay with them.

    I actually tried living completely without a cellphone for a while, and failed miserably.

  3. jjasper says:

    If they offered half back, they could have given you the whole damn thing, and were counting on you folding for a measly $20. Bastards.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Call again. I love my TMobile prepaid (the cost anyway), but they jacked up my wife’s account and I took me at least 8 calls to clear it up. Bottom line, I believe, the customer service reps can only give out $20 credits at a time. Anything higher and they have to request it from a supervisor (don’t waste you time, it won’t happen). Call again today and complain that they didn’t resolve your $40 complaint and I bet they’ll give you another $20.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is why I avoided a cell for years and years. Now I simply use a prepaid phone. No contracts, no BS, no gotchas. No bells and whistles either, but that’s fine by me. Not a perfect solution, but (for me) preferable to worrying about whether or not the company you rely on is going to use lubricants before they ream you.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Did I miss something or how exactly do you get Gold Rewards Status once you “qualify”? Assuming that T-Mobile is right.

  7. sanity says:

    I’ve had a T-Mobile prepaid account for about five years (Gold Rewards member for about 4.5 years), and have generally loved their coverage and Gold Account rewards. Just a few months ago I encouraged my girlfriend to not renew her contract with a different carrier and go T-Mobile prepaid. Everything was splendid for about a month, and then she started complaining about having to refill her account pretty often (she was on a plan where you pay a daily fee and then get perks like free evening minutes, but not a the basic $/minute rate normal prepaid phones have). Then my minutes on a run of the mill T-Mobile prepaid account started burning up faster than I used them in the past, though my calling habits haven’t changed (internet = free communication with just about all my family and friends).

    I couldn’t track it to a specific change in policy, though a few posts on the Howard phone forums hinted at at similar thing.

    This is all just my personal experience, and I haven’t vigorously researched just how fast the minutes are now being burned, but I would advise people to seriously consider other carriers, until T-Mobile gets this stuff sorted out. There are tons of carriers out there with lots of plans. I will change soon, since my employer/locality is changing in the near future. If I was staying where I am, I’d be searching out a new carrier.

  8. Blue says:

    Maybe the T in T-Mobile stands for Thief.

  9. LeavingHalfway says:

    @#4 Spazzm: Best bend over then.

  10. nutbastard says:

    i use t-mo prepaid, and i only once had a problem with em – it went like this: in store, after purchasing the phone, I purchased the $100, 1,000 minute deal. I then immediately made a phonecall. The phone comes with i think 25 minutes or something, which if you request the balance on is worth 6.25 (25 cents a minute – im not positice but it’s something like that).

    sometime during this first call, my 1,000 minutes transaction went through. my call lasted longer than the minutes that came with the phone. significantly longer. about 40 minutes. when i got off the phone i went to confirm the 1,000 minutes had shown up – but there was only 892 minutes. 108 minutes burned, and i had bought the phone less than an hour ago. i called and they fixed it, but their billing system is wonky, it ‘got stuck’ and billed by the 25 cent rate though it should have billed by 10 cents/minute.

  11. stumo says:

    I often find with these kind of things that you get better service with a letter. Print out those FAQs and point out that it’s wrong, and I bet it gets fixed…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Why is it that the telecoms (especially T-Mo) think the best way to deal with customers is the lie, cheat, and steal? They did some similar crap to me.

    http://amildsnafusis.blogspot.com/2008/08/open-letter-to-t-mobile.html

    Seriously, is there a telecoms company that could just be straightforward with the contract? They’d have my money in a heartbeat. No contest.

  13. Michiel says:

    I too find that letters work where direct conversations on the phone or similar fail.

    About customer sevice: getting people who actually care about their job costs money.

    They get what they pay for, but they have enough customers not to give a damn about it or your minutes.

  14. Rob Beschizza says:

    I offered to buy a fat $100 refill if they credited my account the lost minutes, but they couldn’t do that.

    However, I then decided to call instead of use the web chat, and while I got the same general story, when I pointed out that last FAQ entry (“You’ll reach Gold Rewards status once you’ve applied more than $100 worth of refills”) they offered to give me half of it back ($20).

    I accepted — the remaining $20 is just not worth the pain of writing and mailing our an “EECB” or whatever the cool kids do these days to get their money back. :)

  15. Anonymous says:

    You are in GR status, but the minute expiration doesn’t take effect until you add your next refill. After you reach Gold Rewards, you then have to add another refill to get the one year time expiration.

    This is kind of a drag, I agree, but at least from here out you’ll be able to enjoy the minutes without worrying about them expiring.

  16. spazzm says:

    Stuff like this is why I wish there was a public registry of how sleazy a given company is. Then I could choose provider based on how likely they are to screw me over.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The advertised 1000 minutes for $100.00 from T-mobile was attractive since we use our cell phones seldom and we wouldn’t have to be pestered with making monthly credits to assure rolled over time. But when we went to the local T-Mobile office were informed that the closest thing they offers was a >15 per minute pre-pay plan.
    A call to the main customer service number resulted in the promise to get that issue resolved with the local office ( may or may not happen, that call was placed only three minutes ago).
    I suspect the office makes small commission on the plan and don’t want to sell it.
    The day of the honest merchant/ service provider is gone.i have pretty much given up on contacting the providers when they attempt rip-off, my state and every other has a state business fraud, consumer protection or similar office. If people would start using their services a lot of the bologna would stop ( or the service provider would be eventually banned in the state).
    THIS I DO PROMISE, CONTACT FROM A STATE FRAUD DIVISION OFFICE GETS THE PROBLEMS CORRECTED FAST!!!!

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