Friday, 18 October 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I want to ask for assistance concerning a transaction which was done on my account.

Some times a man from South Africa as a consultant for Hotel Express International contacted me to extent that I end up giving him my card number. Yesterday, a transaction of amount of P2496.60 was made without my authorization. The agreement was that, it can only be made after my authorization. I tried to contact my bank to see if they can not block it, unfortunately I was told that they can not.

We’ve heard from several people in the last couple of weeks and many others in the past who’ve had exactly the same experience as you and who were also victims of this selling approach.

First things first. Hotel Express International is a legitimate company selling a perfectly legitimate service. Their scheme offers 50% discounts on hotel stays and other vacation experiences. In return for your annual membership fee you get a card that offers you these discounts when you check in. However it’s not quite as simple as that sounds. Firstly not all hotels offer these discounts and those that do only have limited rooms available so it’s perfectly possible that a hotel will say refuse to offer you the discount. Also the 50% discount is from the hotel’s “rack rate” which is the often artificially inflated price a hotel will quote, solely so they can offer “discounts”.

There’s also the fact that I don’t see why anyone should need to pay for a discounted hotel stay when hotels often give these discounts away for free. One of my colleagues recently stayed in a hotel in Francistown for almost half the normal price just by booking the room online rather than by phone. We often stay in hotels in South Africa with similar discounts using Bid2Stay where you are allowed to offer that hotel chain what you would like to pay. Again you can usually get up to 40% off the normal rate and you don’t have to pay anything to get the discounts.

More importantly there seems to be a problem with the way Hotel Express International sell their membership scheme.

We’ve heard many times from consumers who have been “cold called” by them and who have been asked for their credit or debit card details, to “check your eligibility”, or to check “if you’re eligible for Gold membership”. If asked, they assure you that they won’t actually charge you but within minutes of giving out their card number and hanging up the phone, their cellphone beeps and they see they’ve charged the full amount, anything from about P1,600 up to P3,500.

The lessons are simple. Please don’t EVER give out your card numbers to strangers over the phone whatever the promise you. Secondly don’t bother joining discount schemes when you can get the same discounts elsewhere for free. Why waste your money?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I have a situation with Ultimate Wedding Expressions in Mahalapye. I hired their tent in March 2013 for my uncle’s wedding. I signed a contract in which it said that a “refundable security deposit of P300 should be paid also in advance which will be refunded after the goods have been returned in good shape. Any damage or loss will be recovered from this security deposit” and that the deposit “will be paid out within seven days after delivery of goods.”

I have contacted them to refund me countless times and she kept on telling me she was expecting payment from someone and she kept saying she will deposit the money in my account. It has been six months now and she keeps on coming up with excuses every week.

Your assistance will be highly appreciated.

I contacted the manager of the company and I’ve had just a series of excuses as well. At one point she offered to pay the P300 in two instalments, claiming to be “a bit low with cash” but when I asked her to put that in writing she went silent on me. I’ll keep applying some pressure but it might require a trip to the Small Claims Court to get this fixed. Some people might say it’s not worth it for a mere P300 but it’s the principle that counts, don’t you think? People who refuse to honour their debts should be made to do so.

Update: Despite her assurances she still hasn't repaid a thing. She now promises something next week. We'll believe it when we see it!

Further update: She's not happy at her company being named and now suggests that she won't refund the customer at all. For the sake of openness below are some of the text messages we've exchanged.

No comments: