Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bell Mobility Needs To Burn In Corporate Hell

As alluded to in a previous post, Bell Mobility won the fraudulent advertising contest and won it readily. Any mobile phone will be advertised based on the price "with purchase of new two-year contract" (for America) or three-year contract (for Canada), and cruise lines are wedded to their "per person, assuming double occupancy" quotes; the advert lists one price, and then they pull a bait and switch, retracting that price and telling you the real price is actually much higher.

However, at least they tell you the actual price before you've agreed to pay.

And that's why Bell Mobility wins the fraudulent advertising contest.

I purchased the $15.75 prepaid plan from Bell Mobility. The terms of this plan state that after paying $15.75 up front and loading credit onto the plan, local calls will be billed at 20¢/minute, while long-distance calls within Canada and from Canada to America will be billed at 30¢/minute. (A conversation with their staff revealed that calls to the UK were billed at 49¢/minute though that didn't appear on my plan, and I managed to avoid making any.)

Circumstances obliged me to make many long-distance calls, primarily to Toronto to work out a hotel issue before I actually arrived, and some to New York. This persisted for a few days before my service abruptly cut out, claiming I had run out of credit and needed to top up. I had kept reasonably good track of how many calls I had made and I had prepaid $50 worth of credit, so it seemed I should have plenty remaining. I topped up (had to make calls, you know!) but being curious, I then called Bell Mobility support to investigate the mysterious disappearing credit.

That's when I learned all of my calls had been billed at 50¢/minute.

The terms of my plan clearly stated that local calls were 20¢/minute and long-distance calls were 30¢/minute; nowhere did any of my terms and documentation state that any calls were billed at 50¢/minute. When I explained this, the Bell service agent declared that when it said long-distance calls were 30¢/minute, that obviously meant 50, because a long-distance call has to be routed through a local exchange before it can be forwarded to its destination, therefore a long-distance call is both a long-distance call and a local call and is simultaneously billed as both.


If it says 30¢/minute, it's 30¢/minute. Not 30¢/minute plus any arbitrary thing you decide to add. If the ticket from Vancouver to Jasper is $100 and the ticket from Vancouver to Edmonton is $200, and I choose to buy a ticket from Vancouver to Edmonton, you can't retroactively charge me $300 on the grounds that the trip from Vancouver to Edmonton passes through Jasper. And yes, I explained exactly that to the agent, who was absolutely impervious to logic.

And get this: When I asked to speak to a supervisor, the agent refused, telling me: "I already explained the price to you, so you're not allowed to talk to a supervisor."

A second call did yield a supervisor, who merely reiterated the fallacious argument that because long-distance calls start their connection at local exchanges, they get billed as both separate local and long-distance calls, and added the new claim that the 20¢/minute charge specifically identified as being the charge for local calls was, in fact, the "airtime rate" automatically applied to all calls regardless of other charges.

And keep in mind that modern telephone networks are pretty much all VoIP-based; the days in which operators had to manually connect calls at switchboards are long past, so there's little functional difference between a local and long-distance call anyway, at least within Canada.

Not one to take that kind of thing from anybody, I disputed the top up charge with my credit card company and (so far) seem to have won a reversal. Of course, I only disputed it after I used up all the credit the top up yielded— Bell Mobility is legally obligated to honour the rate they agreed to, and by topping up, using the credit, and then charging back the top up, the total amount paid for the total credit used roughly equals the agreed-upon rate of 30¢/minute.

I even did the maths for you:

I gave them $50 to prepay the account, from which they deducted a $15.75 activation fee and $10 for data service. (Yes, smartphone.)

That leaves $24.25 to call with. At the agreed-upon 30¢/minute, that would yield roughly 80 minutes of calling; having billed me at 50¢/minute, I was left with only 48 minutes, so their fraud deprived me of 32 minutes of calling.

When I topped up my account, I added $15. Because that was also billed at the fraudulent 50¢/minute rate, it yielded another 30 minutes.

So by using the top-up credit and then charging back the fee, I recovered 30 minutes of talk time out of the 32 they owed me. (They can keep the remaining two minutes.)

Assuming the preliminary chargeback is approved as a proper chargeback, I will have paid for $24.25 worth of calling credit and used 78 minutes from that, for a final cost of 31¢/minute, reasonably close to the advertised rate.

However, I will not be buying service from Bell Mobility ever again.

And companies everywhere are advised that I will not be defrauded, even if it's only for CAD$17.43 ($15 top up, plus GST, plus currency conversion and foreign transaction fees.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

OK I'm back.

Yes, it's been a long time since this blog was updated. No, I wasn't legally dead this whole time; only last week.

I was on holiday!

Having suddenly had a small bout of monetary good fortune, I responded in the only way appropriate— by spending every last penny of my new-found wealth on an epic adventure. I traveled across ALL the Americas! ALL OF THEM!

Obviously some details of my experience (and photos! Don't forget the photos!) will be forthcoming at some point, but first I'd like to relate a few experiences I had in the preparation and booking phases of my trip.


One of the life lessons I learned on this trip is that I'm really not a "cruise" person, and I can provide many insights into that (in a later post). However, I booked this trip without benefit of that foreknowledge and so I set out to book a cruise from Anchorage, AK to Vancouver, BC. (Actually, I wanted to go to Prince Rupert, BC but none of the cruise lines stopped there.)

That's when I found out that all cruise lines advertise prices substantially lower than the actual real prices they actually charge. When a cruise line advertises a price of $800, they mean the actual price of the cruise is $1,600 because the quoted price is "per person, assuming double occupancy." That means the room, which they are actually in the business of selling, because a cruise line has rooms, sells rooms, and can't sell half a room, costs $1,600; if you book two people in it, you pay $1,600, and if you book one person in it, you pay $1,600. So far so good; American hotels work the same way. The problem is that when asked for the price of a room, an American hotel quotes you the actual price of the room; they don't quote you half the price of the room because that's what you would pay per person, if you put two people in it. European hotels may use "per person" quotes for double rooms, but they almost invariably have single rooms as well; cruise lines invariably don't so if you book a cruise as a solo traveler, you are required to pay double the advertised fare.

Understandably annoyed, I googled around for solo cruise options, but only confirmed that cruise lines simply hate solo travelers; nearly every article I found on how to avoid paying double started with: "Find a second person to travel with you (who is willing to pay their own way)." Even the most definitive article on solo cruising that I found (that would be this one) spends a lot more effort painstakingly detailing what programs and amenities cater to solo travelers, on the assumption that the only reason one ever travels solo is because one is looking for a mate or because one is an elderly woman whose husband has died. It confirms single cabins are available on a very small handful of ships (none of which were in Alaska), and referred to cruise lines charging 1.5 fares to solo travelers as offering "discounts," as if the solo-pay-double was expected rather than fraudulent. Which is why I will make my fortune offering all-inclusive cruises to solo travelers with no "single supplement" fares or "per person, assuming double occupancy" adverts.

Incidentally, after much faffing about and struggling to find a reasonable price from the cruise lines, I stumbled across the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is substantially cheaper, which doesn't pull the "per person, assuming double occupancy" trickery, and which actually goes to Prince Rupert! (Bonus!) Sure, it required a two-day layover in Juneau, but two days isn't a layover, it's another destination and it proved well worth it.


So in addition to booking (and ultimately declining to book) a cruise, I also decided to break down and buy a smartphone. Yes, a toy whose limited uses fail to counterbalance its massive price tag, SHUT UP OK! I have developed a dependency on certain parts of the internet and I planned to spend a lot of time without wifi, so I decided to buy a smartphone, because it proved impossible to find a suitable mobile hotspot and most smartphones have a mobile hotspot feature. And I had a limited budget, so I wasn't planning to pay any massive price tags.

That's when I found out that mobile phone companies advertising trickery put cruise lines to shame. The advertised price for a mobile phone is less than half of the actual price; a $650 smartphone is typically advertised as $200. Why? Because the advertised price is $200 with purchase of a new two-year contract. I suspect many people buy their phones with new contracts, but as my holiday was not two years long and required a prepaid service, I was obliged to pay the actual price of the phone. I was also obliged to double- and triple-check to make sure my phone was suitable; it turns out many mobile phones are artificially locked to one carrier even if purchased from a high street shop without a contract. Plus, many American carriers use CDMA networks, presumably for the same reason they call football "soccer."

Ultimately, I did find a smartphone that used GSM networks, which wasn't locked to any carrier, and which was extremely cheap (on account of being secondhand). So at least that worked out.

What didn't work out was that Bell Mobility won the fraudulent advert contest, beating all of its fellow service providers and cruise companies, but I'll cover that some other time.