Sunday, February 25, 2018

Costco comeuppance

So, remember last summer when we signed up for Costco? And how the salesclerk talked me into springing for the more expensive "Executive" membership by telling us that if the rewards we earned from it weren't at least equal to the extra $60 we'd paid for it, Costco would make up the difference?

Well, we just got our first rewards certificate, covering the last six months of last year, and it came to just under $29. As you may notice, this number is less than $60.

Now, you could argue that since we only joined in July, this is only half a year's worth of rewards, so it's really very close to $60 for a full year. But this six-month figure includes a couple of large purchases, including Brian's glasses, which we're unlikely to repeat within our first year as members. Lately, we've just been buying stuff like sugar and nuts and milk. So it's actually highly unlikely that our $60 membership upgrade will, in fact, pay for itself in rewards.

At first, I thought perhaps Costco was planning to send us the difference between our $60 cost and the rewards we actually reaped in a separate check. So I went back to the collection of forms that we signed when we joined (which of course I had kept, because I'm anal) and started flipping through them, trying to find the part where it explained how Costco reimburses you if your rewards fall short. And, funny wasn't there.

You all probably saw that coming, right? I didn't. As I mentioned, I'm pretty anal, and I knew I had read through all those membership forms when we signed up. I knew it because I always read through everything before signing it, just to make sure it doesn't have a clause entitling the other party to my firstborn or something. (I even read even those ridiculous "Terms of Service" agreements that they make you agree to before downloading a new piece of software. They clearly don't expect anyone to actually read those things, because whenever I do so, by the time I finish and click the "I agree to the terms" box, I often find that the website has automatically canceled my session and I have to start over from scratch. I'm a pretty fast reader, so they're obviously not assuming that most people can read through the terms and agree to them in the amount of time allotted; what they're assuming is that no one is actually going to read them before agreeing to them. But in this, they are wrong, because out in the wilds of New Jersey there is one crazy woman who actually insists on doing it, no matter how big a pain in the butt it proves to be.)

Anyway, I knew I had read through those forms, because I wouldn't have signed them otherwise. But apparently, it escaped my attention that there was no clause in them actually guaranteeing the $60 floor on benefits that the salesclerk had promised us. We had only her word for it, and as everyone knows, a spoken agreement isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

Hoping that perhaps this part of the deal was listed in some other document we just hadn't received a copy of, I scoured the Costco website for the words "Executive," "rewards," and "guarantee." Eventually, I found a page that said in so many words, "The Reward is not guaranteed to be equal to or greater than the Executive upgrade fee paid." And there it was, exactly what the salesclerk had told us, except for one pesky little word: "not."

So, for us, the takeaway is that on our next trip to Costco, we need to cash in our rewards for last year and then, as soon as we have the cash safely in hand, tell them we want to downgrade our membership from Executive to regular. Fortunately, we can be sure they'll do this, at least, because that is expressly spelled out on the website: "To receive a refund for the Executive upgrade fee the membership must be canceled or downgraded to a Gold Star or Business Membership and any 2% Reward issued or accrued will be forfeited." So we'll have to give up the rewards we've earned in the first two months of 2018, but that's cheaper than paying $60 extra for the year.

Now, it might still be worth raising the issue with them at the customer service desk, because according to Red Flag Deals, some Costco stores apparently do have an informal policy of granting new Executive members a refund after their first year if they find their rewards didn't pay for themselves. So we could always mention that we were promised this deal, and ask if they will give us the refund and downgrade us now. But if they don't, we'll still downgrade and get a rebate of whatever pro-rated portion of the $60 upgrade fee we're owed for the next five months.

For the rest of you—and for me in future—the lesson is simply this: get it in writing. If I had simply noticed when I first signed the paperwork that this guarantee we'd been offered wasn't in it, I could have brought it up, and maybe they would have given us another form that spelled it out. But as it is, all we can do is throw ourselves on the mercy of the Costco.

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