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Why I Hate Mail-In Rebates

Written by Nickel - 11 Comments

Why I Hate Mail-In Rebates

Time for a mini-rant… Back in August, we upgraded our oldest son’s cell phone and added a line for our second oldest. The phones each came with a $50 mail-in rebate, so $100 total. Not exactly chump change, and certainly enough to jump through all of the required hoops.

I did the paperwork, made copies, and sent off the rebate forms (along with all the other required stuff) and have been waiting patiently for the rebates to show up.

Well…

About a week ago, my wife brought me a postcard from AT&T saying that our rebate had been denied because there was “no active service at the time of verification.” Hmmm. Really? Because our kids have been using their phones and we’ve been paying the bills.

So earlier today I called the number on the postcard and, after waiting on hold, learned that they had entered the wrong phone number for one of the phones, hence the rejection. The other one was okay. In fact, the proverbial check is in the mail.

It was a simple thing for them to fix their error – and yes, it was their error – and we’ll soon get our rebate, but still…

Had we tossed out that non-descript postcard, or lost it before I had gotten around to calling, we would’ve been out $50. And that’s exactly what they’re counting on when they offer a mail-in (vs. instant) rebate.

For every person that doesn’t send in the form, does it wrong, or fails to follow up on the rebate center’s mistakes, AT&T saves $50.

Published on November 16th, 2011
Modified on November 21st, 2011 - 11 Comments
Filed under: Consumer

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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11 Responses to “Why I Hate Mail-In Rebates”

  1. 1
    Andrew B Says:

    The other reason for doing a mail-in rebate (vs. instant) is to ensure that end-users are the ones receiving the rebates rather than folks who buy the phones in the US and sell them in other countries (or online). It’s true that they also benefit by not having to pay the rebate, but I think most companies know that a happy customer is worth a lot more than $50 to them. I think most of the crazy hoops you have to jump through are honest efforts to prevent scammers from taking advantage of the company and thus driving up prices for consumers.

    In the end, you probably had to do less than 30 mins of work for $50. Not bad.

  2. 2
    Blake Says:

    I had a somewhat similar situation.
    Signed up for the AT&T U-Verse TV service and was promised by the ’salesman’ on the phone that I would get a $200 rewards debit card for signing up for this particular package.
    Then when the rebate finally arrived it was for $150
    Many calls to their ‘customer service’ resulted in reps telling me “we don’t offer rebates in that amount”, or “you are already receiving a discount on your service”.
    Finally I was able to get a rep to remove a $36 activation fee from my bill. So I still got screwed out of $14, but that’s better than $50

    I just had to laugh at the attitude of the reps basically telling me I was crazy and that I must have just come up with the $200 amount on my own.
    Or I should just be happy with my rate plan and why would I want a rebate.
    BECAUSE IT’S WHAT I WAS PROMISED!
    :-)

  3. 3
    sean Says:

    I agree with this whole sentiment. Rebates are NOT done for customers. They lure customers in for the cheap prices. If the company were sincere to actually have people save money, they would do instant rebates and not ones that you have to earn through ridiculous paperwork. This is not surprising for att to do something like this though. That is typical of their behavior.

  4. 4
    Zanne Says:

    I can go you one better – I had a rebate, went through all the hoops, got a snafu fixed, even got the check! Then, I deposited the check into my account, and the check was returned, as the the account it was drawn on was closed, and I incurred a fee from my bank for the return! I never got the rebate or the fee returned from the company!! Could not prosecute as it wan’t bounced. I was absolutely furious, and I simply do not buy products which have rebates.

  5. 5
    Dinheiro Frugal Says:

    It’s like that everywhere. Here in Portugal we have the same situation. If companies really wanted to give the rebate, it would be simpler to receive it, right?

  6. 6
    Eric Says:

    I don’t do mail in rebates either unless it’s for substantial savings. The last time I did it, it was for an electronic product that was free after rebate. Everything worked out but I had to send a few follow up emails and waited the full 8 weeks before getting it. Most people don’t have that patience.

  7. 7
    Jim Says:

    I don’t think companies are purposefully trying to cheat you out of your rebate. I think they’re just not paying any attention to quality assurance.

    The company giving the rebate has no incentive to do a good job handling those refund checks. They usually out source it to the lowest bidder. The clerical errors are going to happen and the rebate handler won’t care much about quality assurance. So the person processing the claims is probably measured and driven by the speed they process claims and their boss probably doesn’t really care much about accuracy. That can end up causing more clerical errors than not.

    I think companies mostly bank on people being too lazy to fill out and return the rebate form in the first place. Various estimates claim that only 50-80% of people return rebate forms.

  8. 8
    Nickel Says:

    I see your point, Jim. But if they were interested in giving me $50 off, they would just give me $50 off. Instead, they offer me $50 x the probability that I will follow through and actually request/receive it.

  9. 9
    Sun Says:

    Rebates all depend on the company you use. Office Depot and Staples have a great rebate system. It is mostly automated or online, so the chance of “errors” end up being very low as you type in the information and/or the data is tied to your account.

    I can’t speak for other rebate offers. It all depends on how it is setup. I typically don’t believe in rebates because of what the OP mentioned.

    http://money.usnews.com/money/.....te-rebates

    … the redemption rate is below 50 percent. On smaller items with rebates under $10, redemption rates are likely to be in the single digits …

  10. 10
    Carma Says:

    I am leery of rebates because over the years we have been burned. A large four diget paint purchase at Lowes recently that included rebates came back unpaid. The sales person had carefully helped us cross every “t” and dot every “i” so we had everything we needed to get back hundreds of dollars in rebates – only to have it refused because it said it was not the exact product we needed. They only had the one kind with posters and hanging notices about the rebate. Very frustrating and we felt conned. I have also bought computer programs at Sam’s Club that had huge rebates and we never heard anything back after submitting. [NOTE: I do understand how to submit a rebate within the dates and with the proper documentation and get 95% of my rebates back.] It’s the few that we count on that really make me distrusting when facing a rebate purchase.

  11. 11
    Blake Says:

    Re: Carma’s post.
    Hey Carma. I work for Lowe’s (a retail store) and am sorry to hear of your trouble.
    Please try contacting the store manager at that location and see if there is anything he can do to help you out.
    I can’t promise anything. But we all work really hard to make our rebates clearly communicated to the customers so they have a pleasant experience.
    Just let him/her know what happened and go from there.

    Good luck.

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