Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. The idea behind adding guest contributors is to add different perspectives to the blog. Travis has a unique approach towards travel, given that he travels almost exclusively with his wife and young children, which is in stark contrast to my travels, which are usually alone.
Last week I wrote about the Happy You Year promotion that Rite Aid is currently running. Essentially the deal is that you spend $250 on participating items at Rite Aid and you receive either a 2-night stay at select Hyatt hotels or a 7-night stay at a Wyndham resort.
On the surface, this sounds like a really good deal.
So why am I concerned?
The more I read about it, the more this promotion started to sound like the JC Penney / Dockers promotion from 2007. The fulfillment company for that promotion was TLC Marketing. It generally did not go well for consumers, ultimately ending in a lawsuit. (Though certainly some of us did do well.)
Anyway, I pointed out that the redemption process in the current promo was similarly onerous. The economics were similarly unsustainable. The mailing address was in the same city as TLC Marketing. I basically put down a lot of dots on a paper, but then said we didn’t know who the fulfillment company was yet, so we really couldn’t connect those dots.
When something smells like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck, and looks like a duck (even when that Duck is dressed like an Oakland Raider), it almost always is, in fact, a duck.
At least two readers (Dan, Jeff) commented that the link for the Rite Aid terms and conditions was hosted by TRCo Marketing. A quick look at the company websites revealed that TRCo Marketing and TLC Marketing have the same CEO, Mike Scalera. Mr. Scalera’s bio on the TLC Marketing website actually references both companies.
The US presents an immense opportunity for TLC and TRCo. I see the potential here as huge! Our passion for creativity and innovation gives us an unlimited potential and we have earned our place among the leaders in the consumer promotions arena.
I have no idea what the difference is between TLC and TRCo, and I don’t really care. To me, they may as well be one and the same. From my perspective, this means that the 2015 Rite Aid Happy You Year promotion is being run by the same outfit that ran the JC Penney / Dockers one, and I’m expecting a similar outcome.
What happened last time?
The key issues that I remember from 2007 are that it took months for TLC to contact people once they had submitted their redemption form. Many, including myself, had to initiate complaints with the Better Business Bureau in order to get TLC to respond.
Looking back at my email archive, I see four “updates to my BBB complaint” status messages occurring over the course of a week, several months after I submitted my redemption form. That was how I corresponded with TLC to eventually book my flight.
The good news is that once I had their attention, the booking went pretty well. The key was getting TLC’s attention.
Apparently a lot of people never did get TLC’s attention because a couple years later I received notice of a class action lawsuit. From the 2011 press release:
Levi Strauss & Co. has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged that its outside promotion administrator was not up to the task of handling the Promotion. Although thousands of qualified consumers did receive the promotion’s benefits, due to problems in the management of the promotion thousands of others did not.
[…] Thousands of consumers who made qualifying purchases and returned all the paperwork asked for will be eligible to receive a $150 check and $100 in free Dockers® merchandise.
I’m not a lawyer, but it is certainly interesting to me that TLC Marketing is not mentioned — instead Levi Strauss / Dockers was left to pick up the tab for the settlement. I guess it’s only natural to go after the deep pockets. As a result, TLC Marketing was left to live another day, or reincarnate themselves as TRCo.
I wonder if Rite Aid was aware of any of this history when they signed a contract with TRCo?
First, I don’t have a crystal ball. These are just my personal guesses of how I see this playing out based on what happened last time under seemingly similar circumstances. Again, I am not a lawyer, marketer, pundit, etc., but rather just a deal hunter.
Obviously, I hope that we all come back to this post in a few months and laugh about how wrong I was, how TLC Marketing has turned over a new leaf, and how well this promotion was handled.
TLC will not automatically send out booking links
Several readers have already confirmed that the codes print out correctly at Rite Aid after you purchase the participating items. They’ve also confirmed that entering them on the website works as expected.
I predict that the problems will begin at the point where TLC is supposed to send you the online booking link. Everything up to here was automated, but this requires human intervention. In 2007, TLC just never got around to contacting most people.
So what is supposed to take 10 days eventually drags on indefinitely until you get the BBB involved.
We will need to work through the Better Business Bureau to get anything booked
Unlike the stock market, in this game past performance is a good indicator of future results. My guess is that we’ll need to file BBB complaints just to get TLC to respond.
On the plus side, I predict that when they do respond, we’ll have the opportunity to go back and forth with them a bit about dates and properties.
In other words, you may not be locked into what you put on the redemption form. You may get to choose from any Hyatt that has stay certificate availability at that time.
That’s a good thing.
You may even be able to switch between redeeming for a resort week and redeeming for Hyatt nights, or vice versa. Possibly you’ll get to ask some questions about the resort week as well before committing to it.
Communicating with TLC will be the main hurdle
I predict that if you get through the initial booking with TLC, it will be smooth sailing.
Hyatt has excellent customer service and I just don’t see them letting this go belly-up. I imagine that any problems that occur after initial booking can be addressed directly to Hyatt, completely bypassing TLC.
Even going directly to Wyndham in the case of the resort stay would be an improvement over dealing with TLC.
This will be a fight
I predict that those who are not proactive will never be contacted by TLC. (If you don’t plan to be aggressive and proactive, you really should sit this one out!)
If there is a class action lawsuit, you’ll be contacted eventually and asked to join. This turned out pretty well for folks last time. In exchange for spending $125 on Dockers, they received a check for $150 and a voucher good for $100 of Dockers merchandise.
That’s not as much value as the free flight, but it’s a net positive return for minimal work.
What else do you need to know?
There were some common questions in the original post. I tried to answer a lot of them, and here are a few that seemed particularly relevant.
When do the Hyatt nights need to be used by?
The FAQ of the promotion website originally said that the Hyatt nights needed to be booked within four months. Several readers pointed out that the terms and conditions stated it was 1-year. One reader received clarification that it was indeed a typo and should have been 1-year.
This makes sense to me. Hyatt stay certificates have an expiration printed on them, but it’s more than four months.
Isn’t 7-nights in a resort a better redemption than 2-nights in a Hyatt? Why are you focusing on the Hyatt nights?
Yes, 7 nights is greater than 2! The problem is that we just don’t know enough about the resort. Will it incur taxes? Will the property pressure you into a timeshare sales presentation? What is availability like at the various properties?
While the Hyatt nights are mostly a known commodity, the resort nights seem like a black box. They could be a good deal. They could be a disaster.
In contrast, Hyatt has a very loyal following in the miles and points community. We more or less know how the stay certificates work. We can check availability. Many of us have status with Hyatt.
Can I change the dates of the Hyatt stay after it is booked?
This is a very interesting question. Technically, the answer from TLC is certainly no.
I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that once the stay is booked you’ll be able to call Hyatt and have them switch the stay to a different Premier-level property or change the dates, subject to Hyatt’s cancellation policy for the property. I’m also betting that Hyatt will let you change to a property at the Choice or Classic stay certificate tier, both of which are lower.
In other words, I’m guessing that it’s a standard stay certificate, and will be treated as such by Hyatt.
What is the best booking strategy?
I’ve already explained why I think the Hyatt nights are the safer bet, given what we know.
In general, I would not make nonrefundable travel plans around your preferred Hyatt stay until you actually have it booked by TLC and confirmed by Hyatt.
Then the question is whether to target a stay in the very near future, or farther out. Technically, you are permitted to request the nights as close as four weeks out. Doing so could give you a reason to contact the BBB almost immediately, thus putting pressure on TLC to fulfill your request.
The other approach is to book something closer to 1-year out so that you can sit back and watch how this unfolds and learn from others’ experience. I’m usually in the latter category.
My overall advice is still the same — you should only do this deal if you are willing to jump through a lot of hoops and possibly deal with a lot of frustration.
You really need to go into this with your eyes wide open.
What about you? Are you diving in, or sitting this one out?