Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be posting a couple of times per week. 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.
A few days ago I wrote about Rite Aid’s Fab-uary promotion whereby you can earn a free domestic flight for $250 in spend on participating products. This February promotion follows on the heels of January’s Happy You Year promotion which offered a 2-night Hyatt stay. Theoretically, you can now get a free flight to go with your free hotel stays.
Here are my previous posts on the Rite Aid promotions:
Both of these promotions are being run by TRCo Marketing, sister company to TLC Marketing which was the fulfillment company for the ill-fated Dockers / JC Penney promotion back in 2008. That one also offered a free flight or free hotel stay. It generally did not go well and ended in a class action law suit.
Well, no sooner had I declared that TRCo was running a smooth operation this time around, then reader David L. alerted me that one of the destination cities had been removed from the Terms and Conditions. Whereas there had been 49 cities on the list of destinations, there are now 48. That might not be a big deal if they had simply removed Virginia Beach Airport from the list, given that it doesn’t have commercial service anyway. But that’s not the case.
The destination that was removed is Honolulu, Hawaii, perhaps the most aspirational destination of the bunch.
When Was The Change Made?
If the change to the T & C’s was made prior to the promotion going live — as in when you could purchase the participating items — I guess I might be able to understand that. Maybe it was a mistake.
Except that’s not what happened.
I can definitely say that Honolulu was on the list as of February 1, the day that the promotion went live. That means its quite possible that some customers purchased their $250 worth of Anti-Monkey Butt Powder while the original T&C’s were still posted.
Is This Allowed?
Line item #37 in the T&C’s technically allows them to make changes such as this. (Yes, there are 37 terms!)
Promoter reserves the right to change or modify the Terms and Conditions of the Promotion at any time during the term thereof. It shall be the bearer’s sole obligation to check the Terms and Conditions during the Promotion and when the bearer redeems the Reward.
I am not a lawyer, but I do wonder if such a term would hold up in a court of law for a couple of reasons. Consider a couple of hypothetical situations.
- What if TRCo removed 48 of the 49 eligible destinations, leaving just one choice. Would it be reasonable to tell people “your free domestic ticket is now only good to Huntington, WV? Sorry Suckahs.”
- What if they changed the terms on the penultimate day of the promotional period after almost everyone had made their purchases. Would that be acceptable?
To me, both of these cases would demonstrate that the company did not act in good faith. I can easily imagine a judge in a consumer-friendly state such as Massachusetts siding with the customers on this one.
What You Should Do Now
If you’re planning to participate in this promotion, or have already made your purchases, I would make screen shots of everything. That’s really just good practice for any deal. If you were planning to request Honolulu as your destination, I would still insist upon it. See what happens.
If they refuse to honor the original T&Cs, I would file a Better Business Bureau complaint in the state of Massachusetts. That was the course of action that ultimately got their attention in 2008.
I participated in Happy You Year. As a Hyatt Diamond, I’m confident that I’ll get decent value from the 2-night stay certificate. It’s also a known commodity — many of us have experience with these certificates, and more importantly, have faith in Hyatt to make this right. The certificates also have a fixed value which is to say that TRCo and / or Rite Aid paid a fixed price for each one. This means that TRCo has no incentive to try to keep us from redeeming at a given property — either it’s available or it’s not.
A free flight is much different than a 2-night Hyatt stay certificate.
Since the cost of a flight is highly dependent upon where and when you are traveling, TRCo may be motivated to prevent you from redeeming for high value rewards. There’s no flat rate “flight certificate” for them to have purchased and thus hedged their costs. This is why they are much more likely to play games this time around.
So yes, I did do the deal in 2008 for a free flight. But I was a single guy back then who mostly just wanted to fly a lot to see his girlfriend. A one-off random free flight like this had value to me. And as I explained, it was easier to parlay it into a credit with the airline because change fees were roughly half what they are today.
But now I think taking advantage of this deal as a family would be difficult. Getting one free flight is nice, but that leaves me trying to pick up 3 additional seats on the open market. What if TRCo manages to book the last seat in a low fare class? I could be stuck overpaying for the 3 extra seats.
I’m also afraid that this change could be a sign of worse things to come.
All that said, I think I’m going to sit this one out.
What do you think of Honolulu being removed as a destination? Is it OK since the T & C’s basically say the rules can be changed at any time? Or is TRCo not acting in good faith?