Budget, you blew it

When I started to collect all of my junk mail to try to measure the extent of the "snail mail spamming" going on (read more here) I figured I'd mostly just be reporting on aggregate data focusing on the volume of mail received, but the other day I received one small piece of mail from a company that had a bigger negative impact on my opinion of them than the accumulated piles of offers I get from high-volume junkmailers like CapitalOne. I thought it merited its own post.


Last year I spent a little more than $200 with Budget Rent-A-Car. This year I plan on traveling even more, and likely spending proportionally more on car rental this time around.


Budget/Avis, you've just lost every dollar of my business.


Recently I received a "check" from Budget that looks remarkably like a rebate. A little slip of paper in the envelope has the highlighted headline "RE: MONEY BACK ON YOUR CREDIT CARD PURCHASES" that leads into a paragraph thanking me for past patronage, knowing that I have "a choice of car rental companies."


You're right, Budget. Now, thanks to this cheap, misleading marketing piece you sent me I'm going to choose some other car rental company anytime I have a choice.


You see, this wasn't really a "rebate" or a "check" at all. Looking at the very fine print in the endorsement section of this check I discover that this is really an "enrollment form" that would immediately be processed if I chose to deposit it into my bank account. It would sign me up for an auto-renewing $130 per year service called "AutoVantage" and the service fees will be "conveniently" charged to the credit card I last used to rent from Budget.


These sort of check offers aren't new. Less-than-reputable phone companies used to send these things to trick people into giving permission to switch providers, and then would hit them with outrageous fees and shoddy service. The church I grew up in has been hit by these telco scams twice in the last 5 years. Do a google search on "slamming" and you'll read all sorts of horrible stories about how people have been ripped off by companies like these.


You know, I expect to occasionally see that sort of behavior from a shady little fly-by night company. But not from a 50-year-old corporation traded on the NYSE. (Coincidentally, the top eight news stories currently on this company's Google Finance page are all about a couple of their execs being convicted of accounting fraud. Suddenly I'm not so shocked.)


Next step: Writing a letter to Budget/Avis letting them know how much business this "offer" just cost them.

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Taken on February 3, 2007