My review of Capitalism this Holiday season, or: Cancel Comcast and don’t rent a car from Avis
After a long run of victorious holiday seasons, the 2014 Holiday Season saw yet another solid performance from Capitalism. During my two weeks of vacation, I for one spent approximately four times as much money as I typically spend per week, and I’m sure you all saw a similar outflux. This was on both necessary items – including rent for an unoccupied apartment – as well as on a litany of superfluous bullshit designed to show nth-degree relatives that my family still cares about them. When we returned victorious to our quotidian lives this past week, we brought so many trophies with us that it took me three hours and two whiskeys to unload the rental car at three o’clock in the morning.
So, who were the big losers and big winners this holiday season, you might ask?
1. Avis Car Rental – Sometime in December, after a Cox-directed Internet outage finally abated, I returned to the online task I had been working on – namely, renting a car for the holiday break in order to drive from New Orleans to Boston – only to find that, in the timeframe of four hours, prices had tripled everywhere and were identically inflated among all extant companies. My economics training and existence as a human suggests to me that this is nefarious price-fixing and collusive behavior between competitors in an oligopolistic industry, which is illegal, yet it happens anyways, particularly when companies have consumers by the balls.
After Panglossianly continuing to search for an affordable rental car that would allow my children to see their grandparents for Christmas, I finally found a reasonably-priced model at Avis in a nearby city, about a 50-dollar round-trip cab ride away.
I’ve heard that rental car companies can be quite shady whenever people attempt to pay with real money and not make-believe money that they don’t have, so I decided to call the national headquarters and confirm that Avis accepts debit cards linked to bank accounts with balances and stuff. After being assured that I would have no problem renting, I called a cab and headed out to get my car.
Of course, I was denied the car, because I do not have a credit card. This annoyed me, since I had explicitly called the national office to ascertain if there was going to be any problem with me not having a credit card and had been assured that there would be no problem.
“I can’t even rent a car here,” the branch manager said. “I’ve been telling them for years that they need to change their policy, and they don’t listen.”
It was no problem, I said. I could call and have a relative use their credit card.
Nope, it turns out. The card can’t come from out of state, even if a relative were to go into an actual physical Avis location and sign a contract, even if that relative has given a lot of business to Avis in the past, it turns out. Someone needed to physically come into the New Orleans office and use their credit card in my stead.
This was a problem, since the whole point of my renting a rental car was to visit my relatives, who all live in Boston and not in New Orleans.
After two hours, I was finally able to find a friend who would come out and put my car rental on his card in exchange for me immediately Venmo-ing him the equivalent in cash. I paid for his cab, and he managed to make it all happen for me about twenty minutes before the office was set to close.
When it came time to return the car, we wound up getting stuck in some nasty weather outside DC and had to check in at a hotel. This all meant we would not make the scheduled return time for the car.
When I had originally rented the car, I had been told that if I wanted to extend my rental, I just needed to call the office and let them know. I called the office and eventually someone answered.
Me: “Hi, is this Avis?”
Avis: “Yes. This is Avis.”
Me: “I have a rental car and am stuck in a storm and won’t be able to return it today.”
Avis: “You need to call the office.”
Me: “I did call the office. That’s this number ”
Avis: “No, this is the national office.”
Me: “Ummmm… Is this 504-XXX-XXXX?”
Avis: “Yes, but that number redirects to the national office.”
Me: “Oh, well how do I get in touch with the local office then?”
Avis: “You call this number.”
Avis: Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
Me: “What do you mean else?”
Avis: “Have a good day, sir.”
When I did return the car, of course, without being able to inform Avis, I was assessed a “rescheduling fee” of some sort, which I was not allowed to pay by debit card. This was some incredibly trivial amount and served only to punctuate the utterly crappy service that I had received at Avis Car Rental.
Needless to say, neither I, nor anyone from my family, nor hopefully anyone reading this, will ever rent a car from Avis again.
2. Apple – We decided, after a combined seven screen fractures in two and a half years, to bypass the iPhone 6 and upgrade to Samsung Galaxy Note 4. So far, I have dropped mine three times and it hasn’t broken, which causes me to burst into joyful laughter and kiss the sky each time.
1. Venmo – See Avis above, although I still can’t figure out Venmo’s business model.
2. Credit card companies – After the Avis fiasco, I applied for and received three different credit cards.
3. Amazon – an easy source for many Christmas presents. Plus, free Amazon Prime membership tacked on to one of the credit cards I now have will ensure that Amazon is the beneficiary of an even larger proportion of my online purchases in the year ahead.
4. AT&T, Samsung, and Google – to Tod’s chagrin, a significant chunk of our family’s holiday spending went towards AT&T this year. Our crappy iPhones were simply too crappy to continue existing, and AT&T’s Next plan was simply too enticing to pass up. Finally, our choice of Galaxy over iPhone meant Apple’s loss was Samsung/Google’s gain.
I’ve been very satisfied with my AT&T service over the past two years, something I could not say about my previous cell phone provider, Verizon. After a few months into my contract, AT&T actually emailed me and informed me that, based on my usage patterns, I could save money on my monthly bill by switching to a less-expensive package. A link in the email directed me to their website, where I followed a few recommendations and cut my monthly bill in half. Only once since then have I incurred any overage charges, and the customer service representative I talked to about it actually backdated a new plan to eliminate the overage and then switched me back to my cheaper plan going forward. All of this occurred rather instantaneously through online chat, and the customer service representative was obsequious to the point where I almost felt bad asking them to eliminate the additional charges.
So when I went in to AT&T with my wife this past week to upgrade our phones, I was more than willing to sign a new two-year contract with a significant component of the new phones’ price spread out over the duration.
“You actually save by switching to AT&T Next, which would basically act just like a contract, but with less money down up front and more spread out over the two years,” the sales rep told us. “And then you’d be entitled to upgrade your phone again after the two years. This is the system that’s been in place in Europe for some time, and it’s working well there, so we’re switching to it here.”
Still I was skeptical. How was AT&T making money off allowing customers to forgo making payments with no interest or finance charges tacked on? To top it all off, only three-quarters of the actual price of the phone would be paid by the end of the two years, when the customer is entitled to upgrade and start again.
“I get it!” I said. “You ensure loyalty by discounting the phone. If I leave for another company, I have to pay the remaining balance on the phones, but I don’t have to pay this remaining balance if I stick with AT&T. Essentially, instead of paying full price up front, I actually pay three quarters of the price over two years. Not only does this ensure loyalty, but it also ensures that more customers will be able to get nicer phones, since there’s no money down up front. Could you imagine if they had this system in place for a car or for a house? This is amazing! Sign me up!”
My wife and I got two Samsung Galaxy Notes plus a heavily-discounted tablet to replace our long-shattered iPhones and ailing, five-year-old laptop.
5. Disney – Like the Salvation Army, Disney is everywhere and impossible to avoid giving money to around Christmas time. We have an army of Olaf stuffed animals in our house right now. I’m thinking about putting them all together and in a variety of interesting positions and taking some high-quality, avant-garde-style photographs and submitting them to the various photorealism exhibitions currently touring the nation’s art museums.
I also decided – although “decided” is probably a less accurate description than “impulsively promised while intoxicated by the spirit of capitalismas” – to take my kids to Disney World during the later half of this year’s Mardi Gras vacation. (Yes, that’s right, New Orleans has a Mardi Gras vacation.) This all means lots of money transferred from me to Disney – both directly and indirectly, since Disney World is basically just a commercial for Disney that the consumer has to pay for the privilege of experiencing. I do love everything about Epcot though.
1. Cox Cable – Cox Cable has been providing crappy service to my apartment for the past four months. I have come to expect daily to weekly service outages, since Cox Cable is legally protected from competitors via the We Got In There First Now Government Protect Our Money-Leeching Act of 1996. There is nothing I can do about this, and I need the Internet, so Cox Cable will continue to receive my monthly fee, but no more than that.
2. Comcast – After being at my parents’ house over the holidays and hooking up my tablets with HBOGO etc., I happened to notice that my parents were paying about twice as much per month as their package initially advertised. As anyone who has used Comcast knows, they are a bunch of filthy, money-grubbing liars. I used to be a Comcast customer as well, when I had no other choice. I signed up for an $89/month package but routinely was billed for about $120/month. When I called to complain, after waiting on hold for an hour or so, whoever I eventually forced to address my problem would inevitably apologize and take the money off, only to put it back on with some make-believe justification the next month. Slowly, in fact, my bill began to creep up to about double what I signed up for. Luckily, I was able to escape by moving to another city.
As a direct consequence of my abusive relationship with Comcast, I have now turned on, tuned in, dropped out, and joined the anti-television counterculture. Of course, I have found ways to consume my favorite media. These ways entail nothing illegal, but they also do not entail paying Comcast hundreds of dollars a month for the one or two shows I actually want to watch. Meanwhile, Comcast continues to screw over my parents…
So. who were the big winners and loser in your life this past holiday season? And what’s the moral of the story here for Capitalism? Is it: companies, provide good products and good customer service or see money flow elsewhere? Or is it: just provide a necessary service and screw over the consumers who depend on you?