American in Spain

Are you paying optional fees?

May 8, 2008

I've been living in Spain for almost three years now, and I have seen variations on this story play out quite a few times. It amazes me every time. I have a mobile phone that I never use. But there's a reason why the Germans call them handys. When you really need it, it's nice to have. My mobile is one of the old monochrome, monophonic Nokias from back in the day when you could only choose from the 10 ringtones the manufacturer gave you. It serves it's purpose.

Last year, we got a call from the Spanish telephone monopoly, Telefónica. They wanted us to sign up for a contract with them instead of using my prepaid sim card. I was under the impression that for someone that uses less than 5-10 minutes per month and already had a phone, prepaid was cheaper. But they said, "No, this is much better. For the first six months, you only pay for what you use, just like with prepaid, but, because it's a billing contract, you don't have to worry about how much time you have left, etc. "Great!", we said, "But then after the six months are up, you're gonna really stick it to us with an expensive fixed-length contract, right?" They said no, that after the six months, there will be a minimum charge of 9€/month, so that you're still charged 9€ every month even if you don't use all those minutes. And you can cancel at any time! My wife and I are as wary of telecoms as anyone, but we guessed every way they could screw us and were told that that wasn't the case. So we signed up.

That was six months ago.

Today our mobile bill came. Last month we made 2.3665€ (don't you love those penny hundredths?) worth of phone calls and text messages. But our 9€ minimum had kicked in, so they added on the extra 6.6335€ to make up the difference. My wife took one look at the bill and said, "Okay, I'm canceling the contract."

The customer support people are always so incredulous when you're calling to cancel. Frankly I'm surprised that she got to speak to a human in under ten minutes. When she had finally explained the problem to the customer support representative, she was told, "Well, would you like to have another year of paying only what you use?" Sure enough, that's what they gave us. Unbelievable.

Let me summarize... The phone company was going to charge us 6€/month until we called up and asked them not to. It's an opt-out fee. What blows my mind is the huge profits being made because hundreds of thousands of customers just don't call up to complain.

In Spain, the default business-to-customer policy is to overcharge the customer until they complain about being overcharged.

I've seen this time and again. And every time it amazes me.