COMING AND GOING

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Surprise Package

If you're flying Spirit Airlines and don't want $12 travel insurance or a three-month trial membership in Spirit's $9 Fare Club, be sure to uncheck the boxes when you buy a ticket.

Reader Leonard Rubenstein of Alexandria complained to CoGo that he'd inadvertently paid $ 21 more than intended when he bought an airline ticket because he failed to notice the boxes. Sure enough, CoGo went through the flight selection process and, at buying time, found checked boxes showing that we had elected to buy insurance and the trial membership. (The club gives members exclusive access to members-only prices, including $9 fares every six weeks or sooner.)

And wait: There's another charge that's hidden much better . If you click to get more information about the club, and if you read long enough, you'll find that if you don't go to the trouble of canceling the trial membership, you'll automatically be charged an annual membership fee of $29.95 . Do nothing, and the fee will be charged not only when the trial membership is up, but every year thereafter .

CoGo prefers buying things we want, rather than unbuying things we don't want. As Rubenstein wrote, "The ethical thing is to require some affirmative step." Spirit did not respond to two requests for comment.

WALLET WATCH

Foreign Travel Refunds

If you traveled abroad between Feb. 1, 1996, and Nov. 8, 2006, and used a Visa, MasterCard or Diners Club credit, debit or ATM card, you might be eligible for a piece of the $336 million settlement fund negotiated in a class action suit.

But don't get too excited, unless you're one of the lawyers . They're asking the court for about $91 million in expenses and fees from the total settlement. (That's in addition to the $ 35.56 million Visa and MasterCard agreed to pay the lawyers in a related suit that will be dropped after the final settlement of this suit.) The most that consumers in the class action suit are likely to get: about $25 each .

The suit involves those noxious 1 to 3 percent foreign- transaction fees. The plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court lawsuit allege that the companies conspired to set the fees and failed to adequately disclose them. The defendants contend that the fees were properly established and disclosed, but they chose to settle anyway.

Eligible members of the class have three options for making a claim.

Option 1: You basically just sign a form for a $25 refund . That's best if you've used the above cards to spend $2,500 or less overseas during the stipulated time period.

Option 2: Estimate the number of days you were outside the United States. Settlement adjusters will use a formula to decide payouts. Under this plan you can recoup up to 1 percent of your relevant overseas spending, and you do not have to provide detailed documentation.

Option 3: Request a refund based on actual estimates of what you paid in foreign-transaction fees. You don't have to submit documentation, but you might be audited and be asked to show it. The suit stipulates that banks must provide to class members, without charge, any prior statements available electronically. Most keep charges on file for seven years, said David Langer, an attorney in the suit. That will be enough, he said, to show a pattern that would allow you to estimate spending in years for which you have no statements. This option allows you to recoup up to 3 percent of all transactions overseas on relevant cards.

Taking Option 2 or 3 doesn't guarantee your receiving more than $25 . Payouts depend on how many claimants come forward. Lawyers estimate that the named companies charged consumers $3.8 billion in foreign-transaction fees during the period of the lawsuit. If all potential claimants made a claim, the settlement fund clearly would be grossly inadequate.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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