Friday, 25 April 2008

BMI - Not so very rewarding

BMI advertises itself as the more rewarding airline. But is the claim true?

Regular readers will know I often fly London to Glasgow. Recently BMI wrote to offer me a reward for my loyalty. Simply complete 6 flights in the qualifying period and BMI would give me £50 off a flight taken before 6 July.

Yesterday BMI emailed me the voucher. Some new conditions had appeared in the lengthy Terms and Cond
itions. Now the flight must be taken before 22 June. Also I must book via the call centre (not online) and ominously the new wording 'surcharges may apply when booking through the call-centre' have appeared too. This is annoying, because all the qualifying flights were booked electronically. British Airways has also recently sent me a reward voucher - it can be used online with no additional fees. Finally BMI's shortening of the redemption period (from 6 July to 22 June) is pure dishonesty.

Anyway I pick out the return flights I want online - they are £77. Then I dial BMI reservations. That's when it all starts to go wrong. There is no record of my qualifying for the £50 discount. I must email customer services. I refuse, I'd like to speak to a supervisor. Eventually after 30 minutes on hold my claim is found an
d I can book - BUT the same flights now cost £116.40 a whopping £39.40 more expensive than I could have booked for cash online before I picked up the phone. So my £50 saving is reduced to just £10.60. This is partly because the outbound flight has gone up by 30 quid and because BMI have added another £10 for insisting I book via the reservations centre (so actually BMI's reward of £50 is only worth £40 - if its compulsory to pay an additional £10 administration fee). The 30 minutes call to an 0870 number also cost £2.40. So now the voucher saving is a paltry £8.20.

Persevering, but referring to the online booking pages on my screen at home,I pick out flights which now cost £86.40 online and which BMI will sell me for £96.40 on the phone. So the trip I was expecting to pay £27 for costs me £46.40 and 45 minutes of my valuable time.

Most people tell me they are wary of promotions. Apparently the small print usually wipes out most of the promised benefit...really?

Thanks BMI, I feel so rewarded.

Marketing rewards are designed to be complicated. Recently Harrods wrote to me with a privileged and special invitation to join their posh rewards scheme. They sent me an elegant laminated black card which they said was pre-loaded with fifty pounds towards my next purchase.

There is no minimum spend, I can't use it for food, and it expires at the end of the month. I re-read the letter half a dozen times looking for the catch. I googled the card and the offer, convinced it must be a spoof. I couldn't find any sign of a scam. They say if an offer seems to good to be true, then it isn't. Sending out free cash in the post? Come on. The money problem pages are full of such horror stories. Finally there was only one thing left to do; try using the Reward in store. I'm not a Harrods regular, but I had a meeting nearby. I had a strategy too - designed to flush out any catch quickly - before I set my heart on something I didn't need. I would go straight to the Molton Brown counter and ask if they took the Harrods Reward card.

'Yes, have you been sent a letter' the friendly (and very attractive) girl enquires.
Taken aback I confirm I have. 'So its valid against a purchase?'
' Yes, it works just like a gift card.'

I scout the store and find a branch of HMV. They take the Harrods Reward card too. As the shiny black card is swiped in exchange for two over-priced DVD box sets I feel a bit dishonest, to be honest with you.
'That's fifty pounds please' says the assistant handing back the card. 'Isn't the payment on the card?' I ask hesitantly.
Finally I've been scammed.
'Oh sorry, yes of course'. She swipes the card again, and hands back the card along with a bag containing the DVDs.
Or not scammed.

As I pass the Molton Brown counter again on the way out the helpful (pretty) girl smiles. I make a tiny purchase, she gives me some free samples and asks if I have a Reward card. I hand it over with my cash, and she swipes it. Alarm bells don't sound. I'm not arrested by the security men who patrol every entrance.

Yes it's a lovely visit to Harrods, but it makes no sense. I'm even more puzzled after visiting the store than before. Finally I conclude Amex have passed on my details as a high rolling card holder. I spent nearly every penny I could on my Amex card last year to get 2 free BA business class flights (see previous post Rewarding Debt). Amex has recently signed a deal to provide Harrods new Amex Brown card. I can only guess that's also how I've just come to own 2 over-priced DVD box sets for nowt. Strangely enough it doesn't feel as good as I hoped.

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