Ten tips

Published October 15, 2006

Be careful with low-price promises

Watch out, shoppers: There are plenty of businesses out there that are counting on you to become forgetful or downright unmotivated after you place an order for a product or service. Such businesses stand to benefit financially if you believe their "lowest-price guarantees" without shopping around or if you forget to cancel something you meant to order on a trial basis only.

1 Be skeptical of the hype. Many offers have serious strings attached. If you back out of the deal, you could be hit with hefty restocking fees, shipping fees, taxes and other onerous expenses.

2 Read the fine print. Be clear about the proof you'll have to offer if you find a lower price. With trial offers, make note of the cancellation deadline before you lock yourself into buying more products.

3 Know the drill with low-price travel promises. The guarantees typically give you 24 hours to find a better deal somewhere else.

4 Some guarantees are great for consumers. A number of big-name retailers and hotel chains step up to serve you if you find a better deal elsewhere - and sometimes they'll throw in additional discounts and gift checks.

5 Shop around online. Before you believe a certain low-price guarantee, spend two to five minutes checking Web sites to make sure the price really passes muster. PriceGrabber.com, BizRate.com, Shopping.com, MySimon.com and others allow you to compare prices in seconds.

6 Be careful with cars and airline tickets. With airfares, the cheapest tickets are typically nonrefundable. With car purchases, you could get hit with thousands of dollars in fees if you change your mind about your purchase.

7 Book that hotel room or rental car. You usually won't get charged for these services until shortly before arrival, and reservations are easy to cancel. Reserve something so you're covered no matter what, and then continue looking for better deals.

8 Think hard before you activate that service. With trial offers, a company may offer to: send you books, CDs or movies if you enroll in a club; send you the first three issues of a magazine and then charge you for a one-year subscription; or provide free Internet or phone service for 30 days before charging you. Remember to cancel in a timely manner if you don't want the offer.

9 Ask lots of questions. For instance: Is the offer related to a membership, subscrip-tion or extended service contract? Do I have to contact you if I don't want to receive more products or services? What's my dead-line to cancel and how do I contact you if I want to do so?

10 Know where to complain. If you run into trouble with a trial offer or a bogus low-price or money-back guarantee, you can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission toll-free at 1-877-382-4357, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-435-7352 and the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.

Sources: Liz Pulliam Weston's column on MSN Money (http://moneycentral.msn.com home.asp); USA Today (www.usatoday.com); Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).