HOWTO: Rebate Whore

Matt is a self-described Rebate-Whore. He owns and operates his own tech support business and orders many items for his customers. He shares his tips for how he “leverages his Ninja-Geek skills” to make sure he gets his rebate bucks.

1. Don’t wait before submitting your rebate, unless the rules make you wait. Fill out the form right away. Read the rebate submission rules before you pop it in the post. Most rebates follow a simple formula of complete the form, include copy of purchase receipt, original UPC… but some have additional requirements, such as a signature. It takes just a moment to read the fine print. Forget one little thing, and it’s no rebate for you, bucko.

2. If you can get the rebate form as a PDF, do it. Save the PDF on your ‘puter. I take it one step further and use my OfficeJet to scan in completed rebate forms, receipts and even UPCs as PDFs on my PC.

3. Keep a spreadsheet with rebate info, such as amount, date submitted, and rebate status URL if given. Likewise, keep a folder in your e-mail for any messages you get about rebate status.

4. Keep some simple supplies handy, such as self-adhesive envelopes and postage stamps. If you don’t have great handwriting (I don’t), run your envelopes through your printer or print the address on a P-Touch or Dymo label maker.

5. Finally, look for shortcuts. Some rebates can be, at least partially, submitted online. Costco is great in this regard.

Why does he go to such lengths? Matt says it’s because he’s a “cheap-ass mofo,” but because he also get so many parts for his customers, he gets back hundreds of dollars per year.

Comments

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  1. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    How does he prevent against them saying they never received the rebate form in the mail? Seems like every rebate I send mysteriously gets lost in the mail.

  2. RandomHookup says:

    I’m a bit of a whore myself and I find as long as you have a copy, any “missing” rebates can be fixed quickly. Most of the places now have a web site where you can track the status and see if something has gone wrong. I can only think of a time or two where they claimed they never received it and I fixed that with a fax (and sometimes the phone call was all they needed to cut the check).

    Keeping track is the key.

  3. So he buys parts for customers who pay full price and keeps the rebates for himself? That’s a great racket. It’s found money.

  4. Smoking Pope says:

    If you really could get mail-in rebates on beer (as in the photo), I’d have a post offce in my garage.

  5. Smoking Pope says:

    “That’s a great racket.”

    I’m not too sure that’s a racket, exactly. If he’s doing the diagnostic work and then the leg work in getting the part(s), I’d say he’s more deserving of the rebate than anyone else.

    Still, pretty sweet deal.

  6. mwwilk says:

    Original Rebate Whore here. I always give my customers the option of purchasing their own equipment. In fact, I even give them a shopping list, down to Mfr Part numbers, SKUs, and even do some comparison shopping for them at my favorite haunts. However, 8 out of 10 still prefer that I purchase the equipment. This despite telling them that I will mark up 5% over my register cost. After all, I’m using my plastic, and if it’s a time-sensitive part, my transit expenses to get to a brick-and-mortar store. The rebate is just extra icing, icing I will gladly suckle on given that I am the one running around.

    I don’t purchase entire systems, just small stuff, mostly networking and peripherals. But it does add up.

  7. Demingite says:

    Rebates are a means to force you to give someone marketing data. I protest rebates by not buying products that involve them whenever possible. A bargain they ain’t. You are not really saving money. Saving money is buying a product that is already priced at an “after rebate” price (i.e., the majority of products on the market), and not having to take precious time to scan and send UPC codes, blah blah blah. Rebates are an anti-consumer racket IMHO.

  8. RandomHookup says:

    Demingite–

    Remember you are talking to the Consumerist crowd. I save lots of money by doing rebates smartly. Does the average person save money? No and that makes it a better deal for those who do it right. Heck, with coupons and price matching and referral fees, I often make money on the rebate itself — and that’s before I sell off the “free after rebate” loss leader on eBay. Rebates are designed to take advantage of people who see a shiny price and act impulsively but can’t be bothered to fill out a few pieces of paper.

  9. Demingite says:

    RandomHookup: I’m thinking more of all consumers — consumers as a whole. Your suggestions can help some consumers, but I don’t think they are practical for most, especially because most of us aren’t regular buyers of rebate-affected items like you are. You put it well:

    “Rebates are designed to take advantage of people who see a shiny price and act impulsively but can’t be bothered to fill out a few pieces of paper.”

    It’s the “taking advantage” stuff that I don’t like — thinking again here of all consumers. And those who have a system like you have, or otherwise do pursue the actual rebate, are basically forced into it, unless you want to forego more money.

    Similarly: One “saves money” by joining grocery store clubs, but unless you can shop elsewhere (which I do myself), the grocery is essentially forcing customers to join the club (and have to mess with a card, have their purchases tracked, etc.).

    If you look at the bigger picture, rebates and club cards raise costs for everyone. There are serious administrative costs. They take all parties’ time and energy. They dilute value.

    The “shiny price” concept reminds me of phone companies that market (in a big letters) a “shiny” base price but then invent fees (in small letters) so that the price you really pay is higher. Likewise there is a trickery factor with rebates as well. I hear you about trying to “beat the system” with rebates, and your advice on how to so is good, but I strongly believe that consumers overall would be better off if rebates didn’t exist in the first place.

  10. SexCpotatoes says:

    heh, make your brother or other family member order it for you, fill out the rebate in their name, cash the check for you when they get it, then watch them get a deluge of junk mail.

  11. tracilyns says:

    i actually had a decent experience with rebates recently. radioshack mailed me a postcard saying they never received my UPC, so i wouldn’t get a rebate. i called the number, and told them i did send the UPC. and then the CSR released my check. no fights, no proof that i actually had sent it, nothing. quite awesome, actually.

  12. mrbenning says:

    I think #2 should mention xerox copies as an option for those too busy/lacking in scanning capabilities.

    One place I dealt with required me to confirm numeric details from the rebate forms after they’d held the checks for over three months (I called repeatedly, with them confirming they would be sent “the next day”). They failed to show up, even after confirming the details. I finally threatened legal action and, voila, they showed up within a week.

  13. mst3kzz says:

    The only people who complain about rebates are the ones who don’t have a system for tracking them. If you don’t like products with rebates, change the channel!

  14. fran403 says:

    I recently had a letter that stated that I had not sent in my UPC code. I called the rebate center and said that the code was sent and I had a copy. They gave a bulls*** story that I had used the wrong rebate form. I told them that the form was provided by the seller. The worker said that she could fix all of this and the check would be sent out. I think its just another “hoop” that these companies make you jump through to avoid paying on the rebate. It is not a clean business in my estimation. I too am a rebate whore.

  15. wgthomas says:

    Having waited for my T-Mobile $50 rebate for twice as long as stated on the Rebate Form, I finally thought to inquire through the T-Mobile web site. It tried calling T-Mobile Customer Care, but they send me to a Rebate Status page on their web site. Apparently the support reps aren’t supposed to access the page themselves and tell me what the status is … dunno why.

    The “Rebate Status Inquiry” page is fairly user-friendly, requiring entry of some simple info (my T-Mobile phone number, my name, etc.). And up pops my Rebate Status, which said: “Sorry, that is not an active T-Mobile phone number”. Fascinating! T-Mobile sends me a substantial invoice every month for using a cellphone that answers to that number, and I pay them promptly for said service. But apparently for purposes of dodging rebate obligations, they to think of it as an “inactive number”.

    Is this just another vendor scam? I’m beginning to think so. Has anyone else had problems with T-Mobile rebates?

  16. ms3e says:

    Many consumers “can’t be bothered” to take their precious time and effort to send in a rebate. Me, I’ve done over 275 rebates in the past 2 years and have successfully received nearly every single one. Being a hardcore bargain hunter as well as a gadget enthusiast, I have a lot of experience with rebates. With some kinds of product rebates (especially software) you can legitimately MAKE MONEY on the deal in the end. I think the most I’ve netted is $75 after rebates. Most of the time, I’ll get items that are free or really cheap after rebate.

    It’s essential that you keep a copy of each rebate submission for yourself (an all-in-one printer/copier works great for this) and write a note on it for the date on which you expect to receive the rebate check. Put them all in a folder sorted in order of the dates you expect to receive the check. Every one in a while, look at the folder and see which rebate are overdue, then call the rebate fulfillment company about those rebates.

    Many rebate fulfillment companies have web sites where you can find the status of your rebate – this can be very useful to tell whether things are going smoothly or if you need to follow-up with the company.

    In my experience, about 1 in 5 rebates requires follow-up contact with the rebate fulfillment company as they will frequently, erroneously claim that not all the required materials were submitted and your copy is needed to demonstrate you did send everything. Other times rebate fulfillment companies will simply “forget” to send the check or claim that your rebate got “stuck” in their system. About 1 in 10 rebates requires repeated follow-up calls, and about 1 in 20 requires additional escalation measures like talking to a supervisor or contacting their corporate executive office.

    If you keep your copies of the rebates, know how to contact the rebate fulfillment company, and are willing to stick to go the distance and stick to your guns, you can generally expect you’ll receive your rebate.

  17. fiveofoh says:

    I applaud this article – I’m definitely part of this group. People whine about getting ripped off by rebates, but as long as you follow these steps – mostly keeping track of it and making copies – you’ll almost always get your rebates. Often, they’ll send you stuff that says it was invalid, but you just have to call them and they’ll magically straighten it out.
    Companies are obviously not going to make it easy for you – they’re set out to make money off of the lazy people who don’t care enough to follow up. But if you put a little effort into it, you can get some great deals. I don’t think I’ve ever failed to get a rebate – it just sometimes takes a little extra effort.

  18. justinroman says:

    A warning about your point #4: Many rebates specify that the envelope must be handwritten (to avoid rebate fraud). Besides, if your handwriting is so bad that you can’t even address an envelope, maybe you should improve your handwriting.