Does Cingular Deduct Night & Weekend Minutes for Mobile to Mobile Calls?

Reader Joe writes in after spending his afternoon on the phone with Cingular. It seems that Joe was calling other Cingular mobile numbers at night, and noticed that Cingular was deducting his “Night & Weekend” minutes for the calls. Huh? Joe thought he had “Unlimited Mobile to Mobile Calling.” From Joe’s email:

    I made a second call with a bill in hand and was told by the CSR, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and that any calls made at night will be charged as nights and weekend minutes.

Joe made a third call, got a different CSR and was told the same thing. Finally after trying to transfer him to the “resolutions” department but failing because they weren’t picking up the phone, Joe was told that:

    a request would be sent to the billing department, and it would take 2 billing cycles to take an effect. I asked her if I would be able to find out the billing department’s decision and she said, “no,” which sounded remarkably like she was just trying to get me off the phone and have me call again in two months.

Is this happening to anyone else? Is Cingular charging you Night and Weekend minutes when you are supposed to have “Unlimited Mobile to Mobile Calling?” Check your bill and tell us about it at tips@consumerist.com. —MEGHANN MARCO

UPDATE: Reader Responses Inside

Joe writes:

    Dear Consumerist,

    I wanted to let you know of a situation that is slightly irking me right now because I have spent the last 2 hours either on hold or talking to Cingular customer service representatives. I am on the $39.99 / month plan which offers 5000 Nights/weekend minutes and unlimited Mobile to Mobile. Because I needed to spend a lot of minutes on the phone this month I decided to finally check my usage, and I realized that when I called a Cingular customer during the day, the minutes counted as M2M minutes; however, when I called the same number after 9 PM, it started to subtract from my limited N/W minutes.

    Originally, I was looking at my “current usage,” and noticed the abnormality, and the first CSR told me that unless I had a bill in front of me, he couldn’t do anything to help me.

    I made a second call with a bill in hand and was told by the CSR, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and that any calls made at night will be charged as nights and weekend minutes.

    Not quite believing what she said, I made a third call. Looking at my bill, she was similarly astonished by the accounting of minutes, and put me on hold to talk to her manager. After a rather long wait, she came back and reiterated that any calls made at night regardless of whether it’s to a cingular customer will be charged as a night time minute. This shocked me because in my long time on hold I was able to listen to all their advertisements, and one of their ads even specifically says, that you are able to make unlimited night time calls to other cingular customers. In addition, I was even able to browser to a page on their website that also specifically mentions the ability to make unlimited mobile to mobile calls:

    http://www.cingular.com/learn/why/mobile-to-mobile/

    And

    Link

    I pointed these out to her, and she replied that she was sorry that I was mislead, but that’s just how it is. I asked to speak to her manager, but she told me that he was already out of the office, even though she had supposedly talked to him just 5 minutes prior, and would transfer me to their “resolution” department. After 20 minutes on hold, I was told the “resolution” department wasn’t picking up the phone, and that after further consultation with her fellow employees she decided that I was being incorrectly charged N/W minutes, when I was making M2M calls. She told me that a request would be sent to the billing department, and it would take 2 billing cycles to take an effect. I asked her if I would be able to find out the billing department’s decision and she said, “no,” which sounded remarkably like she was just trying to get me off the phone and have me call again in two months.

    Anyways, I just wanted to let you know on the chance that any of your readers may run into similar issues.

UPDATE: Anne writes:

    My boyfriend, my dad, and a friend of mine all have Cingular — so do I. My plan gives me 1000 anytime minutes per month, so I don’t have to worry about nights/weekends. According to last month’s bill, I haven’t been charged any minutes for calls with other Cingular customers.

    I’m still not a fan, though, and I look forward to September, when I will be out of contract.

Comments

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  1. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Are you actually using 5,000 night and weekend minutes a month? These minutes don’t roll over, unlike Anytime minutes. It’s been a while, but I remember reading on Howardforums that if you do actually exceed the 5,000 night and weekend minutes due to M2M minutes counting against them, Cingular will correct it when you call them… If you’re not close to bumping up to the 5,000 minute limit, I’m inclined to say no harm, no foul.

  2. KristiW says:

    This is correct. I have talked to Cingular about this very issue and their response is that the way it works is the minutes pull from the night/weekend minutes first, then M2M. I complained that it was not a very good policy… I should be able to talk to other Cingular customers and have those minutes pull from M2M, even on weekends. They said sorry, that is not the way it works. Otherwise, I would downgrade my plan to the one with 5000 N/W and save some money.

  3. bigroblee says:

    Cingulars billings system bills NW minutes prior to M2M every time. In my time with Cingular I saw this actually have a customer impact only once (by impact I mean an actual financial impact rather than someone just getting their panties in a bunch over it). Only one plan has unlimited M2M with limited NW, the 39.99 plan with 5000 NW minutes. If you did indeed go over the 5000 minutes and were racking up charges making M2M calls, this would be corrected, most likely within one billing cycle. I don’t mean to say that Cingular will rewrite their billing software to appease you, but a financial adjustment would be made to your account for M2M calls you were billed for in the NW time period. In the interests of full disclosure I used to work for Cingular. M2M = mobile to mobile, NW = nights and weekends.

  4. DeeJayQueue says:

    Here’s why that’s messed up. Say you made 4999 minutes of M2M calls at night. Then you started making calls to people out of network at night. Suddenly you’re out of minutes. Plus “Unlimited” doesn’t mean “Count down from 5000 and then if you go over, notice and call us, we’ll maybe fix it.” it means “Un-Limited” No limits. whether it’s 5, 500, or 5000, that’s a limit. Even if Cingular says they’ll fix it if you go over, what’s to stop them from saying they won’t fix it next month? They already have a history of dropping “bad” customers who roam a lot and cost them money.

  5. Plus “Unlimited” doesn’t mean “Count down from 5000 and then if you go over, notice and call us, we’ll maybe fix it.” it means “Un-Limited” No limits.

    Perhaps they should change it to “Ummm…limited”

  6. kidgenius says:

    I remember many years ago on Verizon I had something similar happen (albeit, in reverse). I had unlimited nights and weekends, but only a thousand “Mobile to mobile”. I opened up a bill one month and it was for $150. So I called Verizon up and they explained to me what happened. When I was talking to my girlfriend, at night, it was using the mobile to mobile minutes first (of which I only had 1000, and was expecting to use during the day while talking to my girlfriend), instead of my unlimited nights and weekends. Of course, I was shocked that it wouldn’t deduct the nights and weekends minutes instead of the M2M. These days though it doesn’t matter as Verizon has unlimited “IN” calling AND unlimited nights and weekeds.

  7. wildecat16 says:

    like has been posted before…did Joe actually come anywhere close to 5000N/W minutes?

    I would be surprised because that is 3 hours every night m-thurs and 2 hours every weekend…

  8. bourgeoisie says:

    Consumerist–
    I’m a tmobile customer now, but I will likely purchase the iPhone when it arrives in June. Is this what I can expect from Cingular in general?

    As consumers what can we do? Asking for a manager doesn’t help, writing letters doesn’t help, and in the end the CSR on the line has all the control, if they don’t like you or your cause, all they have to do is disconnect the call, likely without consequence for themselves.

  9. Keter says:

    bourgeoisie:

    What can consumers do about a company that has abominable billing and customer service practices? Shop elsewhere is the quick answer. Do you really need that iPhone, or will it be a toy? (I’m not convinced that it actually will be functional as a phone!)

    Write a letter to Apple and tell them that you love the iPhone and want to buy one, but won’t because Cingular sucks. If Apple gets enough of this feedback, they will pressure Cingular to change, or if that doesn’t work, they may open up to other service providers with better track records.

    The most effective way to change business practices is to vote with your dollars according to benefit/risk analysis. Ask yourself if getting what you want now is worth the likelihood of getting screwed in the future, or whether withholding those dollars now might mean getting what you *really* want later on. ;o)

  10. KristiW says:

    This may not be the norm by any means… but I do know people who use more than 5000 NW minutes… they are in long distance relationships and being on the phone together is essential. If Cingular *really* wants to sell truly unlimited M2M minutes, then they should change the policy. If they want to prevent the abnormal few customers from spending 5000+ minutes on M2M, then change the pricing. Don’t call it unlimited when it’s not. And calling after the fact and asking for a billing change every single month is just rediculous.

  11. Ran Kailie says:

    bourgeoisie:

    Truthfully speaking aside from some current connectivity issues regarding GSM frequencies I’ve had no issues with Cingular either in connectivity or billing or customer service. The problem is that all cell companies are inherently evil in one way or another simply because of how cell plans here in the USA work.

    If you want that iPhone be a frugal shopper and make sure you research the company and read the contract before signing on that dotted line.

    Every provider has its pros and cons.

  12. JoeWasHere says:

    So I’m the person who wrote in the original story. The only reason I checked my usage was because I was spending a lot of time talking to my friend who’s dad recently got diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I figure given my current rate of minute consumption, I’ll run out of N/W minutes about 1 week or so before my billing cycle ends.

    BTW, the CSR told me that if I go over on my N/W minutes, they will start to charge me instead of subtracting from my anytime minutes, which I found to be kind of strange also. For me that sucks because I have like 4000 rollover minutes at this point.

  13. zl9600 says:

    I agree with Ran.

    I don’t have any problems with Cingular. I don’t like their billing practices as they tried to charge me for GPRS a while back retroactively and I was about to rant here, then I called and they reversed the charges. And the rep was incredibly friendly about it.

    I’ve also returned a warranty phone four times (A Sony Ericcson W600i, don’t buy one). Each time, no questions asked. Of course that story will change once it’s out of warranty.

    I have unlimited N/W, so this story doesn’t affect me, but I’m sorry to hear about troubles, and I agree, it’s fishy practices.

    I’m also going to jump after that iPhone. Whoever said they didn’t think it wouldnt function as a phone is basing their comment on what, exactly?

    Apple went with Cingular because it’s GSM (far superior to CDMA and world-wide unlike CDMA), and because Cingular worked with them on one of the coolest features for ANY phone, visual voicemail. You can’t do that without the phone service creating it with you.

    And Ran is also right: All of these companies suck. And if you really want to blame someone, blame the FCC for setting the game pieces in a way that gives these guys a ton of power over phone mfrs (Verizon, the king of crippling phones and a dated technology other than EVDO, would never have my busines with an iPhone), and hence power over consumers.

    Our choice is this: Just don’t use em.

  14. superbmtsub says:

    What might’ve happened is if your phone is switched to AUTOMATIC under Network settings, it will pick up the strongest network reception. Since Cingular has too many pockets of poor service, it might’ve latched onto T-Mo and when it does that, Cingular will start charging mins.

    The same goes for T-Mo. Make sure your phone says CINGULAR or T-MOBILE or check and leave your Network to MANUAL instead of AUTOMATIC.

  15. bourgeoisie says:

    If anything stuck in high school econ, it was the concept of using my dollar vote to reward companies with my business.

    What I’m afraid of is that Cingular is big enough that my $100/mo doesn’t matter. For every one of us that chooses a company for it’s polite service reps or it’s features or for it’s environmental stance, etc, etc; there are 10 or 20 more that will buy Cingular services because they got 4 free flip phones with their family plan.

    Our ‘bargaining power’ so to speak, feels as if it’s floating out the window.

  16. Jobeleca says:

    As an AT&T rep I know exactly what you’re talking about, and while I’ve been aware of it the entire time, as a test I mentioned it to my team and nearly a quarter of the team were unaware of it, so of course we had an educational team meeting about it. I know it seems unfair, and really it’s an artifact left over from when we were BellSouth wireless that never got changed because fewer than one in ten thousand customers is affected and it’s a pain to rewrite something that basic in the billing system. I’ve been with the company for over a year and have only encountered someone who got charged for this once (52 weeks * 5 days * 50 call/day average = 13,000 customers I’ve interacted with in the past year) and that one time I credited 100% of their N&W overage and with their permission bumped em up one plan (only our very lowest individual plan has the 5kNW limitation) and they needed more daytime minutes anyway.

    Order of billing: (from memory, not from CSP)
    Unity Plan
    Bonus Airtime – Artifact from pre-2006, we no longer do this
    Nights & Weekends
    Peak Usage
    Mobile to Mobile
    Rollover

  17. 160medic says:

    I just found an interesting fact about CINGULARS billing.They charge you 1 minute even if you do not answer the call. I spoke withe 2 different csr’s and they both said that after a certain number of rings or if you send it to voicemail, they charge for a minute. What crooks…!!!! I have never heard of a company charging to RECEIVE voicemail. Most charge to retrieve voicemails.

  18. insoul says:

    I just talked to the CSR this morning. They kept telling me that the policy is under their terms and conditions, after the CSR and her manager searched for 30 min with me on hold. Neither of them could find the info concerning the M2M. They credited me 39.99, very nice of them. This opens the door for class action suite against them if they do not rectify the situation. It only take 20 or so people to make one. I already know 10 people that have the same plan i do. Just cause it is leftover from Bellsouth does not mean it is right.