T-Mobile Is A Bitch?

Reader Miss_smartypants bought a new PEBL cellphone from T-mobile, free after $50 rebate. After she sent in the rebate forms, she saw a notice on T-mobile’s site for the phone free, straight up, with no rebate business. She called to request a pricematch so she wouldn’t have to wait for the rebate.

A lengthy adventure launches with calls to customer service, threats to cancel service, and lobbying of executive customer service and t-mobile’s legal department.

If she waited for the rebate to process, wouldn’t she have the original deal she wanted?

“Not really,” says Miss_smartypants, “T-Mobile will have borrowed my $50 free for 2 months (their estimation of average time frame) without compensating me.”

After reading her letters posted inside, vote. — BEN POPKEN

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On November 9, I ordered a new phone from T-Mobile online, a Motorola PEBL free following a $50 refund. When I received my phone the following week, I immediately took the steps required by T-Mobile to process the rebate, which are specifically the completion and mailing in of the phone, inclusion of a copy of the invoice and inclusion of an original box cut-out. I logged on to T-Mobile’s site within days later to confirm the receipt and status of the rebate, and after struggling to find the small-print, buried area where I could check rebate status, discovered that the same phone is now being offered free without regard to a rebate.

I called T-Mobile to request as a courtesy that the later/better offer, extended to all customers only days after I accepted the earlier/worse offer, be extended to me as a courtesy price-match that most businesses provide to customers. After speaking with Sandra, Thomas and Rhonda, I was advised alternately that (a) they would not do this because I had a prior agreement on the worse terms – I’ll call this the “Ha ha we got you sucka!” answer, that (b) their system had no way to refund me $50, put a $50 credit on my bill or take any other redressive action whatsoever – I’ll call this the “Maybe if we lie this sucka will go away” answer, and that (c) I am certain to receive my refund anyway (4-8 weeks later) so I should be unconcerned. I advised that in reviewing my contract and current pricing information, it appeared that I’d be best off canceling the phone since I am still within the 14-day “second thoughts” grace period (and boy am I having second thoughts!), and here’s the kicker – I am prevented from canceling my service because I have submitted the documentation for a rebate.

Rhonda is EMPHATIC in assuring me that T-Mobile does not price match, and is unconcerned that other companies do because “T-Mobile is a cell phone company”. I am not sure how this explanation suffices to answer the question. Is there a regulatory requirement that cell carriers can’t price match? I don’t know – Rhonda couldn’t say. Rhonda found my concern that T-Mobile took a “screw you” approach to their customers who relied on an offer being fair unpersuasive, responding “Oh you’re very funny!”. Rhonda is CERTAIN that there is no physical way that it might be even remotely possible for T-Mobile to redress this situation, as it is against their policy to price match for regular customers.

Now, the result of these discussions is that I no longer have any confidence that (sometime next year, 8 weeks later) I will get my rebate, and that as a result of relying on T-Mobile’s assurances I am going to be (a) out $50, and (b) charged a cancellation fee of $250 if I choose to use my ONLY available option out of this situation, i.e. revoking my acceptance of the contract under it’s revocation terms. Other than avoiding rebates generally (but I assumed, wrongly, that T-Mobile was offering a good deal and wouldn’t make the phone free days later!), and learning my lesson with T-Mobile, I am wondering whether anyone has negotiated this cell phone/rebate/cancellation problem before, has any advice or thoughts on how to make sure I am not utterly screwed by T-Mobile here – since customer service has told me expressly that they are going to leave me out in the wind with no assistance.

In addition, Rhonda advises that their legal department has no telephones and cannot receive email. Rhonda advises that their corporate department also cannot accept telephone calls – saying “Can you imagine what would happen if our corporate people had to take phone calls like this?”.

Yeah, I can imagine – someone would probably actually receive customer service from this company!

It looks like there is nothing much that can be done and I just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best, but again – any advice is appreciated as I’m up against a brick wall.


New York, NY


Quick follow up: I’ve called and written the T-Mobile executive suite and the T-Mobile legal department with a copy to the NY Consumer Protection Board, and so far no response.


Just wanted to take a minute and let you know how this turned out. On November 27, when I initially called T-Mobile, I was within the 14-day period to cancel the contract on the phone. I contacted the CEO/Executive Customer Service department, and Tammy Swonik (sp?) in the legal department. Tammy has not responded to my written correspondence or 2 follow up phone calls, however I’ve now received a phone call back (and been hung up on by) Anthony in the Executive Customer Service Department, whose direct line is 877-290-6323, ext. 3418012.

Anthony advised that since the time to cancel the contract had passed, I would be charged a fee to cancel the service, and was unmoved by the fact that the passage of time was T-Mobile’s fault because they failed to comply with my request on the day of my call. At contract law and under equity jurisdiction, in common law and here in NY State, a party to a contract that fails to act in compliance with a condition they’ve requested ( i.e. you only have *14 days* to cancel), waives the ability to enforce that condition – at least this is my law school memory, as I am not a contracts attorney. Otherwise, of course, any caller to T-Mobile could attempt to cancel and be denied for 14 days, thus losing the ability to cancel and being trapped into the $250 fee that is now the subject of litigation. Anthony was unmoved by this, simply re-stating that the time had passed, the time had passed, the time had passed and they were not going to assist me in any way. If I cancel now, they will charge me a fee – even though the failure to cancel within the time period was their fault.

When I asked for further contact information so I could make a formal complaint requesting release from my contract without liquidated damages, Anthony gave me Tammy Swonik’s (sp?) name. When I advised she was unresponsive to telephone calls and written correspondence, Anthony advised I must have an attorney to speak with their legal department (bullshit). When I advised truthfully that I am a lawyer (currently pending admission here in NY), Anthony said “no one in the legal department will call you back” and hung up on me.

So, here I am, stuck with two phone lines with T-Mobile and an unresposive, sarcastic and rude Executive Customer Service branch. But, at any rate, I thought the name and direct line of someone in that branch (however unhelpful they are) might be a good lead for others, or something to add to the Consumerist address book.


New York, NY



It looks like where you fell down was accepting the story about a rebate submission stalling a cancellation request. Seems like just a delaying tactic.

Lobbying the legal department is also probably a dead end.

At this point, I would try Executive Customer Service again. This time, instead of trying to cancel, push hard for the $50 rebate. On top of the price-matching, include the pain and acrimony and lies of the three first-tier customer service reps as further reason for the refund.

Also, If you wait for the original rebate to process, won’t it still be Thanks for the tip, free?

– Ben

Not really: T-Mobile will have borrowed my $50 free for 2 months (their estimation of average time frame) without compensating me, and I have no guarantee I’ll actually get the rebate. If they refuse the rebate or take an unreasonable time, I then have no recourse since they have run out the cancellation clock on me and claim that they take no responsibility and have no ability to control the rebate process since it’s executed by a third-party company unrelated to T-Mobile. It’s MUCH better to be in the position of the consumer who paid nothing, than the consumer who could, at some point, get $50 back after someone else has use of the money for several months. When I realized and requested the opportunity to join the preferred class of customers, they ran out the clock on me – offering me the option, and then by their own actions preventing me from accepting the offer. So I’ve just got my fingers crossed, I know I filled out the paperwork correctly so if they’re not totally screwing around it should be okay, sometime in 2007.

– Miss_Smartypants


Edit Your Comment

  1. RumorsDaily says:

    I bought a phone from T-mobile when I first picked up the service. The store listed the price as $100 but gave it to me for $50 (don’t know why). When I went home I saw that the phone was free online.

    I was travelling the next day, so I went a T-mobile store in the next city and asked for a rebate of what I paid, since it was free online. They said “that’s technically an online offer only, but sure, we’ll give you a credit for that amount of money.”

    Only later did I realize that they gave me a credit for the sticker price of $100 and not the $50 that I paid, so I ended up $50 up in the process. I guess it worked out better for me than Miss Smartypants.

  2. varco says:

    Not only does T-mobile get to borrow $50 interest-free for 2 months, but there’s always the exciting chance of rebate “breakage”.

  3. homerjay says:

    I think that anytime someone can cause a fuss about rebates and how they often ultimately resulting in a poor customer experience, I’m all for it.

    In this case, though, she’s struggling to make a point. There’s a point in there somewhere, but I don’t think she’s found it yet.

  4. MrBartokomous says:

    I think Miss Smartypants is overreacting a bit… Now, if two months pass and she hasn’t got her rebate check, she’s got every reason to raise high holy hell. T-Mobile is being a little rude in dismissing her, but they’re wrong in being rude, not in being dismissive. The thing I see being likely is that the rebates are handled by a third party or separate division, and as long as they get all their paperwork, they send out a check no questions asked. The concern of T-Mobile would be refunding her the difference and then sending out a check for 50 bucks as well.

    It sucks that the phone became free a few days later, but unless T-Mobile has a pricematching policy(which I doubt) you shouldn’t EXPECT them to pricematch a later deal. They haven’t wronged Smartypants, they just aren’t bending over backwards for her.

    Wait two months. If you still haven’t got your rebate, you’ll have no shortage of ammo to take them to town over… but right now, you’re overreacting when T-Mobile hasn’t done anything wrong. There’s potential for wrong. But no wrong yet.

  5. Hoss says:

    Mr Popken or Ms Marco (not sure which because this is the first blog item I’ve seen here which is not signed) — If you thought this contributor is insane or otherwise out of line, you should have refrained from posting her item. Why treat contibutors the way most large business treats us all by adding the voting buttons?

  6. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I think the principle here was a good one, but it’s an awful lot of fuss over two-months of interest on $50.00 (which amounts to less than $1.00 at 10% APR). If $1.00 is all you lose to a cell provider, my hat goes off to you.

    T-mobile is a huge faceless corporation whose only reason for existence is to make as much money as possible. Since mobile phones are in high demand, they really have no reason to care about one subscriber. Even though the phone became free through a web 0ffer after Miss_ Smartypants has “signed the contract,” a deal is a deal is a deal. It would have been a nice gesture for T-mobile to have given her the better deal, but she agreed to take whatever the terms were on the day she agreed to be bound by the contract. Although T-mobile is guilty of having rude and/or lousy customer service (not that I’d expect anything better from a cell carrier), I can’t see where they have really done anything technically wrong.

    While it really sucks to find a better offer a few days later, that’s just life. I would take the time to be suitably pissed off and annoyed, but I think I would move on.

    If they don’t honor the rebate, that is another subject entirely. Obviously whenever a company offers a rebate, they’re hoping you’ll forget or forget some minute detail so they won’t have to pay out. Nothing new here either.

  7. Plaid Rabbit says:

    You know what really sucks?

    Buying a $2500 computer, only to have it outdated in about 6 weeks. Happened to me with my “new” 17″ MacBook Pro. They upgraded to Core 2 Duo processors about six weeks after I got the thing.

    It’s just the breaks on a certain level. Like the poster above said – the person involved her has spent quite a few hours trying to get T-Mobile to give her instant compensation because they made about a dollar off of her $50 she paid, if that. Ever heard of doing a simple cost-benefit analysis?

    Move on.

  8. Plaid Rabbit says:

    Oh, I forgot one thing. As a happy T-Mobile customer who’s gotten two or three of their rebate offers, I’ve gotten every one I applied for back in about 3 weeks, not the two months they’ve always said it would take. If she did it online and then sent in the supporting paperwork, she’s good.

  9. dwarf74 says:

    Um, wait a sec and let me see if I understand this… She got the phone and sent in for a $50 rebate.

    Then she asked them to discount the phone a further $50.

    When I was a CSR, this was the kind of call I’d be telling all my buddies about. “Wow, I just talked to the craziest lady… She wants $100 off her phone!”

  10. I feel bad for you MissSmartyPants…I had virtually the same experience when I bought my e815 from Verizon. 1 week later I went back to the store and it was half the price I paid. However, Verizon immediately issued me the credit after I complained.

  11. RokMartian says:

    I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for quite a long time and have only had one issue with them last year, but that worked out. I’ve probably had about 4-5 rebates with them that were always on time, if not sooner. I see no value in pursuing this, all this accomplishes is wasting the time of the CSRs.

  12. miss_smartypants says:

    I want to point out that Ben cut my response off in the middle of a sentence. I actually said:

    “Not really: T-Mobile will have borrowed my $50 free for 2 months (their estimation of average time frame) without compensating me, and I have no guarantee I’ll actually get the rebate.”

    After reading everything I’ve seen here about rebate problems and “breakage”, until that $50 check is in my hands I’m not confident I’ll actually receive it (though responses from others that T-Mobile’s been okay on the rebate issuance help). When T-Mobile agreed that I could cancel the original offer and re-do it accepting the new offer of pay nothing, I requested to do so. They then turned around and delayed, refused, hung up on me, didn’t return calls for 3 days to prevent me from doing that.

    Under the agreement I “signed,” I was within my rights to cancel the rebate-deal and accept the new, better deal, if I requested to do so within 14 days of starting service on the new phone.

    But at any rate, thanks for the mis-quote of my response and the call out, Ben. Is that (a) uncourteous, or (b) unprofessional?

  13. Juancho says:

    I sympathize with Ms. Smarty Pants. You have to fight for whatever you can.

    I did an incredible amount of shopping around this past spring for a cell phone and provider. I’ve had T-Mobile since March of 2005, and I ultimately decided to stay with them because a) all cell phone service is basically the same and b) you got the most for your money with a one-year contract. I did a lot of research on Fat Wallet, and tried the various CSR angles, threatened to leave, etc., etc. The deals never really got better by going directly through T-Mobile. I ended up watching the deals, getting my RAZR free through CompUSA by re-upping for a year. I was also supposed to get a $50 rebate on the phone as well (even though I paid nothing for it), under the contract terms and having a receipt. They denied the claim, your typical “breakage”. That $50 would basically have been for one month of my service, and while it’s not a big deal (I got the phone I wanted for nothing, staying with the same company I was going to anyway), I still feel a little gypped.

  14. MeOhMy says:

    I think we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

    After passing up MUCH BETTER deals at other providers in exchange for not jumping ship AND signing a 2-year agreement which should prove to be quite profitable for them, they have the audacity to make you send in a rebate form containing information they ALREADY HAVE ON RECORD to get that last $50.

    If you can give any headache you can give T-Mobile over this ridiculous practice, you’re alright by me.

  15. You read my mind Troy! Why must I submit any documentation to receive a rebate? Especially when a store advertises a product for a price that includes the rebate refund. If a store advertises it at that price, then THEY should have to submit the rebate paperwork and wait for their money…It’s complete BS.

  16. I have to go with insane. My time is more valuable than whatever interest I’d get on my 50 bucks.

    Cut to the Maths:

    50 dollars in my ING orange savings account (5.88%) for 90 days = Interest earnings of ~$0.75

    My billable rate per hour ~$90 ~.75/~90=~.5 minutes.

    So the savings of the rebate works out to be worth about 30 seconds of my time. I’ll pass and just take the damn rebate.

    Which reminds me I’ve just pissed away about .75 of my company’s time to post this. :)

  17. miss_smartypants says:

    (a) Electoral College: Redo the math and tell me what it’s worth if you don’t get the rebate, and then because of the passage of time can’t do anything about it? And then tell me how you’d feel if you wasted that money, and knew that other people hadn’t had to, that they’d just gotten to keep their damn $50 in the first place.

    (b) This should have taken only 30 seconds. It should have been a 2 minute call to T-Mobile to say “Hey, 2 days later you changed the deal around and it’s only fair you work with me to make it right”. I think the whole point of our blatherings here on Consumerist is when what should have been simple – have a cable install appointment, cancel a service you don’t want, get a defective product replaced – turns into an enormous, pain in the ass process for a consumer who has to fight, scream and beg to get treated fairly, and then usually gets screwed anyway.

    Maybe popular opinion is that what I’m asking of T-Mobile goes beyond “fairly” to enter the realm of the mentally ill, and if I get my rebate in a timely manner maybe then I’ll agree. But so far no one has promised I’ll get my rebate at all, much less promptly.

  18. dwarf74 says:

    I’m still waiting to hear – why do you think you deserve $100 from T-Mobile rather than the $50 you were promised? I don’t see anything about you sending them their $50 back if they were to credit you $50 and you didn’t get the rebate.

    Sure, they have your cash for 2 months while you get nothing. So what? That’s what you agreed to in the first place.

    This is a real head-scratcher for me.

  19. miss_smartypants says:

    My request was to have the $50 I paid refunded in lieu of receiving a rebate. I can’t “send the rebate back” because I haven’t received it (if I ever do) and again I’ve asked them to credit me INSTEAD OF sending the rebate (same result to them, if they intend to promptly send the rebate).

    What I “agreed to in the first place” included a 14-day cancellation period. When I chose to exercise that option, they refused and then declined to assist me further, ultimately hanging up on me. That cancellation period, if complied with by T-Mobile, would have resolved the situation.

  20. what, consumer action heroes can’t be insane, too? where’s the fun in that?

    good luck, smartypants.

  21. lilyofthevalley says:

    it sounds like an awful lot of fuss. there are different deals going on at different times. if you, the consumer, don’t shop around, and chose something but then find that you could have had a better deal, don’t blame the company. and chances are, if you got hung up on, its likely because either the call legitimately got disconnected or you were harassing the rep. tmobile reps do not have to stay on a call when you’re yelling, using foul language, insulting them, etc. next time, shop around before agreeing to a deal and be nice to the reps, you’ll get a lot more when you do.

  22. Anonymous says:

    This is not a question.
    This is not a complaint.
    This is a statement about why I will not renew when my contract expires.
    When I bought my t-mobile motorola phone and t-mobile service from the t-mobile store in the Bonita Plaza Shopping Mall in Chula Vista CA, I told the sales rep that what wanted to do was have my computer send me updates on my daily appointments, send email to my computer, hook my laptop to the internet and generally integrate my phone and internet services. I was told that I needed an air-card of some kind to fit in the slot in my laptop. So I bought the motorola flip phone and then shortly thereafter the air card.
    When I tried to hook up the air card it did not fit in the hole in my Dell Laptop. I called the technician and was told I needed an express card.
    I asked for an express card and was told that it would not be available for another 3 months. At the end of 3 months, I called again and got the same answer 3 more months. After a year of this I finally cancelled the sservice. I guess I am too stupid to deal with t-mobile.’
    Then my motorola phone fell apart with one of the screws falling out of the case. I was told that I could not get it repaired. I bought a Nokia.
    I could not send text messages because when I tried the keys just put in scrambled letters. Just recently all of a sudden the keys started working normally and I could send a text message.
    So today I finally called 611 and asked how to send a text message to my email address and was told I needed to pay another $10 for that feature.
    Enough, when my contract expires I am going to whomever will give me service even if it is AT&T.
    Please send this message to corporate management.