Rebates Mystify Even The Wall Street Journal

In a recent experiment the Wall Street Journal conducted, only 1 in 5 of the rebate checks arrived without difficulty. They couldn’t find followup contact info, missed dates, and misplaced forms.

Obviously, they need to read our post, “HOW TO: Rebate Whore“, which lays out the system one professional rebater uses to keep track of all his rebates.

See, most rebate companies use a scientifically crafted and patented system designed to increase the likelihood of “breakage,” which means that you’ll mess up something at some point and void your rebate.

Tips to ensure your rebate’s arrival…

• Read all fine print and follow instructions to a T
• Notarize your receipts (Bank of America does this free for account holders)
• Use delivery confirmation when sending in your forms
• Scrutinize the mails as “rebate checks often resemble junk mail”
• Use a calendar, spreadsheet, and filing cabinet to track your rebate.

Rebates are designed to trip you up, but the careful and diligent bargain hunter can still use them successfully. — BEN POPKEN

Waiting for Rebate Checks to Arrive [WSJ]
(Photo: Brandie!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Sudonum says:

    “• Notarize your receipts”

    Last time I used a Notary it cost me $35. As far as I’m concerned unless it’s an “Instant Rebate” they aren’t worth the hassle. Go somewhere that wants your business by offering you the lowest price without making you jump through hoops to get it.

  2. JPropaganda says:

    My dad swears by the rebate system. He scans all of his receipts and UPCs and if a rebate company claims that he didn’t provide the right information, he has proof that they were included in the envelope. I’m pretty sure he has received almost 100% of his rebates over the last 20 or so years (before scanning he used to copy the receipts.)

  3. unchi says:

    Nice to see T-Mobile gets another feather in their hat for customer service. I never include the cost of “mail-in-rebate” on an item when I plan on purchasing it just to avoid this whole mess. If I do get the rebate back, it feels like ‘free money’.

  4. lordkenyon says:

    @Sudonum. Yikes. Most states have statutory limits as to what you can be charged for notary services (e.g. $2 for Ohio). Though it does seem like notarizing the receipts is a bit overkill.

    Just read carefully all the terms and scan or make a copy of what you sent with delivery confirmation. Or better yet, try to negotiate with the store to give you an instant rebate instead of the mail in (only works once in a while, but still worth a shot)!

  5. Mariallena says:

    I never had problem with my mail-in rebates. Just follow the instructions (if you can read, you can follow the instructions) and you’ll get your check.

    The beauty of the mail-in rebate is that you get a discount that can’t be offered to everybody and since a lot of people do not mail the request or mail it incorrectly, you end up getting the product well below average price.

  6. missdona says:

    Sprint seems to use a “reject everything, use random reasons” system. My Sprint rebate was rejected because I had not been a customer for more than 12 months, but the rebate I applied for was for new customers.

    One phone call solved it, but if I wasn’t careful, I would have tossed the postcard and lost my $150.

  7. crnk says:

    I’d say that notary and delivery confirmation are a little bit much…a quick copy and everything filled out correctly has got me all rebates I’ve submitted. The only two rebates I haven’t got were just me not taking the time and effort to fill out and send the information in.

    A note about the WSJ “test”….it is a bit misleading. Sorry, but you can’t use the “our tester failed to mail the rebate” as a legitimate excuse for a rebate not being processed.
    Plus, neither the article or consumerist noted that they DID get the rebate on 3 of the 4 items that were submitted….making the 20% success rate reported actually a 75% success rate. Not great, but almost 4 times better than they make you believe.

  8. PrinceTuesday says:

    Although Jiffy Lube is not known as one of the most consumer-friendly businesses in the world, I did have a good experience with a mail-in rebate promotion they are running. Allright, it is not really a rebate, but a buy an oil change, send in a bunch of paperwork and get a coupon for a free oil change.
    Anyway, they give you the form to fill out while you wait for your oil to be changed. When you pay for the oil change, they stuff the form and a copy of your receipt into an envelope and hand you the whole package. You just need to add a stamp and drop it in the mailbox.
    Now, if I could get them to actually change my oil, and not just say tell me they changed my oil…

  9. spinfire says:

    I don’t have a copy machine or a scanner. How about taking and storing/printing a hi-res (5MP) photo with my camera? Do you think this is an adequate substitute for scanning items?

    Certainly the text should be plenty clear in a high resolution photo with my camera.

  10. Starfury says:

    My friends father (retired) is a big fan of rebates. He’ll buy stuff that’s “free” after rebate, put in the paperwork and then Ebay the item. He’s got a tracking system for all the rebates he sends in and uses 3 addresses of local family members for the rebates. Sometimes he’ll get more on Ebay than he paid for the item plus the rebate.

  11. missdona says:

    Immoral or Genius:

    A rebate says “one per household.” Husband & Wife have different last names; he signs his rebate Apt 1, she signs hers Apt A. Therefore the “household” files two rebates.

  12. BillyMumphry says:


    immoral…those people probably get water cups and fill up with coke…how shiesty can you be?

  13. G-Dog says:

    I simply never buy items with a rebate scam attached.

  14. missdona says:


    I think it’s minorly sheisty. But, I don’t think it is as akin to stealing, as filling water cups up with coke is.

  15. Buran says:

    @missdona: Not much of a cost difference there. The stores charge you more for the soda because people don’t realize how much they’re being overcharged. And they get away with it too because people don’t bother to research.

    I don’t do that, but I can see why people do.

    But who’s the worse scumbag? Given all the other unethical things these big megacorps do, I’m not sure.

  16. Buran says:

    @crnk: I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that you didn’t get a rebate because you lost the paperwork. It’s one more thing they hope you’ll do, so that you can’t file for your refund.

  17. higginsrj says:

    @Mariallena: I’m happy for you that you’ve been lucky, but no, it’s not that simple. There’s plenty of evidence that lots of very smart people follow directions to the letter and STILL don’t get their rebate. You may get it eventually if you raise hell, but the evidence is overwhelming that lots of companies have a “deny-first” policy.

  18. Where can I get a rebate on my Pabst?!

  19. facted says:

    Is anyone else a little perplexed by their “experiment”? It wasn’t like they followed the directions and only 1 rebate was fulfilled. They mention themselves that they let the date go by for one of them, that they couldn’t find a proof of purchase for another, and the ADT one is also a little questionable given that ADT did nothing wrong really.

    It’s not to say rebates are super-easy to figure out, but let’s also not exaggerate and say that only 1/5 rebates was filled and the rest was somehow the manufacturer’s fault.

  20. wiltony says:

    Listen to yourselves, people! Notarizing receipts? Elaborate tracking spreadsheets?

    The corporate big-wigs are laughing it up as we sheeple jump through their hoops, while they’re awash in our cash.

    Mail-in rebates are indeed a racket. They are unfair and abusive to the average consumer.

    And don’t get me started on how ludicrous Dell Mail-in Rebates are. You’re already dealing WITH THE MANUFACTURER for heaven’s sake!

  21. Jmarsh04 says:

    Back in November, I bought a 24″ iMac with a Canon all-in-one machine, and Microsoft Office student edition. The Canon printer/scanner/copier came with a $100 mail-in-rebate, and Office came with a $15 mail-in-rebate. I mailed both in on the same day, less than a week after I made the purchases. I received the $100 in about three weeks, and never received the $15.

    The truth is, I’m just not willing to spend the time and resources to follow-up on that $15, and I’m sure they (Microsoft) know that. I would have purchased the software regardless of the rebate. It just kills me that companies can get away with this (among other things).

  22. Keter says:

    I don’t count on small rebates (less than $20). Usually, they are attached to products that won’t sell otherwise because a better or equal product is at or below the same price point. I buy the better product instead.

    Rebates also can signal an obsolete product they’re trying to get rid of before the new version goes to market. This can sometimes be a great way to get a good product for half-price. If the item appears on the verge of sales obsolescence but still will meet all of your needs, buy it!

    For example, items that use electronic memory have short life cycles, as each generation often has double the memory capacity of its predecessor. I got a terrific tiny digital video camera/3MP still camera/voice recorder combo to record meetings and whiteboard scribbles for work…it’s perfect for that purpose and will be all I will need for years…for $50 after rebate at Radio Shack because the newer model (which is crappily made) has double the memory capacity.