It doesn’t have to be “’Til Death do we Part”
I’ve received quite a few questions about the trial memberships and offers that are adding into my $20 challenge. I’ve only taken the plunge to sign up for these offers, but here are a few things I’ve learned:
There is a strong trend in the market right now to offer $1 trial memberships for “advantage”, or “service” programs. Many offers include $20-40 sign-on bonus incentives, encouraging you to sign up for the trials. This is a great way to be paid for evaluating the programs.
Sound too good to be true? It can be. You need to be fairly well organized, and take several precautions as you go along.
1) Be alert for scams.
I will put in a HUGE disclaimer here: NEVER EVER EVER click on an unknown link in an email. DON’T OPEN EMAIL IF YOU ARE NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE SENDER. Instead, if the sender references a known site, such as info@nameof theprogram.com, visit the site directly, or type the name of the program into your search engine and see if a legitimate site comes up.
Be extremely careful on any offer that requires a download, particularly if it’s software. Software that claims it will evaluate and fix your computer generally evaluates and at a minimum says it’s can’t be fixed without full purchase of the software. Worst case, you don’t buy the software and it has damaged your computer.
2) Use an incentive site link to increase your rewards
If you really want to receive offers and reap all the benefits of trial memberships or special deals, sign up with a website, and let them email the offers to you. One example is MyPoints, another is Inboxdollars.com. I’m sure there are many more, but these are the ones I’m trying.
One benefit of going through these incentive sites is that the offers are generally prescreened, and legitimate. That doesn’t make them fool-proof, but they aren’t going to send you to offers that will be hazardous to your computer.
A another key benefit to using the “reward” sites is that they give a minimal compensation, be it points, prizes, or even cash incentives, just for going to the offer website through their link. The reward sites will also offer additional incentives if you sign up for the offer. Some sites, such as MyPoints insider-club, will actually reimburse you for any S&H costs involved in signing up (exclusions may and do apply!).
3) Evaluate the Trial Membership Before Signing up.
While you may want to get straight to the incentives, it’s important to know the rules before you sign-on. Never give your credit card info until you have read the fine print. It may take a few click-thrus to get to the actual membership being offered, but that shouldn’t be a problem. And, NOT signing up immediately can actually reap more benefits (more on that below).
If you only want the free gift cards, skip to section 4 or 5
Let’s look at an example:
Try XXXXXXX® for 1 month for $1 with no obligation to continue and enjoy special discounts and rewards from the brands you know, plus get a $20 Lowe’s® Gift Card when you respond to the online form we’ll send you!
Click on the link to find out more, and a new page will open with more information on what the program is offering you:
When you try XXXXXXX® for 1 month for $1, you’ll enjoy greater home improvement ease thanks to informative How-To Guides, valuable discounts and rewards, and variety of resources to help you save on everything from moving to decorating. Plus, just by responding to the online form we’ll send you, you’ll receive a $20 Gift Card to Lowes®!
While the FREE GIFT CARD offer will likely be prominent on the screen, look at what the program is actually about. Home improvements? Moving expenses? Discounts?
At this point, most sites won’t give you access to MORE information, or the internals of their site, until you sign on. If you are just signing up for the free incentive, you may not care.
If you are serious about USING the free trial, be warned. The trial period will give you “access” to the offers and benefits, but you probably won’t be able to receive and use very many member benefits until after the trial period. Membership has it’s privileges, but information, coupons, and vouchers generally needed to use these features will probably lag past the trial membership period. The FREE GIFT CARD incentive is SEPARATE from the membership benefits
Think the offers through. Some “benefits” of membership, like 15% off at American Blinds, can be found in many other places online. Some like moving van lines or storage may be something you can really use if you are planning a move.
4) Membership Fees.
Read the terms! The trial membership is usually for 30 days. If you sign up on Friday or the weekend, your term typically does not start until the following Monday.
Now, lest you be scared off at this point, really LOOK at the terms. For example:
Simple & Secure Enrollment with Continuous Benefits, Easy Billing, and a Money-Back Guarantee. Try the service with the first month, for $1. Your membership will be extended automatically for an additional eleven months at the $119.99 annual membership fee, and automatically renewed annually at the then-current fee, billed to the credit card you provide unless you call toll free during your 1 month trial to cancel. You can call any time to cancel and get the unused portion of your then-current annual fee returned. The Lowe's® Gift Card is yours to keep.
This is important to note. The post-trial membership is $10 a month, and if you don’t cancel, you will be billed the entire yearly fee. If you cancel later, they will prorate your unused membership term. This is the “no risk” clause.
My tip…if you call to cancel at the end of your $1 trial period, they will push you to continue your trial. You will usually be offered a SECOND month trial for free (an extension), and at this point, they will offer, or you can press, to receive ALL the benefits of the membership.
If you want to reap the benefits of the membership time your trial against your needs. Home improvement project? Moving? Taking a vacation? TWO months for $1, plus two months for $10 each, balanced by receiving $20 in gift cards, equates to using the service free for FOUR months.
5) Reaping the Rewards
Again, look carefully at what is being offered.
The sign-on incentives CAN be misleading, so read them carefully. Do they offer gift cards, sent immediately through an email link, gift cards sent after you return a post card, or vouchers good quarterly while your membership remains active? Example…
Just try Great Fun! Your first month is only $1 with no obligation to continue. Plus, when you accept this trial offer and respond to the online form we’ll send you, you’ll get a $20 ExxonMobil Cash Card!
Note from the offer language, you will receive an email link where you will input your membership ID, and the gift card be mailed directly to you. No forms, no post card to receive and send back while your membership trial period expires. In my experience, I’ve received the membership ID within a few minutes, the link to provide mailing address for the gift card (which is sent by a separate company), within two days, and the actual gift cards within ten days of sign-up.
Not every offer comes with this benefit, so look carefully at the terms….
In contrast, AutoAdvantage promotes an offer for $40 free gas…click on the link, and the offer language is:
[i[Simple & Secure Enrollment with Continuous Savings, Easy Billing, and a Money-Back Guarantee. Try the service with the first month for $1. Your membership will be extended automatically for an additional eleven months at the $119.99 annual membership fee, and automatically renewed annually at the then-current fee, billed to the credit card you provide unless you call toll free during your 1-month trial to cancel. You can call any time to cancel and get the unused portion of your then-current annual fee [/u[returned. The $40.00 [u]in Gas is yours to keep.[/i]
Note, this is not a GIFT CARD offer. In this case, you will receive 4 vouchers by mail for $10 rebates that must be returned with a receipt. Each voucher is good QUARTERLY, and only valid if your membership is valid and currently active!
Something to consider, though, is that you will still receive a $10 bonus for the $1 membership, and the $10 comes as a cash check, not a gift card. Whether the benefits outweigh the trouble, well, that’s up to you.
I will note that in this case I received and returned the voucher before the end of my trial period, I canceled my trial membership, and still received the rebate check after my membership was terminated.
6) Maximizing your Returns.
There are many takes on the ethics of maximizing the rewards you receive. The following are simply facts on how the system works; use your own best judgment on what you feel is right.
Using the Reward Sites
If you go through MyPoints, (or other incentive sites) you will see a slightly different message for the offer, highlighting the benefits of signing up through their link:
You’ll receive your $20.00 Lowe's® Gift Card and a one-month trial of xxxxxx all for just $1 with no obligation to continue. Plus, 200 Points! Just reply to the online form we'll send you to get your Gift Card.
The 200 points goes into your MyPoints account, and as offers and points accrue, they themselves can add up to a nice reward.
Using Multiple Reward Sites or Accounts
Does your SO have a separate email account? Do you have multiple email accounts? EACH email address can sign up for the same reward site, and receive the points, and an additional gift card/trial offer reward for accepting offers when going through the site link with that email account.
Join multiple sites, My Points, InBoxDollars, you can sign up for the offers through BOTH reward sites and receive the gift cards for each account.
Using Multiple Credit Cards
You can repeat the trial offer and receive the gift card or other reward multiple times. The name, address, email account can be identical, the only thing required is a unique credit card number.
I will note here that this is well known and acceptable to some offerers. I have actually called Trilegiant to cancel my husband’s membership, and they promptly pulled up three open accounts, as well as my past membership. This is not true of ALL offers, but Trilegiant does allow this.
7) Other types of Trial Offers
Membership for services and purchasing are not the only game in town. Especially if you go through a reward site, you will find many “try me free” offers, with incentives for visiting the site and signing up (typically 200 points).
Common examples are dieting/health/vitamin samples. Get a month free, receive 200 points, and other benefits.
A few points to note:
Shipping and Handling Costs. Many of us have rushed to sign up for a “freebie”, only to find that the S&H charges more than made up for the price of the product. But there are ways to get around these things.
a) The pop-up offer. Let’s take an example.
Trimlife offers a range of dietary products.
A 7-day trial and $56 package…for only $5.95 shipping charges
Now close the window with pop-ups allowed…
Now you have…60% off S&H -- $1.99 total
This just about balances against the 200 points or cash back from the reward site (MyPoints, Inboxdollars…)
This can be true of the gift card offers, as well. Frequently an offer will come to you as a $10 g/c, or even a “prize”. Decline, and you will often receive a pop-up for a $20 g/c, a better prize, or even an email with a separate deal.
b) The S&H rebates. MyPoints Insiders-Club has their own membership, and trial membership ($1 for the first month). Once you sign up, any offers or purchases made through their site qualify for reimbursement of S&H charges. You simply go to the insiders-club site, fill in the information on the purchase, and mail in the proof of S&H when you receive it. MyPoints issues a rebate check, which arrives within 4 weeks.
There is also a $10 rebate for signing up with Insiders-Club. I used it to purchase the 2006 Entertainment book at half price, received a $25 restaurant certificate from Entertainment.com, and had the S&H rebated by the Insiders-Club. It worked, with all cash rebates received in my mailbox within the month.[/i]
8) Cancellation Terms, Phone Numbers, and Addresses
I’ve listed this last, because it’s the most important. Look at the terms!!!
Before you sign up for anything, look for the link to Terms & Conditions. It’s usually at the bottom of the page or offer. Scroll through the info and read the fine print. Look for:
5. MEMBERSHIP FEE - The then-current annual fee will be billed to your designated credit card account under the terms described.
6. RENEWALS - Unless you notify Trilegiant Corporation that you do not wish to renew your membership, Trilegiant Corporation will automatically renew your membership at the end of each term and bill the then-current membership fee to the designated credit card.
7. RIGHT TO CANCEL MEMBERSHIP - You have the right to terminate this Agreement at any time. You may cancel this Agreement by calling 1-877-488-9480 or writing to Great Fun at P.O. Box 1029, Trumbull, CT 06611. If you cancel this Agreement during your trial period, you will not owe any membership fee. If you discontinue your membership at any time after the trial period, you can receive a refund of the unused portion of your then-current annual membership fee, upon request. You will remain liable for any other fees or charges to be paid pursuant to this Agreement.
Copy and paste this information into a file, print it, but ALWAYS keep a list of the numbers and addresses to cancel your membership.
My own tip. Once you are a member of the site, sign in and LOOK AT THE TERMS for the standard trial membership. Chances are it’s two months, can be canceled via mail (even if your original offer did not state this), and there may be other incentives. This info is power! If you want to extend your trial, call them and note the difference. Don’t be afraid to tell them you will cancel if you don’t receive the standard offer. They WANT you to keep your membership, and they will almost always honor the terms listed on the site.
Keep your cancellation confirmation number. This applies to any phone contact, even if you don’t cancel. Get a call number, and keep a record.
You don’t have to cancel by phone! The cancel by phone term benefits the company, because they want to keep you on board! However, you can ALWAYS cancel IN WRITING, and the cancellation is effective the date of the postmark. Just make sure you provide your membership number/ID. Personally, I always cut and paste their exact clause for cancellation into my letter.
9) Just In Time Cancellation
This is usually the main concern!
With gift card rewards, they usually arrive even before your membership materials! With voucher systems, it’s a bit more complicated. However, as long as your return (postmark) your voucher/claim/postcard with a membership ID that is valid at the time of mailing, they are REQUIRED to send your reward.
Ready to cancel? It’s fairly easy to set a reminder service on your computer, PDA, cell phone, whatever you use. I use the email reminder service on my browser, which I set up to email me DAILY starting TWO WEEKS after my sign-up date. You can even include the phone number, membership number, or other information. Me, I cut and paste the info into a Word document, so it’s all gathered together. I also keep a letter template ready to go, so I can just drop the address and membership number in. You can even type these up ahead of time and have them ready to go.
Want to keep the trial a bit longer? Call and say you haven’t had time to evaluate it, and may need to just cancel. Usually they will extend your evaluation period, for free
A few current offers to consider (AND I AM NOT AFFILIATED WITH THESE!)
GIFT CARDS, non-voucher:
$20 Exxon gas cards, Great Fun
$20 Lowe’s g/c, complete home
$20 Barnes and Noble g/c, Netmarket
$20 circuit city, Buyers Advantage
$20 Bed, Bath and Beyond, Everyday values
Voucher/Cash Back Rebates
$25 cash back, Shoppers Advantage
$20 circuit city, PC Safety Plus (requires post card be received and returned)
$20 cash back, Bargain Network
Receive 4 $10 rebate certificates, Auto Advantage
Receive 4 $10 rebate certificates, Health Saver
free MP3 player, Netmarket
Trial Memberships, for Better or Worse
It doesn’t have to be “’Til Death do we Part”
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