AT&T Universal: Reinterpreting “No Annual Fee For Life”

No Annual Fee For lifeReader Bill has been a gold AT&T Universal Card since they were since introduced in the early 1990s and was annoyed when he learned that he’d be charged a $30 annual fee starting this month, September 2010. Here’s his email to me:

AT&T introduced its Universal Card back in 1990, and with the card came the written guarantees ‘no annual fee for life’, and ‘no annual fee–ever.’ Remember that? Well, I’m not sure whose life they were talking about (obviously not mine), but I received a notice last summer that my account would be charged an annual fee, beginning with the September, 2010 statement. I’ve run across lots of people online who are in the same boat I am–fighting an annual fee that was never supposed to happen. Some have been successful in getting the fee waived for at least the first year, others have not. I’ve been promised twice that the fee would be waived and a confirmation letter sent to me, but so far no letter has been received.

It’s my humble opinion that reeling in somewhere between one and two million customers by promising them no annual fee for life–and then charging them an annual fee–amounts to a bait-and-switch manuever, and my research online tells me that the bait-and-switch manuever is illegal in all 50 states.

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Cashback/Rewards Card Review – AT&T Universal Cash Rewards

ATT Universal Cash Rewards CardThis offer has expired.

Do you buy groceries? Have you seen the skyrocketing price of gasoline? This card gives you 5% cashback on both. It also gives you 1% on everything else, 30 free phone minutes a month, and a whole host of other random credit card protections that you probably don’t care about.

Everything I’m going to tell you in terms of benefits is available from their application page, but keep reading for my personal experiences with them.

The 5% for gasoline is clutch, especially with gas over $2 a gallon. With 5% you are getting over ten cents back, which pushes the price under $2 (my psychological break point). I used to get gas at Costco because it was about 5 cents cheaper than the closest Exxon, but after 10 cents off the Exxon gasoline is cheaper.

The cash-back process is a little strange. The max cash-back is $300 (boo!) and you have to specifically request your checks (why?) and they have to be greater than $50. The cap isn’t the strange part, it’s the specific requesting of your check that doesn’t make sense to me. Just do it automatically so you don’t have to pay someone to take my call. A little known fact is that you also get 5% back on “eligible AT&T consumer products and/or services.” I have an AT&T Wireless cell phone plan and hopefully this will cover it, otherwise I get the typical 1%.

The free minutes and the other telephone stuff is pretty useless because I have a cell phone so that’s not a good reason to get the card. There is also an free annual review of your purchases which breaks down the categories in which you spent your money. You probably should run a budget and use that as an accurate measure of your spending, not this free annual review.

Also, Citi is very aggressive in trying to keep people on the program. I threw out the $15 check (I regret it because $15 is more than the typical $3 for signing up) so I’ll have to wait until they send it out again. I called and asked but the only thing the CSR can offer is a “rebate check” where you purchase something, send in a receipt, then get a check… too much hassle.

As always, comments are great appreciated.

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