In The News

Why Lower Fares at Frontier Mean You'll Actually Pay More

Your carry-on luggage now will cost you an extra $25 to $100 dollars at Frontier Airlines.

Frontier Carry On Fees

Photo: Cubbie_n_Vegas / Flickr (via Wikimedia Commons)

Starting yesterday (4/28/14), Frontier changed to an ultra-low fare model and is boasting that the change means that airfares are now an average of 12% lower than they were before the switch. The catch is that they will now charge up to $50 per direction if you want to take a carry-on bag with you on the flight. It's also worth noting that a checked bag is $20 - or $5 less than the cheapest carry-on option. And thus Frontier joins Spirit and Allegiant as the third U.S. domestic airline to begin charging travelers for carry-on luggage.

"With an unbundled product, customers can save even more by choosing to pay for only the products that they want, allowing them to customize their flight experience for each and every flight," said David Siegel, CEO of Frontier Airlines, in a press release posted to FlyFrontier.com. "With today’s further reduction in Frontier’s amazing low fares our customers will find even greater value and our guaranteed lowest fare when they book at FlyFrontier.com."

So Frontier is doing its best to convince the flying public that this change is to their benefit, but let's be honest: When was the last time you flew without a carry-on?

Frontier understands what every modern air traveler knows: Overhead bin space is at a premium now that flyers use it to avoid checked baggage fees. No profit-motivated business, and especially not an airline, is going to lower prices just for the good of the consumer. If it's not adding to their bottom line, they're not going to do it. And when you crunch the numbers here, the truth becomes clear. Frontier may have lowered fares, but they actually raised their prices. 

Frontier's new carry-on bag fee schedule:

Pay the carry-on fee during booking $25 each way
Pay during online check-in $30 each way
Pay when you add it to an existing reservation $35 each way
Pay while checking in at the airport
(both self-service and at the counter)
$35 each way
Pay at the gate during boarding $50 each way

You can check out Frontier's full Carry-On Baggage Policy and all of its fine print for more details.

And now for the math that shows why this is going to cost travelers more.

Read More

Amazon Will Collect Sales Tax in 21 States as of 5/1

The free ride is over for Floridian fans of Amazon.com. As of May 1, 2014, Amazon will begin charging sales tax on all orders in the state thanks to the opening of two new fulfillment centers in the state, and the average sales tax will be around 6%.

Amazon Sales Tax List 2014

Photo: Seth Anderson / Flickr

Amazon never charged sales tax in Florida previously because the Seattle-based online retailer had no physical presence in the state. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax and this is, consequently, why many online retailers only charge sales tax in one or two states where they've got brick and mortar or warehouse locations. Although the IRS has long required taxpayers to report any unpaid sales tax on items purchased online,  this legal requirement has never been effectively enforced, and most consumers aren't even aware of the requirement. "Even if consumers do know, they often fail to comply because they assume no one else does," Bob Meighan CPA, a vice president with tax-software firm TurboTax, told NBC News in 2008. Although the NBC News story is now six years old, neither the law nor its lack of enforcement has changed.

Frank Mora of Ybor City told the Tampa Bay Times that the new Amazon sales tax will lead him to look elsewhere for the lowest prices. "It will definitely discourage me from using Amazon. The bottom line for me is what's going to be the least expensive.''

Bloomberg reported this week on a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University which showed that households reduce their spending at Amazon by 10% after sales tax is introduced in their states. "There is no ambiguity,” Brian Baugh, co-author of the study, told Bloomberg. “It has been their competitive advantage." Nonetheless, the new Amazon sales tax in Florida is expected to bring in an additional $70-80 million in annual revenue for the state.

Here is the list of the 21 states where Amazon currently collects sales tax:

Read More

Michaels Offering Free Credit Monitoring After Credit Card Breach

If you've already signed up for Target's free credit monitoring, you can stack it with Michaels' offer to get two years instead of just one. Details below.

Following up on news of a credit card breach initially reported in late January, popular craft and hobby retailer Michaels revealed the findings of their investigation into the security breach which potentially exposed approximately 3 million credit cards to hackers.

Michaels Free Credit MonitoringThe company's statement reveals that the breach occurred between May 8, 2013 and January 27, 2014 at Michaels stores and between June 26, 2013 and February 27, 2014 at Aaron Brother's locations. For both stores, the information was stolen using malware installed on a limited number of cash registers and did not affect online purchases.

Information taken by the hackers includes card numbers and expiration dates. It is not believed that any other personal information, such as name, address or PIN numbers, was breached.

Read More

Bitcoin: Its Flaws, Its Future, and Where to Spend It

Bitcoins: Likely headed for a Tulipmania-like crash. Image via i8seattle on Flickr.

In 1630s Holland, the in-vogue product was tulips. The price of the flower rose dramatically, and many people paid a pretty penny for one. Then, the price abruptly fell. Later, this period of time was called Tulip Mania. How is this relevant to today?

Experts predict a similar thing will happen with Bitcoin, a volatile digital currency. During its five year history, the amount of money Bitcoins are worth has changed significantly. Now, they're worth an inflated sum of money—and, all things that go up must go down, too. Therefore, it's likely that right now we're in a "Bitcoin bubble" that has to burst sometime. According to Nout Wellink, the former president of the Dutch Central Bank, the popularity and inflated price of Bitcoins is worse than tulips in the 17th century. "At least then you got a tulip [at the end], now you get nothing," he said.

How does Bitcoin work?

It can be used for purchases instead of cash or credit cards. Users have virtual wallets and keys. The unique keys can be used to send payment to or receive payment from other virtual wallets. Bitcoin operates via mathematical equations and computer verification.

What are some of Bitcoins' flaws?

Bitcoin—and other digital currencies—seek to challenge "typical" currency that is highly regulated, with rules attached to its use. In contrast (and by intentional design), Bitcoin is largely unregulated. While in theory this lack of regulation is a good thing (there isn't a "middle man"), in practice, Bitcoin has fallen short.

Due to the lack of regulation, it is impossible to get your Bitcoin money back if you lose the key. If you lose a credit card, you can call up the company and tell them to freeze your card.  This isn't the case with Bitcoin. For example, James Howells accidentally threw out a hard drive with 7,500 Bitcoins (roughly $7.5 million dollars). He simply forgot that they were stored there. Howells can't call up Bitcoin to get his money back—the only way to retrieve the money would be to find the hard drive with the key in a landfill (where it likely is... somewhere).

Read More

How to Return Your Recalled Fitbit Force (and Possibly Make a Profit)

The Fitbit Force earned rave reviews when it was initially released, even winning the top spot on TIME's list of the top 26 fitness trackers. But then reports of skin irritation and allergic reactions slowly began to surface until a few days ago when Fitbit halted sales of the Fitbit Force and voluntarily recalled those already sold. How to return your Fitbit Force

While the consensus is that some users likely are reacting to the nickel in a small metal component (a common jewelry allergy), there is speculation that it might also have something to do with the glue used in manufacturing. It's not a hugely serious problem, but Fitbit decided to take action out of an abundance of caution.

You can find the Fitbit Force Return Kit Request Form here.

Here is our take on your options with regards to the Fitbit Force recall, including how you might even make a profit from returning it. 

Read More

What You Need to Know About the Graco Recall and Your Options

Baby equipment manufacturer Graco announced a massive recall of 3.7 million convertible car seats and child booster seats yesterday over concerns that the buckles may trap children in their seats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended recalling 18 seat models. Graco has agreed to recall 11 of those, all of which are for toddlers and older children. The seven other models that the NHTSA recommended for recall (and which Graco is contesting) are infant seats.

Recalled models include:

Recalled Graco Harness Buckle Photo

A side-by-side photo of the recalled Graco harness buckles (left) and their new and improved replacements (right).

  • Cozy Cline
  • Comfort Sport
  • Classic Ride 50
  • My Ride 65
  • My Ride 65 with Safety Surround
  • My Ride 70
  • Size4Me 70
  • My Size 70
  • Head Wise 70
  • Smart Seat
  • Nautilus 3-in-1
  • Nautilus Elite
  • Argos

Models recommended for recall but for which an official recall has not been issued:

Read More

The Cost of Amazon Prime Is Going Up? Time to Cancel Netflix

When I set out to cover this story, I'll admit that this is not the headline I had in mind. How do you get from an Amazon Prime price hike to canceling Netflix? On the surface, the connection seems tenuous at best. But the more I dug in, the more this conclusion seemed obvious. I'll start this off with a little background and news about the potential price hike, and then I'll detail how and why it makes sense to cancel Netflix instead of Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime Price Increase

Photo: Mike Seyfang / Flickr

News broke late last week that Amazon seriously considering raising the price of an Amazon Prime membership by as much as $40. Amazon's Chief Financial Officer Thomas Szkutak mentioned the possible price hike on Thursday in a conference call discussing Q4 results, and cited rising fuel costs as the primary reason why it might happen.

An Amazon Prime membership currently runs $79 per year, a cost which many cash-strapped online consumers already find cost prohibitive. However, it would be the first price increase for Prime since it was launched nearly a decade ago in 2005. How many services can you name that today cost the same as they did nine years ago? Consider, too, that Amazon Prime today offers members significantly more than its initial offering of only free 2-day shipping - so you actually get more bang for your buck today than you did nine years ago.

Read More

How to Sign Up for Free Credit Monitoring from Target

We promised last week that we would follow up with details on how Target customers affected by the data breach can sign up for the free year of credit monitoring that they announced they would be offering, and this is that post. Monitoring will be provided via Experian's ProtectMyID service.

Photo: Jay Reed / Flickr

The form asks for your full name and email address. Once entered, you will receive an activation code within 1-5 days (mine arrived in about 10 minutes), along with further instructions for setting up your credit monitoring. After submitting your code, you will be asked for personal information that includes your social security number. You'll also be asked to verify a few basics, like a street you used to live on or a loan application you recently submitted, to doubly and triply establish that you are who you say you are.

If the idea of handing out your SSN online feels weird and wrong, and it generally should, trust that Experian is a rare exception to the rule. Experian is one of the three major credit bureaus and absolutely is considered trustworthy. You cannot set up credit monitoring without completing this step, and it would not be an effective service if you could.

Click here to Sign up for Free Credit Monitoring

Just in case there is any confusion: You are NOT giving your sensitive personal information to Target.

We feel it's definitely worth your time to sign up, especially since we heard about a similar breach at Neiman Marcus over the weekend, and an anonymous but apparently knowledgeable source noting that at least three other unnamed major retailers have also been hacked recently. Credit monitoring will cover a lot more than Target.

You can check out our previous coverage of the Target breach here:

Target Offers Free Credit Monitoring After Discovering Personal Info Also Stolen

Target confirmed earlier today that the Black Friday credit card data breach included the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of up to 70 million individuals, nearly doubling the number of affected customers. Target also confirmed that this news is not indicative of a second data breach, but are part of the same one already under investigation.

Target Credit Card Breach 2014

Photo: Patrick Hoesly / Flickr

The key takeaway from today's revelation is that customers whose credit card info was stolen might have had personal info stolen as well - and that means that, in some cases, the thieves may have enough information to cross over from credit card fraud into full-blown identity theft.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst at technology research company Gartner, spoke of that possibility to NBC News. "They steal and combine what was stolen in previous breaches. There are warehouses of information on people and dossiers. Now we've got John's credit card, his address, his phone number... they do put it together and sell entire profiles on people."

Target also notes that much of the stolen data is incomplete, and that they will be reaching out to affected customers when an email address is available, but made no mention of any plans to contact others by mail. You can be certain that other thieves have already begun crafting their own phishing scams designed to look like email from Target. “If you see an email that asks you to click a link to a site and provide sensitive information, stop and don't click or provide any data,” said Brian Krebs, the founder of Krebs on Security, the site that first broke the store of the Target leak.

Read More

Amazon, Walmart, Kohl's and Groupon Offer Compensation for Missed Christmas Shipping Deadlines

UPS may have planned for 132 million deliveries in the week before Christmas, but a shorter than usual shopping season, an unprecedented number of last minute free shipping offers driving increased demand, and ice storms in various parts of the United States all combined to overwhelm both UPS and rival FedEx. “It is unfortunate for this to happen at this time of year, but we’re working around the clock to fix it,” said UPS spokeswoman Natalie Black. “We had our peak projections, and the volume has exceeded our projection. We are sorry.”

UPS Missed Christmas Delivery Deadline

Photo: I3aac / Flickr

Black also noted that UPS would be honoring their air and international shipping guarantees, which promises a refund of shipping charges "to the payer only". For online shoppers, that means that shipping charges will be refunded to retailers, and it will be up to those retailers to issue shipping refunds to their customers in turn. However, the fine print of the guarantee specifically excludes certain deliveries in the week leading up to Christmas, stating that "The guarantee does not apply to UPS 2nd Day Air or UPS 2nd Day Air A.M. shipments that are scheduled to be delivered between December 12 and December 25." (Look for the "UPS Air Services Service Guarantee" section for all of the fine print.)

If you were impacted by holiday shipping delays, you may have a few options for getting your money refunded. Several major retailers have announced refunds along further compensation to apologize for the embarrassing inconvenience. If a retailer you purchased from isn't listed below, we strongly suggest calling their customer service line to ask about getting a refund on any shipping charges.

A few tips for contacting retailers:

  • Calling is better than emailing. It's much easier to negotiate compensation with a real person than with an email response bot that might not get back to you for several days.
  • Be patient. Retailers are very likely to be experiencing a high volume of calls from others who are looking for information about their own missing orders.
  • Be nice to the person who answers the phone. The folks who work in the customer service call centers are hearing from a lot of angry, frustrated customers right now. Be pleasant and you're much more likely to get a good outcome than if you are blaming them for ruining your Christmas. Besides, the chances are excellent that the retailer did everything right in getting your order to the shipper on time, so it's probably not even really their fault.

Amazon

Amazon was quick to offer some consolation to its customers in the form of a $20 gift card and a refund of any shipping charges for packages that fell victim to the shipping delays. However, Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako also threw UPS under the bus noting that, "Amazon fulfillment centers processed and tendered customer orders to delivery carriers on time for holiday delivery. We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers." NBC Bay Area posted an excerpt from the email. "We’ve refunded any shipping charges associated with your shipment," the Amazon email says. "We’d also like to provide you with a $20 gift card to compensate for this inconvenience."

Read More