Bad service, good service and dodgy demands for ID

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st mango INLSA Care?: Because a customer cancelled only one leg of a flight, Mango charged a fee, demanded a doctors certificate and gave her a limited voucher. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

If you buy something as a result of direct marketing, you get the right to back out of the deal without having to provide a reason, thanks to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

You have five business days in which to cancel the deal, in writing, for a full refund.

For example, if you agree to a cellphone contract when a telesales agent rings you up out of the blue, you have those five days in which to mull over the terms and conditions of the deal and decide whether or not you really want it.

And you get to cancel for no penalty, without having to provide a reason.

But if you initiate the “upgrade”, you have no such option. Cancel and you’ll be made to pay a hefty penalty.

The same should apply if you buy an air ticket in response to an e-mail from an airline advertising special offers – this makes it a direct marketing deal.

But this wasn’t Zulekha Badat’s experience with Mango Airlines. She made a return Durban to Joburg Mango booking on April 12 as a direct result of an e-mail from the airline advertising certain flights.

Within five business days she cancelled the first leg of her trip, in writing, at which point she was told she’d have to provide a doctor’s certificate to support her claim of being ill, and that she’d be refunded only in the form of a voucher – valid only for three months – minus a R170 “admin fee”. So I asked Mango Airlines to justify this position, given its apparent non-compliance with the CPA.

Spokesman Hein Kaiser said that had Badat cancelled her entire booking, “we would agree that perhaps it may have been a decision made in haste based on direct marketing”.

“However, Ms Badat chose only to use the one leg at her convenience and did not cancel the full trip.

“In such an instance Mango feels that it is entitled to charge a reasonable cancellation fee which covers our costs of the transaction.

“We do have products available such as Mango Plus and Mango Flex that offer flexibility and other benefits; these are sold at a premium and are available on our website.”

To my mind, suppliers don’t get subjectively to decide whether or not their customers deserve to benefit from the CPA’s protections, and to what extent.

If a deal is concluded as a result of direct marketing, the consumer should have the full protection which the act provides in such circumstances, if they cancel within five business days – a no-questions-asked refund.

So I sought the views of David Railo, head of research at the National Consumer Commission (NCC), who has been tasked with the responsibility of investigating airlines’ various contraventions of the act – particularly the continuing no-refund policy on budget ticket purchases. Railo agreed that Mango should have refunded Badat for the flight she cancelled – in full.

“We intend to come down hard on the airlines as soon as next week,” he said.

Want to win? Give us your ID number

Reader “Marilyn” alerted me to the fact that magazine publisher Caxton is insisting that those who enter its promotional competitions provide their ID numbers.

“With so much fraud about, I find this shocking,” she said.

So I raised the issue with Caxton Magazines marketing operations executive Reinhard Lotz, who said the CPA stipulated that “we need to keep a record of all identity numbers of prize winners, but a business decision was made by our marketing manager to request ID numbers upfront when the readers enter the competition”.

I pointed out that the CPA regulations requiring companies to keep a record of the ID numbers of prize winners for auditing purposes do not entitle companies to demand ID numbers from all competition entrants, failing which their entries would not be valid.

But he wasn’t about to budge. “The act does not state that these numbers may not be requested up front,” Lotz said.

“As part of the entry a reader is requested to enter certain keywords and provide personal details. If a reader wishes to enter these promotional competitions in our magazines they are required to send the requested information. If they do not wish to send these details, then the entry is incomplete.”

I ran this past Railo, who said the regulations were specific: ID numbers had to be requested of prize winners, “not from all the competition entrants”.

With identity fraud growing at an alarming rate, demanding ID numbers from competition entrants is prejudicial to them, and unwarranted.

l Last week the Department of Home Affairs launched a campaign to eradicate almost 30 000 duplicate identity documents.

To check the status of your ID, SMS the letter D followed by your ID number to 32551. You will get an SMS response, telling you if you are among those affected.

Getting it right

In response to my recent column about a Kia dealership which failed to provide a service book to the buyer of a second-hand, ex-rental company Picanto, until Consumer Watch’s intervention more than a year later, Bruce Morrison of Cape Town felt compelled to write about his positive Kia experience.

“May I relate my experience of the wonderful, if somewhat surprising, service I received from the Kia Table View dealership,” he began.

“Our daughter from Perth was coming to spend a month with us last December and we needed an extra car for the additional travelling around the Cape province.

“We saw an advert in November and made an appointment with Laurence Buchanan to test-drive a Golf 4 hatch they had just traded in.”

They settled on a purchase price of R40 000, conditional on the aircon being regassed, the miss in the engine being eliminated and the car being fully serviced, roadworthied, valeted and available within a week.

But all didn’t go according to plan. The aircon could not be regassed as the pump was faulty, so Kia paid for the repair. “The miss in the engine ended up requiring that the engine be completely overhauled and a noise in the gearbox also needed attention,” Morrison said.

Total cost: R12 000.

“Kia took responsibility for all the above,” he said.

“I am overwhelmed by the service I received.”

What an inspiring story. I can’t say I get many e-mails about problematic used cars which pan out as well as that.

And here’s another feel-good story, which, like the Kia one above, arose from a problem situation. This one’s from Christine Fettke, who booked flights, hotels and a cruise to Alaska for her and her husband at a Flight Centre branch last May.

Just a week after she’d paid for the package, her husband became ill and his doctors advised them to cancel the trip and not to travel for a year.

“After hitting a brick wall in our efforts to recoup our money for some months, we decided to approach the National Consumer Commission for help,” Fettke said.

“Initially we also felt we were not going to achieve anything, but Thulani Mbete, who took over our case in January, was professional, knowledgeable, friendly and at all times kept us in the loop.

“He immediately contacted Ilse Grimbeek at Flight Centre’s head office, and Angie Bridger, their client liaison officer, then approached us.

“Both had been unaware of the situation up to that point and proved very willing to go the extra mile.”

A meeting was arranged at the commission’s offices. “It proceeded on time and in a friendly atmosphere,” Fettke said.

“Flight Centre had in the meantime agreed to refund us their portion in full, and through their efforts we also came to a satisfactory arrangement with the cruise company.

“This is such a good news story – the National Consumer Commission is such a worthwhile organisation working for and together with the consumer, free of charge, and so often not recognised for the valuable work they do.”

To contact the commission, call 012 940 4500.