AT&T offered a discount on wireless service and then backed out — now what?


Question: I was recently offered a 22 percent discount through AT&T wireless through my employer. When I asked about the details, I was told the discount was off the entire bill. Every time I called AT&T before making the decision, I asked if the discount was off the entire bill. Every time I was assured that it was.

My husband and I decided this was a great benefit and we should take advantage of it. I applied for the discount at work and set the wheels in motion.

The process was difficult. The first time I applied for the discount, we were rejected because our AT&T account was in my husband’s name. Since I am the employee, the account needed to be in my name. I was told that when I transferred the account, we would lose our unlimited data plans and any other discounts as it was no longer offered. I asked about the new plans, took notes about the plans and said I would do the math and call back.

It made sense that the 22 percent discount would well offset the new package prices so the decision was made to open a new account in my name.

I applied for my own account and restarted the process of transferring all 5 wireless lines in our household.

After my account was approved and opened, only 3 of the 5 lines came over. I was told to go to an AT&T store to transfer the remaining two. when I got there, I was told that my husband had to do this. It was a circus.

Finally, the account was opened and all the numbers were transferred over. Then I received the first bill, and there was no discount.

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That’s when they told me the discount would only apply to the family plan. I was shocked and explained what I had been told. The agent said he would look into it and someone would get back to me. I spent an hour on the phone with the retention department, explaining and pleading my case. I was offered $50 off for the first three months, or free messaging for six months, or $10 off messaging for life.

I am exhausted, furious and at my wits’ end with this company. If I had lots of money, I would sue them as I am sure there are others as frustrated as me. Can you help me? — Pam Cosgrove, Dallas

Answer: AT&T should have honored the offer it made — and repeatedly verified — by phone. But that’s the trouble with verbal offers: They’re impossible to prove.

You should have asked to see the deal in writing. I mean, a “22 percent discount” could mean anything, as you now know. It can mean 22 percent off the first bill, or one of the accounts or before taxes. You require details.

Cellular companies seem to dislike interacting with customers in writing, but you have to force the issue. That also applies to the resolution; stay off the phone and send a brief, polite email to AT&T.

Who should get it? Start at the front door, which is the AT&T website. Outline the offer you believe it made as succinctly as possible and the resolution you’re looking for. This is far more efficient than spending an hour arguing with its “retention” department, believe me.

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Of course, you could just send an email directly to Randall Stephenson, AT&T ‘s chief executive and ask him to do the right thing. His direct email address is rs2982@att.com or you could try randall.stephenson@att.com or call him at (210) 351-5401. I’m sure he has a whole hour to argue with you.

Then again, maybe not.

I thought I’d save you the trouble, so I contacted AT&T on your behalf. The company reviewed its records and found that the details of their offer did indeed change between the time you first contacted it and the time you opened your new account. It is offering 22 percent off all monthy charges for the next year, which is a far better resolution.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • That’s good that they did the right thing in the end. It’s hard to imagine though that they’d put out an offer where the terms and conditions weren’t available SOMEWHERE. Phone plans are complicated with lots of options and personally, I wouldn’t have gone through the rigamarole of switching over until I had everything in writing…

  • sirwired

    Hmmm… this is trickier than it looks. If the terms of the offer did, in fact, change, between her initial call for price quotes and contract purchase, it’s hard to see what AT&T did wrong, unless there was some promised span of time attached to the rate quote (similar to a mortgage rate lock.)

    They certainly aren’t required to maintain the deal in perpetuity. Do they have any obligation to honor the price quote at a later time, if you refuse it when offered? I’d say no, not unless they promised to “hold” the deal while you thought about it.

    The new limitation makes sense; they may have changed it to “single family plan only” to prevent people from “renting” out their AT&T discount. Doing it this way limits the discount to a single (employee) billing discount. This will certainly work for most families, as most families are indeed on a single family plan. (I could understand them not extending the discount to independent adult children.)

  • varflow

    I recieve a 19% discount through my employer for Verizon Wireless. The discount is only on my phone, not the other phones in other names on my account. Only the employee’s phone is given the discount. This plan seems structured the same way. I’m not sure exactly what she was told every time she called, maybe she kept misunderstanding or was not asking the right question. Did she explain that there were multiple phones on the account? I used to be in customer service at a local telephone company and I can tell you that people hear what they want to, no matter what you say.

  • emanon256

    Transferring the phones should not have been that difficult, its unfortunate that these mega corporations are so good at dropping the ball. And I wonder how soon AT&T will drop unlimited Internet even for people who already had it, I heard another company (I can’t remember which) just announced that.

    I am glad they honored it, but I am curious why the employer is not somewhat culpable in this as well, after all, they are the ones who negotiated the deal. I say this because my former employer offered a similar discount. My employer sent us all the actual contract for the deal.

    We had the choice of:

    1. A fixed rate of $60 a month for an individual phone with unlimited minutes, text, and data. (Must be a current employee).
    or
    2. 22% off a a single family plan only if shared with people who lived in my household, discount off service only, any additional features such as text package or Internet do not get the discount (open to current employees and former employees of at least 2 years).

    It was quite specific and my employer gave out the handout and contract as they were the ones who negotiated it. We went with option one while I was an employee, but switched to option two when I left. It was amended at one time (I listed the current one) and we were all notified by our employer of the changes well in advance. I would hope in the OPs case her employer would have notified her if it was changing.

  • BillCCC

    I am not defending AT&T but I agree with others that the discount probably applied only to the one account. I do not believe that she was lied to, only that the client rep on the phone confirmed that her entire bill, for the one line would be discounted.
    I don’t see a problem with having her husband transfer lines. I would not want my phone company to touch my account without my authorization.

    She should not be surprised that changing plans means that you might lose some benefits of the previous plan.

  • SoBeSparky

    AT&T is ranked last in customer satisfaction among the big companies, by Consumer Reports, by CNET, by PCWorld, etc. etc. Another example. This is not an aberration. Very consistent behavior.

  • emanon256

    Their 3G Internet service is also so slow that its almost useless at times, which leaves me searching for WiFi even though I am paying for internet. Very annoying.

  • cjr001

    Unfortunately, a year from now, who knows what their bill will look like. If I were in their shoes, I’d already start looking at what my options will be, and whether it’s worth sticking with AT&T long-term after this fiasco.

  • lorcha

    You should be very wary of counting on employer discounts for wireless plans. Generally, the discount agreement is going to be between the employer and the wireless carrier. If that agreement changes, your discount could change (or vanish), and there isn’t anything that you can do about it because the discount won’t be stipulated in your contract with the carrier.

  • dave3029

    It doesn’t matter what the original discount was, unless they have something in writing from the provider, it can be changed at any time. My employer had a deal with Sprint, 19% off the entire bill. I had a family plan with shared minutes for 4 phones. Within 6 months, Sprint quit applying the discount to the insurance/equipment maintenance part of the bill. 6 months after that, they dropped the discount from all but the main phone on the plan. This was a 2-year contract, so I was stuck and couldn’t drop them without paying an early termination penalty. Unless it’s in writing, they can change the discount whenever they want.

  • Joe Farrell

    Didn’t we already have exactly the same article about 10 days ago?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Nah, that was the dead friend whose account could not be canceled by his live friend.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Both my sons work for AT&T Wireless. One used to work in the Customer Service Dept, was transferred to the Fraud Dept. and now is working sales in NYC. The other has always worked sales in suburban Omaha. I’ve sent this story on to both of them and will relay anything that they suggest or comment that is of value. Don’t be surprised if the answer is 140 characters or less.

  • $16635417

    I think it was published recently. I had a real sense of deja vu reading it.

  • Yes, this appeared on Consumerist last week. We’re out of sync. For some reason, they’re pulling next week’s column instead of this week’s.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Heard back from both of my sons. Both agreed that the phone reps should have made it more clear from the outset that the discount would apply only to the employee’s ONE line and plan. That is a very clear, long-standing AT&T policy and both were surprised that the OP should ever had have the impression that she could extend her employee discount to 5 lines. Both are sorry on behalf of their employer that this situation occurred, although they feel that the OP should have been more proactive and gotten a clear understanding *in writing* before she made a decision and not have depended on making several calls to several reps (“Every time I called AT&T”). Both have received outstanding customer service feedback and kudos from their higher-ups and both are absolutely passionate about doing the best for their customers, so I trust what they have to say.
    My input on this is that she had no authority to switch her husband’s lines and shouldn’t have been upset that he was required to authorize the switchover in person. This is standard practice with both landlines and wireless, because of past shenanigans by phone companies and by pranksters and those with malicious intent. My sons can tell lots of stories about the latter! That part of her complaint is completely without merit.

  • I’ve had similar dealings with ATT almost everytime I open an account with them. Usually a complaint with BBB does the trick.

  • Anon

    i actually work for att employee discount verification, and i constantly receive calls of people explaining situations like this, and i still have to deny their discounts, even if it is the store reps fault. I really hate AT&T

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