Get me out of AAA renewal hell, please!

Question: I recently received a letter from AAA saying that my membership was due on Jan. 1. However, I was not to return the statement because “annual dues will be charged to your credit card.” This is the procedure that had been in effect for years.

In December, I received a telephone call from an AAA representative, informing me that the company was unable to process the membership dues through my AAA-branded Bank of America credit card despite trying twice to charge my card. I asked AAA to try again, and to call me if they were unable to charge my card. I did not receive a phone call.

A few weeks later, I received a letter stating that I was to pay my dues directly because Bank of America would not take the membership fee from my AAA credit card. I did. Then I discovered that AAA had billed my card, too. When I asked for a refund, it told me it couldn’t do that — they could only send me vouchers which could be applied to my membership purchase.

The complete lack of articulation between Bank of America and AAA is astounding. I spent the better part of a morning on the phone with AAA, but nothing has been resolved. Several days ago, I received a letter from AAA asking me to renew my membership — again. Help! — Ruth Marino, Philadelphia

Answer: What a mess. AAA should have been able to deduct your membership directly from your credit card (disclosure: I’m a longtime AAA member, and that’s how it works for me). When it couldn’t, the member organization should have offered a clear path to fixing it, instead of forcing you to spend hours on the phone.

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I try to avoid using terms like “Kafkaesque” in describing the bureaucratic problems consumers face, but in your case I just can’t help myself. This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.

You’d think the fact that you had a AAA credit card would make a difference, but when you hear what happened, you’ll see that it doesn’t. According to AAA, your auto-renew didn’t work because of “keying errors” — in other words, someone typed in the wrong card number or expiration date. By the time the error was fixed, you had already put the charge on another card.

It’s not immediately clear if the policy of offering refunds through vouchers was AAAs or Bank of America’s, and at this point, it doesn’t really matter. The refund should have been immediate, and in real money, not vouchers that must be used for a limited number of products and services.

Calling AAA didn’t make much sense. You need a paper trail, and the only evidence of your problem was a fairly detailed letter to the agency, which, though reasonably polite, was not concise. Such letters are often ignored because of their length.

AAA apologized, credited your account for the $110 overpayment and added 5,000 points to your AAA card.

Did AAA do enough for Ruth Marino?

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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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • sirwired

    After giving customer service a fighting chance, proceed directly to a credit-card dispute, full-stop. Do so before your dispute deadline expires. AAA’s “voucher” idea was just stupid; I can’t imagine why they thought that was an acceptable alternative to an actual refund?

  • Joe

    because then they get to keep the money and give someone something that is only of value to AAA – a renewal.

  • EdB

    I agree that a credit card dispute in this case would probably gotten their money back. However, it could have caused even more problems. When AAA lost the dispute, they could have canceled his membership because the bureaucracy might not see the second payment. I’ve been down that path in the past because of double billing.

  • john4868

    Ummm… No. I have had issues with AAA membership practices in the past but this is a clear cut situation where they made a mistake, charged her too much and owe her money back. This isn’t a service recovery situation like you often see with the airlines where a voucher is appropriate.

    Edit: After rereading the story, it all depends on where the credit went. I first read it that she received a credit toward AAA fees but it could also be read that they credited her CC account. If they credited her CC account, it would pain me to give them a “well done” but it would be earned.

  • BillCCC

    If the $110 was put on her CC account then I think the resolution was fair. If the credit is to her AAA account then she deserves better. Refunds from CC should be made quickly and back to the CC not to a voucher or some type of credit.

  • Harry Baxter

    Do not, under any circumstances, give a company permission to renew your membership automatically. Believe me…if you don’t renew by about 4 months before your subscription expires, they’ll contact you, over and over! If I want to renew a service, I’ll write a check, and mail it about 15 days before the expiration date.

  • disqus_A6K3VBf8Zn

    Agree with sirwired. I should voted No. Too much aggravation. I presumed client was getting a full refund. Am I wrong?

  • JenniferFinger

    I have to agree. What exactly did they “credit” ?

  • backprop

    A chh…checccck??? And mm…mma…maaaiiill?? What are these devices of which you speak??

  • Sorry if it wasn’t clear. They returned the money to her credit card, according to my notes.

  • Dane Carpenter

    I hate the customer service has become another way of making off of the customer. It’s like the new theme of customer service is “Make the customer happy, but make sure you make more money off of them.”

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “It’s not immediately clear if the policy of offering refunds through vouchers was AAAs or Bank of America’s”


    Huh? It quite obviously was AAA doing this. First, why would the credit card company issue a refund in this case? They didn’t do anything wrong: They rejected the payment attempts entered in error, then processed the legitimate payment request. (And Chris says the second payment came on a separate card, so they’d have had absolutely no way of knowing it was a double payment situation.) Responsibility for a refund would solely be the responsibility of AAA who ended up getting paid twice. And if a credit card company actually had to do a refund, they’d either credit your account or send you a check. There’d be no stipulations about how you could use the refund.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes, they did eventually refund her, and give her extra on top of that. I thought it was nice of them to make up for the inconvenience. It still stinks she had to go through he trouble.

    I personally hate AAA. I had them for many years and never needed them. Then one winter night, at 9pm, 30 miles outside of Indianapolis, I ran something over and got a flat. I pulled over, jacked up my car, and somehow after removing the bolts the wheel was still stuck to the car and would not come off. I tried WD40 and I still couldn’t get the wheel off. I called AAA and was on hold for 1.5 hours. When I finally got through, they told me they didn’t have the resources in my area to help me. I asked what I was supposed to do then, and mentioned I thought the whole point of their service was to help in these situations. They said that they could send someone, but it would be at least 5 hours, maybe more. I walked about a mile to a gas station, bought a can of fix-a-flat, and went back to my car. I tried it, no luck, the hole was to big. I finally put the bolts back on and slowly drove on the rim to a gas station, and while the employee refused to help me, a few people in the parking lot did. It took 3 of us to get the wheel off. I put on the spare and kept going. I tried calling AAA again to cancel the person they were sending, and after an hour on hold my battery died. A few days later I was charged a $40 no-show fee. I argued with AA over this, and said I would only pay it if they paid the $200 it cost to replace my rim. They finally waived the fee. I then canceled AAA my phone and in writing, and a few months later they re-billed me anyway. I called a few times, and was always told its their policy not to refund. I finally disputed it on my credit card, and the credit card sided with me. I have not been a member since.

  • emanon256

    Our day care provider only takes checks, And we have to pay weekly! I was so shocked, I had to actually order checks. I don’t think I use them more than once or twice a year and only when reimbursing friends or family.

  • emanon256

    I could not agree with you more.

    I think somehow people think that branded cards are managed by the company on the branding, not the bank that issued the card.

  • Cherity

    Here’s what I do on an annual basis for my AAA membership: (1) send a check for payment of annual membership fees; (2) when the membership is getting ready to expire and AAA has attempted to contact me 12 times to get me to renew, I ignore all requests; (3) let my membership expire; (4) patiently wait until I get that offer in the mail that is $30 less than the current membership fee (usually 2-3 weeks after expiration); and (5) I then accept the offer and send them a check for my annual membership fee saving myself $30 (note: I saved $40 last year because I waited 3 months to accept their offer and by that time it was an additional $10 offer to renew). I still keep my “member since” recognition, and boy do I LOVE my Premier RV membership! Never even considered automatic renewals for AAA at all.

  • cahdot

    i was billed on my cc for AAA dues and i do not even have AAA that took some undoing to get credit also… they(aaa) screwed up years ago with me so i never re-joined

  • EdB

    Things must have changed since I was last a member. I was a premiere member and missed my renewal by one day. When I called to renew, they wouldn’t let me renew as a premiere member but would have to “join” as a new member and go a full year with no claims to be eligible for premiere membership again. I had been a member for over 10 years before that and only had four claims during that entire time. I have not been a member since and never plan to be again. AAA is not what they used to be.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    You’ve really got to watch those branded cards because the group you’re a member of (like AAA in this case) will often be far more worried about what they’re getting out of the deal than in how good the card is for the end user. And if AAA ends up really pleased with how much they’re getting out of the deal, one guess on who ends up paying for that.

    Even when your financial institution’s logo is on the card there is basically zero connection between them and the credit card company. My spouse works for a bank and a few years back they were getting terrible service from the card company and the only solution they had was to let the agreement lapse and go with a new card administered by somebody else.

  • jmtabb

    Well then just wait until your little one(s) start school. Most school stuff is paid for by check too. The schools can’t afford to eat the fees for using credit/debit and they don’t want the kids carrying around cash. Especially at the beginning of the year – checks to add money to the cafeteria account, checks to pay for gym uniforms (middle school), scholastic news the teacher is using in the classroom (elementary), field trips etc.

  • juno

    I’m becoming increasingly wary of these automatic renewals offered mainly by magazine subscription services, but also by outfits like AAA that depend on annual reconfirmations. It’s of great benefit to the operations offering them, but not so good for those of us who paid by credit card and who subsequently find ourselves signed up for these automatic renewals because we didn’t notice a small aside on a website that automatically enrolled us in the plan. All of a sudden, a year or so later, we find we’ve resubscribed, whether we wanted to or not, even if we don’t like the new re-subscription price – magazines promise the best available rate, a meaningless pledge. And it’s especially difficult if we want to cancel a subscription before the automatic renewal factor comes into force in a year’s time. Some magazines have a hard time figuring out the logistics of how to cancel a subscriber in a timely manner. It can take months for a cancellation to take effect. A good reason never to offer your credit card number to such outfits, but to pay the old-fashioned way – with a cheque.

  • Cherity

    Wow! EdB, I’ve never heard of such a thing with AAA. Could this rule be according to location? I’ve been a member for 13 years now and have been getting these offers for at least the last 5-6 years. I have to admit that I take full advantage of these offers and should I not renew at the Premier RV level, I usually do the Plus RV membership, then wait a few months to get the offer to upgrade to Premier RV (one year I did that and the cost was only an additional $17). I always make sure that they confirm I keep my “membership since” status. Otherwise I’ll decline the offer.

  • EdB

    It could be a location specific situation, but it doesn’t make the main organization look good if it is. The local area “rule” has caused the national group to lose not only myself, but several other people I know that canceled them in other areas when I told them my story.

  • Cherity

    I have to admit that some of these bad AAA stories surprise me. I have never had an issue with AAA and I definitely file claims. However, I do understand you not giving them your business anymore. I am just the same to boycott businesses who treat me and others unfairly regardless of the location; cause like you’ve stated, these types of complaints doesn’t make the main organization look good.

  • AJPeabody

    My solution to the auto-renewal, at least for magazines with a very low first year price and an unknown renewal price, is to use a disposable cash Visa card from my bank. The charge goes through, but the card will be without funds the next year so auto-renewal fails,

  • EdB

    Lots of these places are getting wise to people doing this and have added wording to the agreement that states you are still responsible for the charge even if they can’t charge your card and then send your account to collections if you don’t pay. So check that agreement first so you don’t get trapped by this.

  • Lindaler

    A few years ago we were in Portland Oregon and experienced a flat tire on our travel trailer. We called Good Sam and they sent a tow truck out to fix it within twenty minutes. As our driver pulled up to our rigs, another group came running up shouting. They had called an AAA repair about two hours before and were sure that we were jumping their tow truck. Our driver told all of us he refused to tow for AAA because they were the lowest paying of the services. He said he got double for each call over what AAA paid so the lowest tow companies that didn’t get the other companies worked on AAA tows. He was done and we were on the road and their tow truck had still not shown. Maybe this is only in Oregon but from what we heard, we will never go with AAA.

  • emanon256

    Whenever I sign up for something that has auto renewal (I do try to read fine print), I always set a reminder in my calendar to cancel it about a month before it renews. For the most part, I have not had any problems. Sadly, I still did with AAA and with a vitamin company.

  • flutiefan

    they’ve never taken more than an hour to show up for me in both CA and NYC, and many times it’s far earlier. i’ve had AAA for nearly 20 years now.

  • Welcome to the world of computers. More computers, fewer people. That’s the way it is. I sawit coming 20 yeas ago but it’s worse than I could have ever imagined.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    I would think twice about keeping AAA.
    I have the same type of coverage with my insurance company.

  • emanon256

    Thanks! I just found out this will cost me $10 a year per car to add to my insurance.

    Has the same benefits as the AAA Plus membership which is $125 a year for the first person and $75 for the second. So basically I got $200 worth of AAA for $20 minus the travel agency services which I already get from my travel agent without an annual fee.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Had that exact same issue happen with a flat tire, only on a hot summer day. I’d grown up on a farm and had probably changed a hundred tires in my time and never had that problem, but I absolutely couldn’t get the wheel off, even using the lug wrench to pound on the back of it. Fortunately, some family had been following us and they had a hammer in the trunk. A couple swats broke whatever seal had formed and the wheel came off. And that’s why I now have a hammer in the trunk!

  • KaraJones

    I had a similar experience. I got stuck in the snow a number of years ago. I didn’t have a cell phone back then. I walked a mile to my friends’ house, and called AAA. They kept me on hold for an hour. Then, they refused to come out to my car unless I was physically AT the car – but they said it could be anywhere between 3-5 hours before they’d come…so I’d have to sit in the car in the snow – with no heat (the battery was dead) for 3 to 5 hours or they would not come.
    Ultimately, I left the car where it was until the snow melted (days later) and a local mechanic came out to help me.
    Needless to say, I cancelled AAA.

    A much better choice: AARP Roadside Assistance. I’ve used them a few times over the years and they have been excellent. And also, check with your car insurance company to see if they offer a roadside assistance plan (they’re usually pretty inexpensive) as well as your car company (i.e., Toyota has one if you have a Toyota.) The AARP plan is affiliated with Allstate. If you’re not 50+ but you have a spouse or domestic partner who is 50+, you can join AARP and then you can join the Roadside Assistance plan. Actually, now that I think of it, Allstate offers a similar plan to non-AARP members, too.

  • DaveS

    Our school happily takes Visa and MasterCard for just about anything.

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    I will never get an AAA card, because they are serviced by Bank Against Amerika.

  • Joe Reynolds

    Yes, of course dispute charges early. Even if it gets fixed, you don’t suffer. I had a charge taken off and then when the charging company took it off my card, the CC put there take off back on. Worked for me.

  • Philip Brown

    I believe the “rules” in a refund issue are to be credited “in the manner one paid”; thus, a money credit to the card & no “bs” vouchers!!! I detest the idea of companies automatically billing a card – this should be illegal (IT IS DEFINITELY UNETHICAL!). I would suspect this woman had some emotional DISTRESS over this; does 5,000 points really compensate for this???

  • PolishKnightUSA

    AAA didn’t give me the option to cancel auto renewal so I just dropped my credit card from the auto renewal page.

    But sure, I agree with emanon that for services that offer “free trials” and then hit you after 30 days with an auto-renewal, make sure to cancel the service by then. Usually they make you phone in and have to argue with a customer representative. I have no problems with that. I view it as assertiveness training.

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