The only game that really matters

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By Christopher Elliott

Who’s going to win the big game?

No, not that game.

I’m talking about the game businesses play with us. Mark up, mark down. Bait and switch. And, of course, the loyalty game.

If you’re not thinking about that game, you are going to lose — and that could cost you.

Price games

It’s not your imagination. Businesses are marking up merchandise only to put them on sale. Here’s a troubling report on Kohl’s playing this game from a Sacramento, Calif., CBS affiliate.

It found items marked up as much as $100 from earlier prices and then put on sale. The practice is a violation of California State law, which bans companies from making “false or misleading” statements about the amounts of price reductions.

That’s sick.

Here fishy, fishy, fishy

How about bait and switch? That little game comes up every now and then on my consumer advocacy site. In real life, you’ve probably run into it a time or two as well.

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Most recently, it was the topic of my Washington Post investigation into disappearing airfares. You know the drill. Airlines display an initial low price then switch it out later with a higher fare, forcing you to go without a ticket or pay more.


Free frequent flier miles (just sign up here)

Perhaps the worst game of them all is the loyalty game. Airlines are the worst. Collecting miles, as I’ve noted in the past, is one of the great American pastimes. An estimated 630 million members are enrolled in various airline loyalty programs worldwide, with more than 300 million members in the United States.

Many of the miles never are redeemed. Research by Switchfly, a travel commerce and loyalty platform, suggests that travelers haven’t used 70 percent of their miles — or about a trillion points — over the last five years. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

Loyalty programs are unfair and deceptive and they should be closely regulated, if not banned. (Related: Can you help me find my lost photos?)

Playing the game to win

The game that matters is not the Superbowl, an Olympic event or the NBA championships. It is who wins in business. Will you outsmart the company? Or will it get your money with its dishonest markups, shell games and bogus “points”? (Related: How to fight back against the ‘beyond our control’ excuse.)

If you’re reading this now, I already know the answer. You’re smart enough to read this consumer advocacy site and to participate in our forums. You already subscribe to our daily newsletter. (Here’s how to find the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

But if this is you just stumbled upon this post and don’t know what I’m talking about, I have good news for you. You can play the game to win. Let me show you how. Scroll up to the next paragraph and join this community of enlightened consumers.

You’ll be glad you did.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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