So what kind of consumer are you?

It’s not fair.

How many times have you heard that in the last day? We’ve argued about unfair contracts, unfair policies and unfair prices on this site.

Your parents probably told you life wasn’t fair. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept every unfair thing, particularly when it’s doled out by corporate America.

At the heart of the unfairness debate is the adhesion contract, which applies to you but not necessarily to the company. And it begs the question: What kind of consumer are you?

Contracts of adhesion are common in the consumer world. On at least one level they make sense, because they’re standardized. Can you imagine every passenger on a cruise negotiating an individual contract? It would be chaos.

On the other hand, these agreements — also called “take it or leave it” contracts — are terrible for consumers. They favor the stronger party, which is always the company. They sometimes force you to pay outrageous penalties if you deviate from the agreement.

Whose side are you on?

There are two kinds of consumers in this world. Some, which I call the “rules-are-rules” consumers, welcome the adhesion contracts. They’re usually pretty smart. They read these agreements, study them, and find ways to turn the fine print around to favor them.

I admire that.

I don’t always admire what happens next. Too many “rules-are-rules” consumers think everyone should be as smart as they are. They should spend their afternoons studying the terms and conditions and trading information about fare errors online with their buddies.

If anyone (say, ahem, a consumer advocate) interferes with this Darwinian process, where the smartest consumers get all the rewards and the rest are left with table scraps, then they cry: “No fair!”

(My kids made me do that.)

The second group believes things should be equitable for everyone, regardless of their IQ, attention to detail or income level.

When they see a case where a consumer gets screwed by the fine print, they blame the company and its lawyers for creating customer-unfriendly policies and writing one-sided contracts. By the way, the vast majority of consumers feel this way. I call them the “true blue” customers.

Why we’re here

Our advocacy practice is here for all consumers, but we are true blues all the way. Our advocates, researchers and writers like to think of themselves as being smart and informed, but even we are sometimes fooled by the fine print.

We don’t think it’s fair to insist a consumer read every word in the terms of a service agreement. We would never blame someone for failing to review the fare rules or the ticket contract. We don’t think it’s a stretch for someone to assume that the rules should be fair and common-sense.

Speaking for myself, I’d like to add that I hold no ill-will toward the “rules-are-rules” crowd. They have a place in this world. I’m saddened when they side with a company because that makes us weaker as consumers. And I’m heartbroken when they criticize our efforts to help consumers, because, in the end, they are hurting themselves.

But it is what it is.

So that’s our message: fairness for everyone.

And I’m thrilled that so many companies feel the same way. In week one of our fundraiser, we’ve been joined by Allianz, BlueCosmo, Comuse, Fodors, Skyroll and Zenith Press, who have made their products available to new supporters.

And I’m excited to add one more name to the list today: Fairmont. We’re giving away a night at the Fairmont Washington and dinner for two at Juniper later this week.

How do you win? Just sign up as an underwriter at any level and your name will go in the hat.

Whether you’re a “rules-are-rules” person or a “true blue” consumer, we still love you and we’ll always be here for you. Thank you for your support.

What kind of consumer are you?

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