Get me out of AAA renewal hell, please!

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By Christopher Elliott

Ruth Marino just wants to renew her AAA membership. But her credit card company is not making it easy.

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 credit card. I did. Then I discovered that AAA had billed my card, too. When I asked for a refund, the representative told me they couldn’t do that — they could only send me vouchers that 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 I haven’t resolved anything. 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 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.

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. You had already put the charge on another card by the time we fixed the error. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)

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 they should have provided it in real money, not vouchers that must be used for a limited number of products and services. (Related: AAA Emergency Roadside Services: Don’t call us, summon us online.)

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Calling AAA didn’t make much sense. You need a paper trail, and the agency only received a fairly detailed letter, which, although reasonably polite, did not remain concise. They often ignore such lengthy letters.

AAA apologized, credited your account for the $110 over-payment 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 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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