The mystery of the reappearing $400 cancellation fee

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By Christopher Elliott

Matt Solum is facing a $400 cancellation fee for a DirecTV package he doesn’t want, and believes he shouldn’t have to pay for. Is there any way to get it removed?


We signed up for a two-year contract with DirecTV back in the fall of 2011. At about the same time, DirecTV released new equipment called the Genie. I called to inquire if we could get the new equipment and they told me we could. There was no mention of a contract extension for the new equipment.

In January of this year, we were looking to cut some costs and we looked at lowering our DirecTV package to save some money. I called customer service and requested to switch to a less expensive package. I also asked if changing my programming would affect my new customer credits, and they assured me it would not. So as a result, I went through with the change.

Credit discrepancies and custome service frustration

I received my February bill and sure enough, the credits I was told would not go away were all gone. I called back to customer service to inquire about this. They told me the credits were gone due to me changing my package even though I was told it would not be affected. I changed my package back again and they said the credits would show up on my March bill again.

I then received my March bill and only half of the credits were back on there. The one that was missing was the $10 HD for life credit. I called customer service again, and they informed me that I couldn’t get that credit back due to the programming change in January, despite the previous assurance that it wouldn’t disappear and would be reinstated.

Seeking resolution and cancellation fee removal

I escalated my issue to a manager and the accounts department, both of which assured they would investigate it. I received a call back within a week and again they said they could not do anything about getting the credit back on there.

This situation was unfair and contradicted the assurances I received on the phone multiple times. They apologized but insisted they couldn’t take any action regarding the credits, even though they had promised they wouldn’t be removed.

I then asked to get out of my contract due to these issues and was told I could do that but there would be a near $400 cancellation fee. They said my contract was not up until the fall of 2014. They claimed they had extended it when I got new equipment, even though there was no mention of a contract extension when I received the equipment.

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I just sent the letter into them today but have a feeling it will not matter. Please assist me in any way you can to have this cancellation fee removed. — Matt Solum, Salt Lake City, Utah


What a mess! You’d expect the terms and conditions of your purchase to remain the same, and if they don’t, that a company like DirecTV would inform you of a change in writing. But that’s not what happened.

DirecTV offers what’s called an HD Access for Life discount. But in order to qualify for it, your account must have a base package of Choice Xtra or above and maintain auto bill pay or joint billing for the lifetime of the account. If any of the requirements are not kept, the offer is removed and can’t be reinstated.

In other words, your actions permanently voided your discount.

Here’s the timeline of events, according to DirecTV: In February, you contacted customer service to have your programming changed to a different package because you had lost some channels when switching to its “Entertainment” package.
At that point, a representative advised you that all credits would start on the following month’s bill, minus the HD Access for Life discount. (Related: Why can’t I cancel my DirecTV contract.)

Records and third party verification call

About a month later, DirecTV’s records show you called about your missing discount. You were told your account no longer qualified for the offer because the programming package was below the “Choice Xtra” package. Then you called back, asking DirecTV to reinstate the discount again, and when that didn’t work, you closed your account.

DirecTV’s records also show that it received a third-party verification call regarding your order.

“A spokeswoman told me that we reviewed the call to confirm he was informed and accepted the programming agreement. The purpose of the third-party verification call is to ensure the customer is fully informed of the terms and conditions for their offer, including the details regarding any applicable agreement, the timeframe of agreement, and how the early cancellation fee is calculated,” according to DirecTV’s records. (Related: A flag on the play after “free” NFL offer from DirecTV.)

“I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do,” the spokeswoman told me. “All charges are valid.”

The importance of a paper trail

I’m sorry, too. If nothing else, this illustrates the importance of a paper trail, as opposed to doing everything by phone. DirecTV has recorded transcripts of the phone conversation. You only have recollections of the phone calls. I would say the company has an unfair advantage. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

Next time you have a billing question, try contacting DirecTV in writing. You can contact it online, which creates a paper trail that levels the playing field. If that doesn’t work, try appealing your case to someone higher up. Here’s a list of current executives. The email convention is

But why wait? You decided to appeal the rejection to an executive, even after it appeared the charges would stick. DirecTV waived your fee.

Should DirecTV have charged Matt Solum a $400 cancellation fee?

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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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