I'm about to get a $200 check in the mail and I'm not happy about it.
I'm not happy about it because I know I am one of the few who beat the Dell system. Dell is that company that advertises on TV and in newspapers telling you that you can get a desktop computer for $299 and a laptop for $499. Both of those prices have an asterisk that leads to a footnote telling you that price is "after rebate."
That $499 laptop ended up costing more like $1,000 after I got basic upgrades to allow for wireless access and added a printer. But it was more than $1,200 that was charged to my card, pending my promised $200 rebate.
What the fine print in the advertisement should say is *this computer is $499 if you are willing and capable of keeping up with multiple pieces of paper AND mailing them off in time AND waiting while we take our sweet time to tell you if we deign to give you your $200 back AND we finally decide to stick a check in mail mail that you must cash within 30 days or it is void.
Dell is not alone in their rebate strategies. Walk inside any Best Buy electronics store and you will be greeted with a wall full of rebate forms. For most of these rebates you have to go through a litany of steps to get your money back.
First you must buy your rebate item separately from your other items. The fine print of most rebate offers tell you that you cannot send in a photocopy of a receipt. That means that if you have several rebate items on one receipt, all of the companies will be wanting an original. Then you have to get the correct rebate form.
Then you have to make sure you keep that receipt. This is where I'm sure a large percentage of would-be rebate takers get left out. At the end of the day my pockets are crammed with receipts for gas, fast food and five daily mini-trips to Wal-Mart.
They end up in a wad on my nightstand intertwined with my keys, cell phone and wallet . One day I will either shovel the mound of white paper into the garbage or -- if I'm really bored -- spend about half an hour going through each one individually, stopping to ponder why I spent $45 at Hasting's in 2003. Four of these receipts will be for exactly $7.95 at Thai Nakorn. Four more of these will be for items for which I once intended to get rebates.
Then you have to keep the receipt. Then you have to have to keep the rebate form. Then you have to spend 37 of your hard-earned cents on a stamp to mail the whole packet, unless you don't trust the U.S. Postal Service, in which case you should spend $10 more to send it certified mail.
The procedure was a little different with my computer. Keeping a Dell receipt was not a problem because everything comes in your e-mail. Everything that is, except the packing list that comes in a little plastic baggy glued to the outside of one of the boxes. I learned this after I had pulled out every single computer component in a mad search for my precious packing list and happened to glance at the outside of the box, where an orange label indicated the location of the packing list.
You would think that since this is a hip, modern computer company, they would want you to e-mail your rebate request, but when it comes to getting your money back, Dell wants to take the snail-mail route. They do provide you a Web site to keep up with their progress or lack thereof.
At this Web site I was at first told their records showed I did not qualify for a rebate, but the fine print said that if I thought this was an "error" (a word that in English means "a lie") I should fill out the forms and send them in anyway. Finally I received notification that they had received my request with a warning that it would take them three weeks to "process" my request (a word that in English means "attempt to misplace"). I was told that after approval I should give six to eight weeks to receive my check. This from a company that took less than a week to assemble and mail my made-to-order computer.
I am in between the "approved" and "check-in-hand" stages of the Dell rebate process. It's been gruelling, but at Dell they know that many are lured with a promise of a cheap computer, but few are actually chosen to run the rebate gamut. Soon I will have my money and it will be over.
But there will be that special satisfaction that comes from breaking the rules and still getting the rebate. Don't tell anybody until I cash my Dell check, but the packing list I sent them was a photocopy.