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Published May 25, 2012, 11:30 PM

Coupon Queen: The great rebate debate

People assume that because I am an enthusiastic couponer, I also enjoy rebates. Many products offer mail-in rebates that provide significant savings or free products when the rebate check or gift card comes back in the mail.

By: By Jill Cataldo, Coupon Queen, INFORUM

People assume that because I am an enthusiastic couponer, I also enjoy rebates. Many products offer mail-in rebates that provide significant savings or free products when the rebate check or gift card comes back in the mail.

But I have to confess, I’m not big on rebates. I’ve always preferred the instant gratification of getting my savings at the register. With a rebate, you have to consider the cost of the stamp, and even the possibility that you may not get the rebate at all.

I’m not trying to be cynical. But I have learned to make photocopies of everything when I send in a rebate, just in case the manufacturer denies it. Judging from my email inbox, several readers have had rebate issues.

Q: I sent in a rebate for a frozen entrée that carried the statement “Try Me Free” on the box. The entrée was $5.99. I had a $1 coupon, so I paid $4.99 for the item and sent in the receipt. I thought I would get $5.99 back, but they sent me a check for $4.99. I called and said it wasn’t really free because it cost me a stamp. The company said it only rebates what you actually pay for the product. I would not have bought the entrée if I knew that. – Delia C.

A: I have experienced the same thing. While I don’t usually attempt rebates that aren’t in the double-digits – it takes a value of more than $10 to catch my interest – I recently sent one in for a bottle of shampoo. Like you, I also used a coupon to buy the shampoo. My rebate check came for the price of the shampoo, post-coupon.

Q: I bought 10 boxes of cereal to qualify for a $10 rebate. The rebate form says the offer is good through the end of this month. But when I went to look up the rebate again, the website says the rebate has been cut off.

– Catherine B.

A: If you looked at the fine print on the rebate, it should have read “Available while supplies last.” But your confusion is understandable. I find these situations frustrating, too. It should be a no-brainer for companies to realize that in a poor economy, demand for money-back rebates will be high. If an end date is listed on a promotion, the end date should be honored. The consumer has no way of knowing when product supply for the rebate has run out.

Yet companies continue to suspend rebates when demand for the product exceeds their expectation. Recently, there was a $10 mail-in rebate for a certain brand of water filtration pitcher. One week, two national chains put the water pitcher on sale for $10. After the rebate, the pitcher would be free. But when the manufacturer noticed a large increase in downloads for the rebate form, it removed the form from its website. The company announced on its Facebook page that it would not honor any rebates that hadn’t already been mailed in.

Naturally, consumers were outraged, and they expressed their annoyance on the company’s Facebook wall. If a rebate has an end date, it should be honored through that date. What if you didn’t read the company’s Facebook when it made the announcement? Ultimately, the manufacturer changed its mind and posted that it would honor rebate forms that shoppers had already printed. But it did not put the form back up on its website.


Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions

to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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