Teresa McUsic

Consumer Reports tells which businesses were naughty and which were nice

Whole Foods was lauded for becoming the first national grocery chain to commit to mandatory labeling of products that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Whole Foods was lauded for becoming the first national grocery chain to commit to mandatory labeling of products that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. AP

What major credit card now provides your credit score with every monthly statement? Which warehouse club will double your refund on perishables? And which airline will offer you a credit if you see your fare changed within two weeks of booking?

Consumer Reports dug up these consumer-friendly policies and more, along with companies that did not treat their customers so well this year, in its annual Naughty & Nice List.

The list is based on input from the magazine’s writers and editors who cover shopping, finance, electronics and other areas. It’s a good place to look for policies you may not have known were in place at your favorite retailers and others.

First the Nice list:

CVS. By now, many consumers know that 7,700 CVS pharmacies became tobacco-free this fall. But the chain has also launched a smoking cessation program and enhanced its selection of nicotine replacement products in select stores.

Discover. Discover has made checking your credit score easier by being the first major card issuer to provide free FICO scores on monthly statements of qualifying cardholders. The data is from the credit reporting agency TransUnion.

Esurance. The insurance company has created a mobile app to make photo claims, instead of waiting for an appraiser to inspect the damage. Customers involved in minor mishaps can upload accident photos and usually receive a repair estimate within one business day.

JetBlue. The airline has a generous, but little-known, price adjustment policy. If you notice that a fare has dropped for a flight within 14 days of booking, you can call the airline (800-538-2583) and receive a credit for the difference. If you notice a lower fare 15 days or more after booking, the airliner will issue a credit for the difference minus $75. The airline does not promote the policy on its website, however.

Sam’s Club. Wal-Mart’s warehouse club has a unique guarantee on its perishables, including fresh meat, produce and baked goods. If members are unhappy with the food, the chain will refund double their money or exchange the product and still refund the purchase price.

Starbucks. More than 70 percent of Starbucks’ employees are students or aspiring students, and the company is now offering full tuition reimbursement for a bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University’s online program. The benefit is for full-time or part-time, benefits-eligible workers, who can choose from 40 undergraduate programs.

StubHub. Many ticket resellers tease with low upfront prices only to add hefty fees at the end of checkout. But StubHub has price transparency, so the price listed is the final price you pay for every ticket, including delivery charges.

Tesla Motors. Telsa regularly beams updates to its vehicles’ telematics systems instead of making the owner go to the dealership for the service. For example, the navigation system memorizes the location of a road impediment such as a steep approach and automatically adjusts the air suspension so that the bottom of the car doesn’t scrape.

UPS. The package delivery company is eliminating the worry of missing a delivery because you weren’t home. Through UPS Access Point, customers can drop off and drivers can deliver goods to a safe, pre-approved nearby location such as the UPS Store, supermarket or a convenience store. A government-issued photo ID or a mobile device is required for pickup. The service is available in New York and Chicago and will expand to key U.S. markets next year.

Whole Foods. A Consumer Reports poll this year showed that 92 percent of Americans want to be told on a label if their food is genetically modified. Whole Foods is the first national grocery chain to commit to mandatory labeling of products that include GMOs. The company already labels many products but will require transparency for all such products by 2018.

And now the naughty list:

AT&T. The Federal Trade Commission sued the company, alleging that it misled millions of smartphone users who signed up for unlimited data plans, only to find that data speeds would be dramatically slower if customers exceeded a certain amount of data in a billing cycle, a practice known as “throttling.” According to the suit, the Dallas-based company slashed speeds by as much as 90 percent, making common activities like Web browsing, streaming video and GPS navigation difficult or nearly impossible. AT&T says that the allegations are baseless and that it has been upfront and transparent with customers. The case has yet to be resolved.

Dillard’s. The department store chain won’t give price adjustments as a matter of policy, for either online or in-store purchases.

Marriott. The Federal Communications Commission fined the hotel chain $600,000 for violating the law by jamming mobile hot spots at its Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, so guests couldn’t log on to their personal networks. At the same time, the hotel charged conference organizers and exhibitors $250 to $1,000 per access point to use the Gaylord’s Wi-Fi service in the conference facilities.

Spirit Airlines. The low-priced carrier, which Consumer Reports says nickels-and-dimes passengers for everything in addition to the basic ticket, hiked baggage fees by $2 per bag for the holiday season. The airline characterizes the fee as “temporary.”

Yelp. The user-review website received a $450,000 civil penalty imposed by the FTC because it collected personal information from children through its mobile device app without first notifying parents and obtaining their consent, a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC said that between 2009 and 2013, Yelp gathered names, e-mail addresses, locations and other information from several thousand children even after they registered and indicated that they were under age 13.

Zales. The average annual percentage rate for borrowing at retailers is now 23.23 percent, according to tracker CreditCards.com. That’s more than 8 points higher than the national average for general-purpose cards. The highest retailer APR goes to jewelry chain Zales, with a borrowing rate of 28.99 percent.

Consumer Reports is asking the public to join in on the conversation by submitting their Naughty & Nice nominee via Facebook and Twitter (#CRNaughtyNice).

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays.

  Comments