I am a mail-in rebate junkie. I have saved thousands of dollars through rebate offers. It’s a great way to get products at a reduced price, or sometimes even free! But I often question whether it’s worth my time. And apparently, I’m not alone. Web sites such as the ones here, here and here show that there is a high degree of universal frustration with the mail-in rebate process.
But that’s exactly what makes the mail-in rebate process so rewarding and exciting! The harder it is, the more discouraging it is for most people, and therefore fewer people wind up filing for or getting the rebates. And if fewer people get them, that means that the companies can afford to be more generous in the rebates that they offer — a bonanza for the true mail-in rebate warriors such as ourselves. So after years of climbing the rebate learning curve, I’ve decided to share my experiences, so that all of my fellow rebate junkies can benefit. Here are the cardinal rules of getting your share of the free money:
- Only deal with reputable, established companies when filing mail-in rebates. Several years ago, a website called CyberRebates.com offered some ridiculous rebates (for example, you pay $350 for a mini refrigerator, then apply for a mail-in rebate for $350, and when the check comes you get a free refrigerator). But when CyberRebates went bankrupt they quit paying the rebates, and left several customers with an overpriced $350 minifridge.
- Always study the rebate offer carefully, and look for loopholes that the company can climb through. Some rebates may have already expired, or may apply only to certain unavailable products. Study the rebate form carefully before buying the product. If the box says, “$30 Rebate! Details Inside,” walk away. You won’t like the details once you get inside the box. If a salesman is pressuring you to buy a rebate product and won’t let you get a good look at the rebate application and terms, walk away.
- Follow the rebate instructions to the letter. If it says “circle the price paid and the date of purchase on the receipt,” then circle them. Failure to do so could cause them to decide that your rebate submission is “noncompliant” and they may not pay you.
- On the other hand, it never hurts to try. I inadvertently threw away the box and rebate documentation for a $30 box of software. Upset and angry with myself, I wrote a letter to the software manufacturer, explaining that I threw the box away, asking that they honor the rebate anyway, and sent them all the documentation that I could (receipt, photocopy of the disk) to prove that I actually bought the product. Much to my surprise, a $30 check arrived a few weeks later! Who knows? Give it a shot.
- Always photocopy or scan the filled-out rebate form and all the supporting documentation, including the all-important UPC code. Keep the copies. If you’ve got access to a scanner, scanning is better, as it requires less space and you can send electronic copies of your documentation if you need to e-mail anything.
- Keep a log of all your mail-in rebates. I do this with a separate account on my Quicken financial software, but this can be done with an Excel spreadsheet, or even the old-fashioned way, on a piece of paper. Your rebate log should include:
- The date that you sent the rebate application
- The name of the rebating company
- The amount of the rebate, and
- The website or phone number that the company generally provides to check on the rebate status.
- Cross out each rebate in your log when you’ve received and cashed the rebate check. You can forget about it after that.
- Review your log at least once a month. (Don’t rely on the company to notify you if you didn’t qualify for the rebate.) If there are any outstanding rebates that are over two months old:
- Call the phone number or go to the web site and inquire.
- Keep a record of all the contacts you make about that rebate, including the date the contact was made and who contact was made with.
- Keep a copy of e-mails.
- Beware of the “Contact Us” page on the rebating company’s web site, which may not allow you to easily make a copy of your message to the company. (Very tricky, these “customer service” departments.)
- If necessary, be sure to copy and paste your message into your word processing software and save it, before sending the message.
- If you get an e-mail or postcard notification telling you that your rebate is denied because you didn’t send all the correct supporting documentation:
- Re-submit copies of all the paperwork (including the all-important UPC code) with a polite letter demanding your rebate.
- This second submission almost always seems to work.
- Another option if your rebate submission is ignored, delayed, or turned down, and if you bought the product at a local store: Go the the store and enlist their help in collecting the rebate. I went to one store where I bought some software, showed them the completed rebate form and paperwork, and complained that the manufacturer wasn’t making good on their rebates. I expected the store’s help in lighting a fire under the manufacturer. Instead, to my surprise, the store manager went to the cash drawer and handed me my $10 rebate in cash! I’ve been a loyal customer since.
- In the rare event that your repeated attempts to get your valid rebate paid are completely and ruthlessly ignored, then:
- Go to Google.com.
- Search the name of the company that offered the rebate. Find their corporate address and the name of their Chairman, President, and/or Chief Executive Officer.
- Then search on Google.com for “[INSERT THE HOME STATE WHERE THE COMPANY HEADQUARTERS IS LOCATED] Department of Consumer Affairs“. With a little sleuthing, you should be able to find the name, address, and telephone number of the consumer affairs department for that state.
- File a complaint against the rebating company with the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs. With any luck, they’ll have an on-line consumer complaint form.
- THIS IS IMPORTANT: Be sure to mail a copy of the complaint form to the rebating company’s Chairman, President, and/or Chief Executive Officer, along with a polite note that says you regret that you’ve had to file this complaint due to their nonresponsiveness. Include your phone number; for some reason they almost always want to call you (rather than write or e-mail) after they get this letter.
- Be sure to keep a copy of the complaint for yourself.
- This is the “nuclear option.” In my experience it has never failed.
Never be discouraged, and don’t let the small handful of shady retailers, manufacturers and rebate fulfillment houses get your down. There are some great rebate deals out there; now let’s go get them!
- My thanks to Andrew Tobias for posting the initial link to this site, which has led to links being posted on various other sites.
- Some web discussions about this site and its contents are available here and here.
- A great rebate site that I use when I shop on the web is Mr. Rebates.com. They’ve been very reliable in their payments, and even give you a printable receipt to prove that you’ve shopped through their web site. I’ve never had a problem with their rebates. (I’ll get a referral credit from them if you use this link or any of the links on this page to join; membership is free). Thanks.