02.The shonkiest services
Shonky for ten-buck blow-out goes to...
When we were culling our list of nominees down to a manageable eight, the clouds of conundrum hovered over Coles: so many potential Shonky awards, but which one to give?
Its FlyBuys program was a strong contender: using the average weekly grocery spend of $155, we calculated it would take close to seven years to earn a Sydney-Melbourne return flight – not that it matters, because your points expire after three years. Lots of buy, not much fly.
We considered a spoil-sportsmanship Shonky for refusing to join the online grocery prices party. As a shaky compromise emerging from the aftermath of the Grocery Choice implosion of 2009, it was proposed that supermarkets at least publish their own prices online so consumers can shop for the best price. Woolworths has recently agreed to publish product prices online, and Aldi always has, but Coles won't play ball.
However, we decided to give the Shonky for its loaves-and-fishes $10 meals, where you can supposedly make some Curtis Stone MasterCreation to feed four people for less than $10 – provided, it turns out, if you happen to have some of the stuff in your pantry already and you manage to convince Coles to let you buy two cloves of garlic or one bay leaf. We calculated Curtis’ $7.76 Coq au vin would cost $37.74 if you bought all the necessary ingredients – including the integral half-litre of vin, which somehow wasn’t included in the $7.76 (though you’d perhaps hope not for that price). And it wasn't just that recipe - the $9.99 Chicken Tikka Masala set us back $39.74.
Shonky for history repeats...
Our test of fridges earlier this year turned up a rather unexpected surprise – and not just the leftover curry hiding at the back of the top shelf. We found the energy use for one of the LG models (the side-by-side GC-L197NFS) was way higher than their star label stated.
This isn’t unprecedented for LG – in 2004 they made 4A-rated water efficiency claims for numerous washing machines before they were certified, while in 2006 they gave court-enforceable undertakings to offer consumers rebates to cover the extra energy costs that five of its air conditioners would use based on overstated efficiency on the energy labels.
In the case of the fridge, the star-rating label is based on energy consumption while the fridge is in energy-saving mode, which is activated under conditions which include those used for energy testing.
While saving energy if you are away on holiday, it also causes large temperature fluctuations in the freezer, which can be detrimental to the quality of your food. Under everyday use, it's energy consumption is increased. LG has since given undertakings to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to compensate people who’ve bought that fridge for the higher-than-expected electricity costs they’ll be paying.
Shonky for a scam by any other name...
When a school student was researching the origins of Catholic names for an assignment, she thought she’d struck gold when she came across the website babynamemeans.com, and registered to access the site. In fact, it was the website that had struck gold – or at least a fair few gold-coloured coins.
In what’s becoming an increasingly common internet rip-off, buried in more than one page of dense fine print constituting terms and conditions was the not-insignificant observation that the website was in fact a subscription-based service, costing $12 per month for a minimum of one year – and by registering, she’d agreed to pay this. She was duly invoiced for $144 by the Indonesian company’s Australian “payment agents” – aka its debt collection agency.
While technically, the student perhaps should have read the whole 1500-word terms and conditions document thoroughly, the ACCC takes a fairly dim view of this needle-in-a-haystack presentation of important information that no-one’s likely to read. Warnings that costs will be charged should be clearly displayed and accessible, or the company risks running foul of Australia’s new unfair contracts legislation.
To its credit, the company agreed not to pursue the charges, but not before causing a fair bit of angst for the student and her family. See the video.
Shonky for low-flying jets...
Commonwealth Bank Awards program
We looked into the world of travel rewards credit cards to find out what rewards you can earn for a range of spending levels. While all the Commonwealth cards linked to the Qantas Frequent Flyer (QFF) program suffered serious rewards jetlag, it was the standard Awards card that stood out for poor performance.
Spending $12,000 per annum on this card will provide a paltry $20 in flights rewards, assuming you can spend on Amex (the value drops even further for Visa/MasterCard users). Even big spenders racking up $5,000 per month (the highest amount surveyed) can only earn an annual maximum of $240 flights rewards, and returns are even lower if you choose voucher rewards instead.
Where further shonkiness creeps in (yes, it gets worse) is how the points are calculated. You could be forgiven for assuming that one Awards point would equal one QFF point – after all, even the terms and conditions do not say otherwise. However, in reality you only earn QFF points at half the rate. It’s confusing to work out and means you need to spend double to earn the rewards you want. In fact, you need to spend at least $34,000 just for a Sydney-Brisbane return flight.
The bottom line? If you count on these cards for Frequent Flyer points, you won’t be flying very frequently at all.