Thursday, July 28, 2005

Latest Burger King Chicken site

In One Stroke, Podcasting Hits Mainstream--New York Times

Apple's iTunes software now offers a gateway to 3,000 podcasts - audio files that can be downloaded to a portable player. Can Apple can do for podcasts what it did for online music? - Read the whole story...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Canadian schizophrenia

All too often, Canadian morality is laced with hypocrisy. We are outraged by what happened to Kazemi in Iran, or to Maher Arar in Syria, yet continue to deport refugees to countries where they face torture, including Algeria, Syria, Lebanon — and yes, even Iran. Last year, 43 Iranian refugee claimants were deported from British Columbia alone, a four-fold increase from 1999.

More>>Censoring the Dead

Skins and Wolf July 2005 Posted by Picasa

Surfing in Halifax July 1st,2005 Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 25, 2005

Loyalty betrayed

Loyalty betrayed


In which DAVID MENZIES learns, yet again, that when it comes to affinity points programs you gotta use 'em fast or lose 'em

Screwed again. Once more, another credit card-issuing bank operating a "loyalty" scheme has decided to change the rules. In the bottom of the ninth inning. With barely any notice.

And the bank can legally do so, don't you know. Says so right in the fine print of the cardholder agreement. Huh? You didn't spend two hours reading all that 3-point type with a magnifying glass? So sorry, sir/ma'am. F you and have a nice day.

This time around, the changes are to the TD Travel Gold Visa Card. I've racked up thousands of points on this card over the years. But now comes word that the card's annual fee is being jacked up (to $120 from $99.) Meanwhile, the interest rate- in this day and age of generational low mortgage rates-is also being increased. All of which is completely contrary to the card's original marketing pitch-that being, the card's fees are lower than competing gold travel cards.

Bait and switch, you say? Hey, who loves ya, baby?

In truth, I'm angrier with myself than with TD. As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." (Who receives the shame when fooled for the 13th time?) Indeed, much like Charlie Brown-who unconditionally trusts Lucy to hold that pigskin stationary to facilitate a kickoff-when-oh-when will I ever learn?

Some background: My first loyalty card kick in the crotch came more than five years ago courtesy of the CIBC/Ford Visa Card. Throughout the '90s, I racked up nearly $3,000 in Ford dollars which could be put towards the purchase of any Ford/ Lincoln/Mercury product. Just one hitch: like a rusty '72 Pinto spewing blue smoke, the program was consigned to the scrap heap of obsolescence before I (and thousands of other cardholders) had a chance to purchase a car. No Fords in our future. And as one CIBC rep eloquently remarked at the time, "No skin off my nose."

This fiasco was followed up with changes to the TD/GM Visa card. When it first launched in the early '90s, the TD/GM card, just like the CIBC/Ford card, offered cardholders a 5% kickback on all purchases made with the blue-hued plastic. Those rebate dollars could be put toward the purchase of any GM vehicle and one could accumulate up to $3,500.

But in late 2002, new rules went into effect. For starters, the 5% kickback was slashed to 3%. Worse, the $3,500 maximum rebate now only applies to the purchase of a Cadillac; other GM cars feature a rebate cap of as little as $1,500. To add insult to injury, in a spectacular use of PR bafflegab, GM actually promoted these changes as good for cardholders.

Now the TD Travel Gold Card is being tweaked.

So, what's the deal? Robert McKinley, CEO of Inc., a U.S.-based company that tracks the payment card industry, says the days of generous kickbacks on affinity credit cards are gone and they're not coming back. The problem, he says, is that most reward programs, which were launched in the early '90s, haven't quite gone according to plan.

For example, McKinley says banks anticipated that more than 70% of consumers would "revolve" their balances and pay hefty interest rates on their outstanding balances. But consumers got smart. It turns out the exact opposite transpired: Only about 30% of affinity credit cardholders carry an outstanding balance on their cards. Result: many affinity programs are being overhauled-or axed outright.

Yet, as much as the banks will cast cardholders adrift at the first sign of trouble, there's a different set of rules when it comes to a consumer terminating a relationship. To wit: I recently informed TD I wouldn't be renewing my Gold Travel Card. For having the temerity to call it quits, TD decided to economically discipline me: I was given just 90 days to use my points or they would be voided. Kind of reminded me of Fatal Attraction. But I can play hardball, too. And so, after threatening the bank with litigation, TD promised to surrender the cash value equivalent of my points. (Surely, TD will be as generous with its other cardholders...or am I merely the squeaky wheel getting some grease?)

Bottom line: As Cardweb's McKinley notes, when it comes to points acquired via credit card affinity schemes, consumers must "use 'em or lose 'em." Put another way, in the credit card business, loyalty is clearly a one-way street. It's a truism I shall keep in mind when my TD mortgage comes up for renewal in November.

DAVID MENZIES is a Toronto writer. His "Consumer Guy" column appears every two weeks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sweeet surf vid

Friday, July 15, 2005

Beware of Trip Cancellation Coverage

Beware of Trip Cancellation Coverage. It's a joke. The only way you can ever get your money back with this bogus insurance coverage is if someone actually dies or is so seriously ill they end up in the hospital. I'm not kidding read the details.

In March I was purchasing a plane ticket using to to go to a friend's stag in Charleston, NC. My wife was 7 months pregnant at the time. I was worried about the pregnancy being early so I bought trip cancellation coverage.

My doctor advised me two weeks before the trip to stay at home. I called Expedia to cancel my trip which they did providing a credit on air travel in the future. They directed me to speak with WORLD ACCESS (ALLIANZ INSURANCE) to file a claim to cover the cost of the air travel. (WORLD ACCESS is the arm of ALLIANZ INSURANCE).

On after you confirm your travel itinerary the next step, #2 Travel Insurance Options it states,"We strongly recommend you buy insurance before travelling. " I selected what seemed like the obvious insurance--Trip Cancellation Coverage. I read the insurance details about Coverage Reasons/Pregnancy and adoption which says,

Pregnancy and Adoption

The pregnancy of you, your spouse, an immediate family member or your travelling companion if such a pregnancy:

•Has been diagnosed after your trip has been booked, and your departure is scheduled within nine (9) weeks before or after the expected date of delivery; or

But taking the advice of the site which STRONGLY RECOMMENDS THAT I BUY INSURANCE what other option did I have? This still sounded like the right coverage to get based on reading the Details.

When I called Allianz insurance to report the trip cancellation they felt that I had a pretty good case for making a claim. They in turn opened a file and gave me a case number. A week later I got forms in the mail to get my doctor to fill out. I sent them to Alliaz. It took a few weeks for them to get the files, scan them, assign a case officer, and start the process. Next they sent me back the forms asking me to get them filled out in full. I did this and sent them back by courier. It took them another few weeks to get the process started again. I was asked to wait until the case officer reviewed the file, another couple of weeks. Their decision was made in one day. They would not provide coverage. I asked to speak with the case officer, the agent I was speaking with couldn't put me in touch with the case officer. Her excuse was their process would not permit her to disclose the case officer's name or contact information. I said that I was disatisfied with the decision and said that I wanted to appeal. She said that I would have to fill out a number of forms and send them to be reviewed. I was so fed up with the whole bureaucratic process and corporate doublespeak that I felt my case was better served by putting it on the web to alert others to watch out for the bogus trip cancellation coverage. I hope you don't make the same mistake as I did because you WON"T get your money back.

I don't see who can use this insurance in the first place.

The following details on who is eligible:

Any serious injury or any unforeseen serious illness occurring to:

•You, or your travelling companion, which is so disabling as to cause a reasonable person to delay, cancel, or interrupt their trip;

•A family member that is life threatening or requiring hospitalization as an inpatient; or

•A family member who is dependent upon your care.

What percentage of the population would know ahead of time to purchase insurance thinking ahead that they could be seriously injured, hospitalized or dead. One in a million? That's pretty good odds for Allianz Insurance. It sounds like a pretty good money making sceme if you ask me. Maybe I should get into the insurance rackett. With some fatastic legal text and some confusing site usability I could trick countless people in to getting insurace coverage that I know I would never have to pay out. No wonder Canadian insurance companies are makiing such record profits.

I loved using before this experience. But this poor site usability and wording around Trip Cancellaiton Insurance has caused me to stop using I don't trust them. They have really wasted my time.

Beware of Trip Cancellation Coverage!