WENDY KNOWLER | Greyhound ticket refunds, rules for lay-bys & status cards

The popular Southern African bus operators Greyhound and Citiliner are closing operations. Services will run until February 14. The company is now refunding ticketholders.
Image: Werner Hills

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Lay-bys are lovely – but only if done legally

I’ve received two lay-by related complaints in a week, and it pains me that so many companies – mostly smallish independents – are still doing lay-bys in the most consumer unfriendly of ways.

Done right, buying something on lay-by is a huge win for consumers. No credit checks are necessary because the shop gets to hold on to the goods until they are totally paid off.

Lay-by allows you to choose an item – a pair of shoes, for example – and pay them off every month, with no interest added.

According to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), you can cancel a lay-by at any time, for no particular reason, and you must be refunded all payments you’ve made up to that point, minus just 1% of the retail price as a cancellation penalty. So if the shoes cost R1,000, the cancellation penalty is just R10 – virtually nothing.

Importantly, the stores must refund you – they can’t issue a credit note instead, locking you into buying with them again.

Kabelo told me that he’d put a lay-by on a R20,000 couch at a Centurion furniture outlet last August and when he’d finally paid in full this month and was looking forward to collecting the couch, he was told it had been discontinued and that he must choose something else. Remember, this was a couch that was supposed to have been set aside for him as a lay-by purchase!

He was promised a refund of his R20,000, but only after he’d clarified his rights with me and assured them he would not let the matter rest.

Let’s hope there’s no delay with that refund.

Pritika put her husband-to-be’s wedding outfit on lay-by at a Durban wedding boutique, ahead of their April wedding, paying a R900 deposit. When she tried to cancel the deal soon afterwards, she was told they “don’t do exchanges or refunds”.

Well, the CPA trumps companies’ own Ts and Cs, as I will be pointing out to that store owner.

Please ask questions about a store’s lay-by policy before you sign the deal.

How fast are those Greyhound refunds happening?

It’s the end of the road for luxury sister coach companies Greyhound and Citiliner – their Valentine’s weekend cross-country trips will be their last.

The company was already in trouble due to declining passenger numbers when Covid-19 struck and that hastened its demise.

It now sits with bookings until June and is in the throes of repaying its customers about R370,000 in ticket payments.

Unitrans Passenger operations executive Jasen Smallbone assured me on Friday that full refunds are being processed as a matter of urgency.

“We are not just waiting for affected passengers to call us, we are proactively reaching out to them,” he said. “We’ve processed refunds for February and March, and we’re now dealing with April’s bookings.”

Affected ticket holders are also invited to e-mail refunds@greyhound.co.za – with your booking reference and banking details – or call 011 611 8000.

Here’s a fascinating glimpse at what’s happened to the cost of luxury coach travel: when Greyhound launched its inter-city service in 1984, a ticket from Joburg to Durban cost R75. “Last week I saw the same trip advertised by another coach company for just R129,” Smallbone said.

A difference of just R54 after 37 years!

“To run a quality, customer-centric, luxury coach service, there are a lot of hidden costs, such as subscribing to an emergency passenger evacuation service,” Smallbone said.

In the end, cost-cutting competitors and the budget airline industry pulled too many of Greyhound’s customers away.

Are you wasting money on that “status” credit card?

Do you know that your bank is adding not one but two fees to your credit card balance every month?

One’s for the admin associated with the credit facility and a second amount is for the admin relating to the “value adds”. The better the “status” of your card, the higher the fee.

For example, Standard Bank’s base and Gold card fee is R18 while the Platinum card fee is R59.

And what are those “value adds”? They mostly relate to air travel, such as entrance to airport lounges and discounted car hire overseas.

With both domestic and international travel volumes having fallen off a cliff since last March, most premium card holders have been paying that inflated fee every month for little to no benefit and that trend looks set to continue.

If the superior feeling you get from having a premium credit card is worth the extra spend to you, well and good; otherwise, you may want to consider downgrading to a less costly credit card.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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