Earlier in the week I wrote about my new iPhone 4S. I took a rather crafty approach in obtaining the phone. The local cell phone operators – Orange, Pelephone and Cellcom being the largest – are more than happy to give you a phone for “free” along with a plan with a minimum price of NIS 200 – NIS 250 (about $50-$65) a month. That fee, of course, includes a “hidden” charge where you pay for the phone over a period of 36 months; so the actual price of the phone comes to more than $1,000.
But that same phone is available from Apple in the U.S. for $700-$800, depending on how many gigabytes of memory you want. If you’ll be in the States or have a way to get a phone brought over from the old country, you can save several hundred dollars.
That was especially the case for me. I’m not a big phone talker. I needed a new phone (my ancient decidedly-not-smart Ericsson would unexpectedly just shut off, so I frequently missed calls) and I liked the idea of not having to carry a separate iPod and paper calendar.
My average talk and SMS bills have averaged about NIS 75 ($20) per month (true, now stop laughing already). All I needed was a cheap data package so, for example, I could use Waze to monitor traffic conditions or check email when I was away from a WiFi connection. That could result in a savings of at least NIS 100 – NIS 150 a month. Do the math and you’ll see that, in addition to getting the phone cheaper, I’d be doing pretty well over the three-year period.
With great optimism, I entered the Orange store in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood and asked for their minimum data plan. I was delighted to learn that I could get 250 MB/month for just NIS 24 ($6.50) above my regular plan. If it turned out I needed more data, a full gigabyte was just NIS 42 ($11). Sign me up, Scotty.
Imagine then my surprise when I received my first bill and the price for the data plan was not NIS 24 but NIS 38. What gives?
We called Orange. The polite customer service agent checked and assured us that there was no such thing as a NIS 24/month plan, that the NIS 38 was correct, and there was nothing we could do about it, short of going into Orange and confronting them in person. Nothing I like more than a round of verbal fisticuffs in Hebrew
Now, we had asked the salesperson at the Orange store for the deal in writing, but she refused. “It’s all in the computer.” This is a common tactic (friends at other cellular providers report the same thing). I don’t know if it’s even legal. Silly us for being trusting in the first place.
Now, without the great optimism of the first trip, we headed back to Orange. By some great luck, we got the very same salesperson. She appeared as startled as us by our bill. “Yes, it’s NIS 24/month,” she said. But the computer didn’t agree. Apparently, there had been a glitch and the first time around the computer was offering an old price that had already been discontinued. When she tried to fix our bill now, the NIS 24 option simply didn’t appear.
She seemed genuinely apologetic, but we were determined to get something out of the inconvenience (waiting for the Orange representative on the phone, driving back to the Orange store, waiting in line, etc – that had to be worth something). She offered us a refund for the first month. I demanded six.
“It’s impossible,” our salesperson said, not looking so apologetic anymore. “The computer won’t let me.” Sure, I thought to myself. Then the computer “suddenly” obliged and we settled at three.
The salesperson then suggested that we upgrade our plan. “You’ll save money,” she said, doing her best to coo us into compliance. We spent the next 20 minutes running calculations – cell phone plans are so convoluted they’re nearly impossible to decipher.
Let’s see: the new plan cost 38 agorot a minute for calls with 50 minutes free between Orange subscribers. We were paying a very high 89 agorot a minute but with 100 minutes free between family members and another 90 minutes free to other Orange users. One plan had the data package built in to the price; in the other it was extra.
And what’s to guarantee that, if we switched, once we got home we wouldn’t discover the same bait and switch?
Ah, but here’s where that new iPhone came in very handy. Before we started the conversation, I surreptitiously opened the voice recorder on the phone. The entire exchange was now preserved for posterity…or battle.
In the end we decided to stick with the plan we already had. And I have no idea if making a recording like this is even legal or admissible in court. But I don’t imagine it would ever come to that. After all, you can just switch to another carrier. I’m sure that would work out much better…right?