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Boingo Wireless is a scam - hidden fees [second update sep. 2nd]

posted Aug 4, 2009, 5:34 AM by Matteo Risoldi   [ updated Sep 2, 2009, 12:36 AM ]
UPDATE Aug 8: Boingo VP contacted me - read at the end of this post for the update.
UPDATE Sep 2: Some more comments from the Boingo VP and final considerations - again, at the end of this post.

Speaking about valued customers, I recently was double billed by Boingo for their WiFi service at Newark Liberty airport.
Their reason (I'd call it excuse) for this is that I used the service on my laptop and phone. Yes, I did - and I did because there is no mention anywhere about a single device limitation, except in the customer agreement - 4 pages down, as the single, plain and small text last line of article 12.
While legally this might be sound (but I still think a good lawyer could claim otherwise), this is an utterly unfair practice. Such a limitation can effectively double or triple the price of the connection for a traveler with a laptop and one or two smartphones, and should be written in large type on the account pricing page.
What I know is that they had me once, but not twice. They got 8 dollars more than due, and that's all they'll ever get again from me (apart from bad publicity, which I'll use every opportunity to make).
Following is the mail exchange I had with them.

My original message:

Dear Sir/Madam,

on a recent trip to the USA, I bought a Boingo access for one day at the Newark Liberty airport on July 26. I have since received two receipts (and two payments on my credit card), one for Jul 26 and one for Jul 27. I believe the one for Jul 27 was issued in error, as I was not in the US anymore on that day, having boarded a plane to my home country (Switzerland) at 5 PM on Jul 26. I have boarding passes proving this, which I can send you if needed. Besides my usage page on my.boingo.com shows that my connections were all on July 26 (thus all in the initial 24 hours from the account activation). It is thus clear that no activity whatsoever occurred on July 27.

Can you please look into the issue and reimburse the second payment, the receipt of which you can find attached below. Let me know if you need further information.

Their response:

Dear Matteo Risoldi,
 
Thank you for contacting Boingo Wireless.
 
We apologize for any misunderstandings you have about your As You Go plan. When you signed up and agreed to the terms and agreement, it states there is to be only one device to used on this plan. If you access the service with more than one device you will be charged for each device that accesses the service. We show on 7/26/09 when you accessed the service you used two devices for a long period of time.
 
With the amount of time and data transfer we are not able to refund you this charges as it is valid.
 
Warm regards,
 
xxxx xxxxxx
Customer Care
Boingo Wireless

US and Canada: 1.800.880.4117
Mexico: 001.877.348.8201
International: 00.800.2646.4646
Email: support@boingo.com

P.S. Do you have an iPhone, Android, Nokia, or Windows Mobile device? If so, try Boingo Mobile – only $7.95 USD per month for unlimited global access. To sign up or learn more, visit mobile.boingo.com today!

Note that they have the good taste of putting advertising in customer support emails... :\

My second and final response:


Dear Madam,

I checked the customer agreement. Let me resume: when I signed up, I checked a box agreeing to a customer agreement that I could read clicking a link in small text, then scrolling down four pages, and finding it in the last line of article 12 as a line starting with "Furthermore" (as if this was a detail).
While I agree that on a legal plan your back is covered because there is a single line hidden under article 12 of the agreement, I still want to express all of my contempt for this way of making business. Your plan description is clearly misleading as it speaks about a 24h access without any mention - not even as a footnote - of the single device limitation, on any page of the website apart from the agreement.
In this age it is common for travelers to have a laptop AND a smartphone with WiFi, and if they buy a WiFi access they will probably want to use both. If you honestly (and I mean HONESTLY) think that putting this limitation (which effectively doubles the price) 4 pages down in a small-text 16-article contract is the right way to highlight it, then we have a very different conception of what a honest business is. In Europe this would be condemned as unfair practice in business and false advertising. But then again, I gather your business policy is getting a maximum of money from people who will fall for this kind of deceitful billing. I can't do much about that - I'll just make sure that I don't do business with you ever in the future. Eight dollars - that's how much you value potential future business from a customer, and that's exactly all you'll ever have had from me.

Regards.

UPDATE Aug. 8:
The consumer marketing VP from Boingo contacted me today offering an apology and a credit (the message is below this post). Apologies accepted, although I am waiting to see if and when the T&C are actually updated. I appreciate this message and the personal commitment coming with it. I'm not sure I will do business with Boingo again though, unless there is a radical revision of their practices -- there are too many stories online (google "boingo scam", "boingo lousy" and the like) of people billed recurringly without being able to cancel their accounts, or about the Boingo application connecting to the Boingo network without any warning while abroad, charging huge sums. The L.A. Better Business Bureau has given Boingo an F rating already - time to do something people!
Here's a few things needed:
- revise the T&C (but you know that already) to allow multiple devices
- rewrite your application so that it is not possible to connect to the network without knowing it
- also, the application should be telling you what the price for your CURRENT location is. If your accounting department can bill it, the application has to be able to know it.
- offer a way to cancel your account ONLINE. There is no information about canceling on the website. Having to send your billing information via email is an obsolete, non-functional and unreliable way of unsubscribing (and it has been proven that it does not work by several people who had trouble unsubscribing).
- make sure ALL of the rates are published on the prices page (you know this too). Including prices abroad. Including multiple connection fees. Including everything. My phone provider does it, and your system is not more complex than theirs, is it?
My 2 c.

Here is the VP's message:

Dear Matteo:
 
I saw your post about the lousy experience you had with Boingo, and wanted to reach out.  I’m sorry that we created a situation that was at best confusing and at worst, appeared to be a “hidden fee.”
 
You’re right: We could do a much better job of explaining that usage is limited to a single device.  We shouldn’t bury it four pages down in T&C’s; it should be very clear from the purchase flow.  (In fact, the reality is the T&C’s language was written to prevent someone from using two *laptops* at the same time, not a laptop and a mobile device, which demonstrates how much our T&C’s need to be updated to reflect the reality of how people get connected today.)
 
Frankly, I really appreciate you’ve taken the time to blog about this, because even though it’s painful for us to hear about your poor experience with Boingo in such a public manner, it definitely helps us shed light on a problem we need to fix.  So you have my commitment that well do just that, and I’ll follow up with you directly when we do.
 
Finally, we’ve credited your account for the usage that should have been credited from the get-go.
 
Our apologies and our thanks.

SECOND UPDATE SEP 2ND:

The Boingo VP who had contacted me has sent me a new message with further comments on my last post. I am writing them to you here, and adding a few remarks by myself. In the VP's message below, she answers my points in red; my own further comments are in blue.
Matteo:
 
I just wanted to give you an update that our Product, Engineering, Customer Care and Marketing teams met on Tuesday to review this issue and make recommendations as to how we move forward with regard to multiple devices usage.  As consumers increasingly want to stay connected on many different kinds of platforms, this is an important issue to clarify for folks right up front.  The good news is we did arrive at a set of recommendations we’re going to adopt.  It will take us some time to put them into effect, but I did want to let you know it’s on its way.  So thanks for providing good feedback that will help make the Boingo experience a good one for all users.
 
I also wanted to follow up with you regarding your last post regarding our exchange.  First, a big thanks for taking the time to update your blog about this experience.  But some of the comments/suggestions you made bear further explanation from me, so I hope you’ll indulge me.  My comments below are in red.
 
>The consumer marketing VP from Boingo contacted me today offering an apology and a credit (the message is below this post).
>
Apologies accepted, although I am waiting to see if and when the T&C are actually updated. I appreciate this message and the
>
personal commitment coming with it. I'm not sure I will do business with Boingo again though, unless there is a radical revision
>
of their practices -- there are too many stories online (google "boingo scam", "boingo lousy" and the like) of people billed
>
recurringly without being able to cancel their accounts, or about the Boingo application connecting to the Boingo network
>
without any warning while abroad, charging huge sums. The L.A. Better Business Bureau has given Boingo an F rating already -
>
time to do something people!
[VP: Let me tackle these one by one.
* Cancelling one’s Boingo account is a *very* simple process.  You simply contact Customer Care at a toll-free number 24/7/365.  We don’t have any incentive to try and make this a difficult process.  Because people use us primarily when they travel, they will become subscribers, drop the service for awhile, and then come back on again in a few months when their travel picks up.  If we made cancelling service a poor experience, we would not get repeat usage, so we really try to make the process seamless.  No, we don’t allow you to cancel online at this time (not many subscription-based companies do), but we are evaluating this option for the future.
I perfectly agree it's in Boingo's own interest to make cancelling an easy experience. However the reports I saw online speak clearly. There is surely something to improve either in Boingo's procedures or in customer service.
* The Boingo software does not “automatically” connect you!  A user has to actively select the “Connect” button before they get connected.  What is more likely to have happened is that a consumer is unaware they will be billed for the connection.  Our earlier version of the Boingo software was unable to tell a customer that hotspot X was going to be charged $7.95 and hotspot Y was going to be charged $19.95.  But *all* our software – PC and Mac – now has this functionality built-in.
I concede users might misunderstand how the connection billing etc works. As a software developer myself, I tend to classify this kind of problems as interface problems. Thus, although it is not technically Boingo's fault, there is space for improvement. In the end what counts is a satisfied customer, not establishing faults.
* We actually have a score of “B-“, not “F” with the BBB.  We’re working very hard to make that an “A.”]
I saw the numbers about addressed complaints (refunds etc) on the BBB website changed drastically. This is good. I suppose this is the reason for the rating change. I also gather this allowed Boingo to be a member of the BBB (the B rating is a minimum requirement from what I saw). I must admit I was a bit skeptical about such a sudden rating change, especially when I noticed that Boingo is now a BBB member (which means there is a "monetary obligation" being paid to BBB). However, as I said, the numbers on Boingo's rating have changed and I have no special reason to think the BBB might have faked the numbers - and this seems a transparent enough measure to convince me that the B rating is not the effect of the membership (rather, it seems to be the other way around).


>Here's a few things needed:
>
>- revise the T&C (but you know that already) to allow multiple devices

[VP: We’ll be modifying our plan types such that AsYouGo (transactional) sales will permit multiple devices.  Subscription
accounts (Boingo Unlimited, Boingo Global, Boingo Mobile) will be permitted up to two MAC addresses.  And Boingo Combo account
(Laptop + Mobile bundle, which launches this fall) will be permitted four MAC addresses.  It will take us a bit of time to make
these changes, but per my note above, these changes are squarely on our product roadmap.]
                                      
>- rewrite your application so that it is not possible to connect to the network without knowing it
[VP: As mentioned above, there is no auto-login feature.  A user must explicitly click “Login” to initiatite a session that incurs charges.]
 

>- also, the application should be telling you what the price for your CURRENT location is. If your accounting department can
>bill it, the application has to be able to know it.

[VP: As mentioned above, all current versions of the software have this feature. The software not only alerts you to what the charge will be, but this charge varies by plan type, so the messaging is unique to the user.]


>- offer a way to cancel your account ONLINE. There is no information about canceling on the website. Having to send your billing
>information via email is an obsolete, non-functional and unreliable way of unsubscribing (and it has been proven that it does
>not work by several people who had trouble unsubscribing).

[VP: Canceling your service is as simple as calling a toll-free number, which is clearly displayed in the Customer Care portion of our website.  Our agents are available 24/7/365 to take cancellation orders, and as I mentioned above, we have no incentive to make this a painful process.  Quite the opposite is true.  We are currently evaluating the option of adding online cancellation to our website.]
 
>- make sure ALL of the rates are published on the prices page (you know this too). Including prices abroad. Including multiple
>connection fees. Including everything. My phone provider does it, and your system is not more complex than theirs, is it?

[VP: It’s a great suggestion.  We’re working on it now.]
 
As ever, I appreciate your time to make these suggestions and if you think of more, please let us know.  Our aim is to build a fantastic company, and we can only doing it by hearing the good, the bad, and yes – even the ugly!  Thanks, Matteo.

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