MoneyUnder30.com

AT&T Wireless Rebate Visa Gift Cards Are A Raw Deal


AT&T Wireless Visa debit gift cards that come as rebates for iPhone, Blackberry, or other mobile phone purchases are a raw deal! AT&T advertises prices for popular mobile phones that include $50 or $100 off in the form of a Visa gift card that the customer must apply for after the purchase. But…most customers will never get to use the card for the full $50 or $100.

How the Rebate Works

After purchasing a qualifying phone from AT&T Wireless, the customer receives paperwork to apply for a rebate in the form of a Visa debit gift card. As with most rebates, the customer must complete a form and mail it in along with the receipt and the applicable codes from the new phone’s packaging. Then, the customer waits. And waits.

My wife and I both purchased new phones from AT&T within the last year, and we both waited about six weeks to receive our $100 rebate gift cards. That’s not unusual for mail-in rebates, and the waiting period is fully explained in AT&T promotional materials. The problem with this rebate offer, however, isn’t the wait. It’s the form of the rebate: The Visa debit gift card.

Unlike a cash rebate (that comes as a check for the rebate amount), the AT&T rebate comes on a preloaded Visa gift card. The card can be used anywhere that accepts Visa. Almost as good as cash, right? Not quite.

My Wife’s Experience

My wife decided to use her AT&T Visa rebate card last weekend to make a couple of purchases. She actived the card and went off to the mall. She made her first purchase for $41 without trouble. The problems, however, started when she tried to use the card to make a second purchase.

Her second purchase was going to be about $100—more than the remaining value ($59) on the gift card. She carefully explained to the clerk that she’d like to charge the AT&T rebate card for exactly the remaining balance, and pay the balance on the item with another card. “No problem,” the clerk said as she ran the gift card through for the exact amount of the remaining balance.

To my wife’s surprise, the card was declined. The clerk tried again. Declined.

My wife called the number on the back of the AT&T rebate Visa card from the store. That’s when things got interesting. The woman who answered the phone told her that when she used the gift card the first time, the company put a hold on the card for the amount my wife charged plus twenty percent (to allow for a potential tip). Of course, my wife used the card in a clothing store, not a restaurant, but the card must do this for all transactions. That hold stays on the card for a few business days.

Not only did that hold prohibit my wife from using the full value of the card, but since she had attempted a purchase the caused the card to be declined, the woman told her that the card’s value would now be “frozen” for ten days! There would be no way to use the card for any reason until the freeze expires after ten days. Talking to the company and explaining the situation did nothing.

Obviously, AT&T/Visa puts these restrictions on these gift cards to prevent a cardholder from overcharging the card’s value. Because the card is not reloadable and not a credit card, Visa would have no way to recover any charges that exceed the gift card’s initial value.

Unfortunately, the restrictions also make it very difficult for the consumer to use the card for its full value. My guess? That’s what AT&T is counting on. By issuing gift cards instead of cash, they know that some people may forget about the card altogether, others won’t use it before it expires (it’s only valid for a few months), and most others will only use a fraction of the balance. Instead of paying out rebates of $100 per phone, AT&T probably pays back, on average, a much lower amount.

One final frustration: You can’t use the rebate Visa cards to pay your AT&T Wireless bill.

Buyer Beware!

So if you buy an AT&T Wireless phone and receive a Visa rebate gift card, beware! There may be no way to use the full value of the card. If somebody knows how, please share!

If you wish to voice complaints to AT&T Wireless regarding these Visa rebate cards, call one of their executive customer service numbers (attached to their corporate offices). Phone numbers courtesy of Consumerist, where you can find these number for all the big wireless carriers.

AT&T Executive Customer Service

  • Eastern States: 877-707-6220
  • Western States: 800-498-1912

Of course, you can also feel free to share your story and/or complaints about these rebate cards here in a comment.

Get access to our best money hacks:

Join over 11,000 other young professionals and learn how to get out of debt by 30, increase your income this year and invest for financial freedom.




100% free! I will NOT spam you and I will NOT share your email.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I have an Amex clear card that rewards me with a $25 amex gift card based on points. It works very similarly to a Visa gift card. Instead of dealing with the hassle of having people split payments up among different cards, as soon as I get a rewards card in the mail, I instantly buy myself a gift certificate from Amazon for the entire value of the card. No dealing with fees, penalties, whatever.

  2. I’ve always just used the rebate cards to apply the amount to my next cell phone bill. Has worked every time and I get the full value.

    • I worked for AT&T Wireless for two years and that was EXACTLY what I would recommend to all of my customers. Another problem with the cards is that they expire!! Taking your card right back to an AT&T store and having them apply it to your bill as soon as you get it is a sure fire way to guarantee you get to redeem its full value. The 20% tip hold does not apply when used at the retail corporate stores (I can’t vouch for the authorized dealers).Since your bill is something you would’ve spent money on anyway it usually works out great for people.

      • MY REBATE amount should be used anywhere I want to use it. To begin with, it’s my money and AT & T should discount the phones at the time of sale in stead of doing the rebate scam to begin with.

        • Pat Sawyer says:

          I agree. The discount should be applied to the purchase of the new phone, or creditied to the next months wireless bill. AT&T sends out the disount via a credit card in hopes that their clients, we will forget to activate the card in the short time span they give before it expires. I pay them over $6,000 annually for my wireless accounts, and I believe I will begin to look for a new wireless provider.

  3. I would think that Samir’s gift certificate method would work normally, and my initial reaction was to do something like that, but it’s the 20% over charge that concerns me. If you tried to use the $100 card to charge $100 in gift certificates, wouldn’t the card decline because it couldn’t take a $120 authorization on the account? How would you possibly get all of the money off unless you made a $80 transaction, then 5 days later a $16 transaction, and so on?

    There must be some way to get the total amount off in one transaction.

  4. I work at a bank and we have done cash advances on these cards for the exact amount on the card with no problem…you can then deposit the money or take the cash.

    • it took me 2hrs to activate the att reward card! Then I have questions about using it. It looks like att makes this very difficult to use it !!! Charge gas? who knows. 10 hold on card after one purchase? This stinks.
      What a joke these cards are. Now more than ever I am determined to get this card used up no matter what. We all need to go up the corporate ladder to complain about these “greatrewards” haha.

  5. I have a Visa gift card from a Swiffer rebate from earlier this year and haven’t been able to use the last $3 + change – it keeps getting declined. And I’ve waited more than those periods so that’s not really the issue. I may try Jacqueline’s suggestion and just cash it at the bank, thanks!

  6. I have an easy approach to these things. I just use the full amount all at once. For example, a $50 card I will take to the grocery store and then just use it all at once. $50 is taken of what would have been an $80 bill. I have never had a problem doing this.

    The extra 20% authorization. depends on the vendor. Some vendors are designated as restaurants or some other tip related industry. I know this because I thought I was overcharged by one place but when I called my credit card company, they explained there was a 20% authorization added to the amount charged. That was for a bar. But I have found that grocery stores normally work just fine and don’t get the extra 20% temporary authorization.

  7. if the ammount of the card is less then the total bill you pay the difference FIRST. only when using the promotion card at a retailer that accepts tips does the20% surcharge apply and if you ar getting a stupid answer from a rep at the crad centre on the back of the card ask for a supervisor they WILL know the correct answer

  8. I have a large business account with AT&T and my biz rep told me that the reason they do rebated this way is because, statistically, only about 15% of rebates are used and that the excess money goes back to AT&T. It’s a huge fraud to their customers.

    • You where misinformed, actually att promotion cards can be used anywhere visa is accepted icluding att cusomer service or at att store to pay yor bill, All money not used on att visa prpmotion is not going to att, its goes to your state revunue agency, as unclaimed money, of course the goverment isnt the fastest on doing things, usually letters and checks will go out in 2 yrs from that agency.

    • Your rdight Phil. This is all a big joke….

  9. David Weliver says:

    Wow, I figured that they were counting on some of the rebates never being used, but that’s incredible if only 15% ever get used! That’s nuts.

    • You really do have to push to talk to a supervisor. We just got off the phone with at&t and the lady would not accept our card for our bill and said we could not use it for gas or any other shopping. She told us the rebate is only for at&t accessories. I wonder how much commission she gets?
      She had no idea what she was talking about. But, imagine how many people end up believing her…

      • Shravan says:

        Thats what it is, The reward center tells me you cannot use it to pay your bill. ATT customer service tells me you can. I asked the customer service about the conflicting information.

        She says “I do not know about that”.

        I was told a cash credit on chat when I signed up. Now I am getting a reward card. Next, the offer says “There is not a contract with the service so you are able to upgrade/downgrade or cancel at any time without any extra charge”. The retention center tells me there is an early termination charge for $150. When asked for a manager, they took down my number but never called back.

        What to do?

  10. i have never had a problem with rebate cards…..the thing to do is…..
    50.00 rebate card -41.50 purchase=leave 8.50 on card. Next purchase is 10.00. you have to pay balance down to exact amount or less left on card….in this case i would pay 1.50 on my debit card, and the final payment would be with the rebate card for 8.50
    the rebate has to be the final payment, you can’t use it to bring the balance down to 1.50, and then pay that with debit, it worn’t work.

  11. I can’t even find how to activate the stupid card. It is from AT&T.
    Any advice?

  12. unhappy_customer says:

    I have returned the documentation and my original IMEI (cut from the box). Folowing week I got an SMS from ATT rebates stating that they are processing my rebate. Yesterday I got a letter in the mail: “we are unable to process your request because you did not meet the requirements: Receipt and no IMEI bar code” I have sent both IN ORIGINAL, because that what they said, and no I ended up with no paperworks and a big hole in the original box with no serial and IMEI. What can be done, this is crazy! I’m gonna call first thing in the morning.

  13. ATT is a criminal enterprise. The individual states shouldn’t allow ATT to advertise the post rebate prices because less than half of the rebate value is ever paid out by ATT. They make it so difficult, make you wait so long, throw up so many obstacles.

    I suggest you write your attorney general and complain of this fraudulent activity. Make ATT show audited proof that at least 80% of rebates are delivered to customers.

    What I do with the rebate cards: take them right to the gas station and fill up w/ as much gas as I can in 20, 30, 50 dollar increments. This way I can keep track of the value that is on the card.

    Between the rebate cards, giving your kids the ability to spend money on games and music, deceptive pricing, extremely dense legalese and other fraudulent activity, they need to be smacked down a bit.

    Write to your politician, consumer advocates, attorney general and complain. Make the phone companies prove the rebates are actually paid, not just another bait-n-switch tactic.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

  14. My mistake was to leave the card inactive — then all the fees started adding up until $20+ of my rebate was gone. Not only does the retailer hope that you do not redeem the rebate, but the issuing company steals it back from you. When did checks became a bad thing?

  15. I was suspose to get a 50.00 dollar rebate from att back in august of 2009 and im still waiting.I call every week and im told call back in 5-7 business days and hopefully well have some good news. I have copies of everything and they are being looked at by a lawyer.

  16. Just got a visa prepaid rebate card from Nissan. In addition from the usual, gas/restaurants, they now hit the card with a $15 hold for telecommunication companies, going one step further than most. Normally, if you don’t use the card you can request a paper check however, Nissan in conjunction with Fidelity Information Services, also imposes a $15 processing fee. The solution, first complain to the # on the back of the card, get all company info including who the ee’s physically work for. Threaten to call your congressman, talk to a supervisor. Then go out and to the benefit from others above, buy a gift certificate for your favorite store for the complete rebate amount. You have the satisfaction that you used the entire card, don’t get embarrassed in a store with a decline or failed transactions, satisfaction that you wasted more time and money than the card is worth to the card issuer and if you feel so inclined voice your displeasure with the company that sent you the card in the first place. Follow up with your senators, elected officials, or attorney generals in your home state. Almost positive Senator Dodd and others have regulatory reform in the works. Take a page from Obama and call out the crooks by name. How far you choose to take it is up to you. For me, it’s principle. You don’t make your customer mad.

  17. You can apply the gift card directly to your monthly ATT bill. Its easy. But I agree, it its the first time you are useing one of these its a pain. In the future you can cll into the number of the card and get the value of the card, then you can zero it out anywhere whith a smart cashier. Be advised that a cashier can not see the available value so they will not be able to zero it out without you knowing the cards exact value. PS, leftover Jc

  18. Anna Knight says:

    DID you activate it before using it?? Cause I went to use it and the guy was like did you activate it and i was like no!!! So yea you have to call and activate it first!!

  19. I tired to use two of my cards last night at a restaurant (which I activated one of them and checked the balance on the other right before I went out) – of course it was DECLINED twice. Why? I called the number on the back of the card this morning and was told that VISA holds 20 percent at restaurants for a “TIP”. Well, I always pay cash tips. Visa doesn’t care – they still hold 20% for tips. But, if I use them at TARGET, there supposedly is no problem. I don’t intend on letting these card expire. I HATE “promotion cards”. I bought four cell phones and got 4 $50 PROMOTION CARDS. I think this whole thing is a rip off – ATT just hopes people get frustrated and give up – then AT&T gets more money in their pockets. Next time, I will demand a check or ask to have AT&T take the rebate amount off of my very expensive bill.

    • You can 100% have your rebates credited to your bill. You do have to wait until you get them back in the mail, but you can either call or stop into any AT&T store and they will be more than happy to help you.

      It is always best to use gift cards, any gift card, for their full amount in one use. It is kind of a pain but if you are 3 dollars short of the balance just grab an extra little something you know that you’ll use. Then there is no worries about letting the card expire or knowing the balance.

  20. Called my bank Wells Fargo and they will give me back total of Reward Card. Havent used it yet.
    If its a visa card the bank will do it. I never have seen such a pain to get money…

  21. This is no rip off, we just got two more $50 cards, we applied them to our ATT bill.
    Done – Simple – EZ.

  22. Crystal says:

    My husband and I both got these cards when we upgraded our phones. We haven’t experienced any of the problems you mentioned. His card even got down to a dollar something and we were still able to use the card by giving the cashier the exact amount to key in to deplete the remaining balance on the card.

  23. Ray Barker says:

    For what it’s worth. Since AT&T couldn’t care less what is posted on this website. It, at least, gives one a place to vent and warn others who might be inclined to order any AT&T services or equipment.

    I ordered AT&T High Speed Internet and was supposed to get a $100 rewards Visa card. It’s been 2 months, several phone calls, and a FAX to resubmit all my information for the rewards and now they tell me that it has been disqualified. I jumped through all the hoops and followed all the requirements to the letter. Even resubmitted the required paperwork a second time. Now it’s DISQUALIFIED????

    Give me a break!!!!!

    • I hear your pain! As I mentioned in an earlier post I used to work for AT&T recently so I’m quite familiar with the policies. When I moved to a new city my spouse and I ordered home phone and internet service through them and have been jumping through the same hoops as you. Our service activation date was in JUNE and its now September and we have yet to receive neither either rebate we filled out redemptions for. The worst part is talking to reps that have no idea I know how the system works and listening to them trying to give me the run around. “Oh m’am you must have service for at least 30 days before you redeem…” Umm hello? It’s been four months. It’s mess. They should just credit their customers accounts instead of having us wait for rebates, but then that I’m sure they wouldn’t want to see their lovely 15% redemption rate improve.

  24. Ratchanee says:

    I just switch to AT&T service and it is horrible. I have been waiting for 9 weeks now to get my rebate. Evdry time I call they say it is being processed and it should be there with in 2 weeks. Every single person I have talked to at the rebate center was very rude and did nit seem to know what thy were talking about. Hopefully I will have my card in the next 2 weeks. That is a total waiting time of 12 week, AT&T says you should receive the rebate in 6-8 weeks.

  25. Whenever I’ve gotten those cards I’ve applied them to my cell phone bill. This time around I opted to try getting an Amazon gift card for the full $50. Will let you know if it works (I just ordered it a moment ago).

  26. Another hoop to jump through: My gift card said “debit card” on the front but it must be processed as a charge card . The store clerk ran it through as debit so it was rejected.
    It became clear to me that ATT was hoping/planning on many people not using their “rewards”. After my 3rd rejection (& 3 calls to ATT, with delays), I passed all through barriers: 1) charge card processing, 2) do not attempt to use the rewards card for a balance above the reward total and 3) activate the card 4) use the card before its expiration, about 3 months from receipt.
    [On my 1st 2 calls to the ATT call center a) they checked their computer to tell me about the “debit” use error b) they told me that the store’s bill was over the reward card value. **Why didn’t the ATT person ask/remind me to activate the card?]
    Granted, when the rewards/gift card arrived, I tossed the enclosures that must have had some “fine print” instructions. I mistakenly assumed this card would be used similarly to previous gift cards I have received. Wrong. It was a timewise expensive learning curve.
    ATT is not winning any friends with this. They have an obvious goal/motive of profit over kindness & fairness.

    I hope what I have learned can help others. I also plan to report this to the Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General.

  27. Yes its hoop jumping at its best. Easiest solution is to get the card out of their form of use as soon as possible, thus if your wife goes to Walmart, Sears, Fashion Bug etc. Go to store, buy the exact amount of AT&T value on their form of card, gone is future transactions, gone is holding, gone is waiting periods. The card may not be able to be used in all the places you want it at but you won’t have the hassles, the time restrictions etc. Plus if you wanted to you could get it in a Visa, go over to the AT&T store and use it on their bill and they’ll like it. Lets get real people no company likes their discounts used to get off on your bill. My guess is they would have one issue if you decided to use it to but another phone, car cord etc. would they?

  28. It has been a couple months and I realized I forgot to come back and let folks know that I used mine to buy a $50 Amazon giftcard and had no problems whatsoever. So that’s what I’ll do with them from now on.

  29. My slick wife we got rid of Time Warner because their service was touted at 84.90 a month for a year cable and internet the best speed. Of course as all these companies do within 2 month’s my bill was 117.85? funny 84.90 doesn’t match 117.85, in fact my math states thats 29.95 over. So she looked into AT&T u-verse, but cable being itself never unhooked the old cable. Thus i had no interest in AT&T, my wife was determined she said thats stealing and we will get AT&T u-verse, funny she didn’t see a $30 over charge for almost a year as stealing by the cable company, well thats another story. Thus we got AT&T, she failed to mention the little deal she got in her name for $150 in reward visa cards for getting the service, I’m sure that was just an oversight, the fact the I’m the one who actually pays the bill and thus should receive the cards was missed too. So what I’m I getting to, companies mislead, we all mislead in some ways to get what we want. The whole process is to discourage you from using the cards, make them a hassle. Get them out of their form as quick as possible, use them once, and only once and all at once. Preferably to buy gift cards from compnaies you like without all the rules. As far as your wife, shut your mouth on the free cable.

  30. I got one it took 30 second you’re dumB

  31. i got a $15 rebate card from Netgear. i never used it for a long while. I don’t think I’ve ever used it and I tried to buy something for $8.xx and it didn’t take. I used $5 instead. I just read the back of the card and it says there is a $3 maintenance fee after the first three months. So this one must actually devalue itself overtime? You know why I never got around to using it? Because I forget and also because at first I didn’t want to bother because I know how much pain they can be (i used to work retail cashier)

    • correction: after the first six months it starts charging a $3 monthly maintenance fee. Which I assume would just reduce the card value. It also says for the fee “subject to applicable law”. So it depends on what state youre in? I’d think either their card system is going to do the fee or not. If it breaks a law I’d have to fight it in order for it to apply? Like anyone would.

  32. Bryan dover says:

    Just got bit for $110 on the ATT BUYBACK program. My wife sold them our old iPhone and they shipped us the Visa Debit. It unknowingly to us expired in a lousy 3 months. Well she went to use it and it wasn’t valid. Getting a hold of anyone is like a dog and pony show. Basically, it’s a huge profit generator for them because there are so many ifs, ands, or buts. They INTENTIONALLY make it difficult for their benefit. When my phone is out of contract, I’m DONE with ATT. And to think I was going to consider their broadband service? We’ll, ATT you just dumped that idea. Which I’m sure will cost you more than the card did.

  33. SCAM…SCAM…SCAM……AT&T UVERSE SUCKS. I had all of the same problems with their stupid “reward” cards. I got three…..it was the hardest “gift” I have ever had. They are not easy to use…..and they expire fast. Do what is suggested and take them the very first day you get them and convert them into anything else…other gift cards, payoff your bill, etc.

    As for ATT UVERSE the technology is average compared to cable and other systems, but their service is AWFUL. It took nearly 5 months for them to send bills to the right address (all the time adding late fees and calling to cancel service). installations took 3 trips (tried to bill me for 2nd two trips), and the “simple” telephone number porting process took nearly 3 weeks and probably 10 hours on the phone with them. Their company is so disorganized, decentralized that they cant manage to do it better. Nice people, but their systems suck. Oh, and dont try and call on weekends….they’re not open……can you imagine that in today’s world!!

    I switched to save a few bucks a month, but I am going back to my old cable company and willing to pay more just because they have systems and service that actually work.

  34. Just watched a news clip on the local news. AT&T scored the lowest of all communication companies for customer service. Got the $14.95 AT&T internet over a year ago and had to call every month to make them correct my bill. They charged me $38 every time.

    Recently called to cancel the service. Was met by a very enthusiastic young salesman. Promised me the world if I would switch to U-verse. Even gave me his work email and said if I had problems to email him directly. Well, needless to say, there have been problems and not, he has not replied to my emails. That was over 2 weeks ago. Was promised I would receive a $100 visa in 4 to 6 weeks. Never was there a mention that I had to redeem the reward to receive the card. When the card didn’t arrive in 4 weeks I called to ensure it was being sent. I was told it would arrive no later than the first week in Dec. Again, there was no mention of redemption. After the end of the first week in Dec I called to find out why the card had not been received. It was only then I was told about having to redeem the card. I am now on a mission to expose the shortcomings of AT&T.

  35. I am actually surprised to see how many people commented on this. Believe it or not…

    ****ALL VISA DEBIT CARDS ARE LIKE THIS*****

    Regardless if it is from a cellular company or if it is purchased as a gift, they all place holds on the card. Even so, many places (Such as Shell Gas Stations) cannot place a partial payment on a gift card, they don’t have the splitting capability.

    Albeit, it was rather unusual that they placed a 20% hold on the card at a clothing store, but I can understand why. Next time you make a purchase with your credit cards, or use your debit card as a credit, check your report. It generally takes 1-2 business days for the purchase to report, which is why the company may have implemented the 20% hold, in case there was something else one may have purchased at the same time.

    As for the freeze, yes, that was pretty ridiculous, but I can see the good from it. If someone stole the card, and didn’t have the information to check the balance, then they would just keep trying to run it. This protects YOU as the consumer so you have enough time to report the card stolen and are able to get a replacement card for the remaining balance.

    Of course, I just play devil’s advocate in everything.

  36. A big thank you for your post.Thanks Again. Will read on…

  37. Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog post.Really looking forward to read more.

  38. I have to say that I didnt had a problem using my rebate cards…before using it I heard of other people having issues using the card after the first transaction, so when I used mines I decided to use up the full amount all at once. I went to Sams club and did grocery with my $150 rebate cards and it work for me jsut fine…I told the cashier that i was going to charge as credit and they went thru just fine. I have to say this was a blessing to me! they came at the right moment, when I needed them the most. God works in mysterious ways!

  39. Kathleen says:

    AT&T really sucks. The rebate process is pathetic. It is very obvious AT&T does not want to pay out their rebates. Be sure to write to the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general. From what I understand from AT&T employees the CEO whined that his pay went down $5Million dollars last year. So, maybe that is what is driving this. The less they pay out on rebates that they use to generate business the more the greedy CEO will make. Visa Debit cards are fraud pure and simple.

  40. signed up with AT&T thinking coverage and customer service were better but found both to be lacking. Promised a rebate from AT&T and even had the store manager send it in for me but never rec it even after months of complaints over dropped calls and no rebate so I told them that they are breaking their contractual obligation to their customer…..still nothing. I finally walked away but all they cared about was sticking me with an early termination fee rather than fixing the problem. I finally switched back to Verizon yet get weekly calls from collection agencies. Am I right? Do I have ground to stand on or screwed and will have to pay? Any help is much appreciated.

    Regards
    Chris

  41. I hate att visa reward card tried to use it online it sucks gonna go to gas station hope that works