I've been a big fan of TripIt for years, logging more than 292,000 miles of trips through the travel service that organizes travel plans into useful itineraries easily accessible via mobile devices. My enthusiasm for them was greatly diminished though recently due to their billing practices and clear lack of understanding why what they're doing is wrong.
Some time ago, I received a free trial of TripIt Pro which activates many of TripIt's bonus features like real-time flight status alerts (which often proved to be inaccurate, and less reliable than far cheaper programs like FlightTrack Pro) and updates on when flight fares drop and you can receive refunds (the one time TripIt kept alerting me to refunds was for the wrong flight, so it didn't apply to me).
A friend and colleague received the free trial at the same time, and alerted me several weeks ago that he was billed for the service once the trial ran out. He received no notice from TripIt, and only discovered it through Mint, which was tracking his finances. I find it problematic when Mint brings up fees like this. Mint had alerted me to some suspect fees from Citibank, and I was able to call the bank and get the fees waived given that the bank never alerted me to them. Citibank's customer service was far better than TripIt's, which I contacted once I discovered TripIt had charged me $49 in February 2011. Note that TripIt never sent me an alert that I would be billed or that I was billed. It was there for me to check on my own when going through my account on TripIt.
For those who use TripIt, you know you get A LOT of alerts from them. They're always telling you about upcoming trips, who's in your area, and why you should upgrade. They have no problem sending lots of messages to users. The only reason that I can fathom that they wouldn't alert people that they have been billed is dishonesty. They have yet to offer any other plausible reason for this.
I tweeted them on January 6 about the error and got no response.
I also posted on Facebook on January 9:
Warning to Tripit Pro users: Tripit will not inform you when your account is up for renewal and thus when you will be charged. When you discover you've been charged and ask for a refund, they will not give it to you. These are completely dishonest billing practices, and I highly advise against signing up for TripIt until things change.
Another user commented that I should contact the credit card company for a refund. I responded:
This is a bigger deal than asking for refunds. My problem is that TripIt does not notify users when you'll be charged or when you were charged. Either TripIt wasn't aware of this and should change it, or it's doing this intentionally. With all the notifications TRipIt sends users, this would be a logical one for them to include.
TripIt responded with a generic message:
We’re always willing to review a policy or procedure based on user feedback and this post has been passed on to management. Please note that billing information, including next billing date and amount, are available to all users at anytime in the Billing Information area of their profile…
I responded in turn:
I'm glad it's been passed on to management. I've received a lot of communication from TripIt but none even suggesting that it would be in customers' best interests to notify them when they will be charged. This is tone deaf customer service, and it's why I canceled my premium account and am exploring alternatives to TripIt's free services.
TripIt still never addressed the issue beyond 'passing the post on to management.'
TripIt clearly doesn't get the benefit of alerting users to charges, nor do they bother explaning why they don't alert people. Further proof comes from TripIt's Catina, who responded to a separate email I sent through their site:
Thanks for contacting us. Reviewing your TripIt Pro account based on your email address XXX, we see that you were billed on 2/11/11 for $49 transaction id is XXX . Your next scheduled renewal is 2/12/12. If you feel you were billed after that date, it could be that you have another account with a different email address that's not associated to XXX. We can only pull account information by an email address. At the time of sign up you entered your credit card information and agreed to the terms of service (which stated that if you did not cancel prior to the conclusion of the trail period that your membership would continue and your card would be charged).
You can view your transaction history and print receipts for each transaction, on our web site (www.tripit.com), in the 'Your purchase history' section of the billing history page of your TripIt account. To access this area (after signing in) go to User Name > Settings > Billing info (you can find a direct link in our help page item: http://help.tripit.com/entries/393497)
To avoid the auto renewal, you can cancel your TripIt Pro subscription and keep your Pro benefits for the full term paid please see the instructions in our help page on this topic: http://help.tripit.com/entries/89464. If you wish to close your account, sign in to TripIt and click on your user name and then Settings > Close Account (http://www.tripit.com/account/delete). Be sure to select the 'do not contact' option if you don't want to receive any TripIt initiated emails in the future. Please note, if you are a paid TripIt Pro member and cancel your TripIt account no refunds will be provided.
So in other words, it's the "terms of service defense." But that still doesn't answer why they were charging users without alerting them. I explained this to them, and Catina said, "You stated, 'I was billed twice.'" I never said that, so the next exchange was all about clarifying something that Catina invented.
It was then that I posted on Facebook and got another form response from TripIt:
We saw your Facebook posting and wanted to inform you, your transaction history can be viewed on our web site (www.tripit.com), in the 'Your purchase history' section of the billing history page of your TripIt account. To access this area (after signing in) go to User Name > Settings > Billing info (you can find a direct link in our help page item: http://help.tripit.com/entries/393497)
I responded to Catina:
That still doesn't help as you never notified me a payment was due or then
processed. I will continue to post this on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere
until you change your policy. A refund is still requested as well. If you
were being charged for a service, wouldn't you want to know about it? I'd
actually be fine forgoing my refund if you change your policy.
Catina never responded, nor did anyone else from TripIt through this line.
I did take one more measure. I know someone who works with TripIt, so I reached out to her partially to let her know that I was going to raise the issue further, and partially to see if I'd get any better a response. She responded:
I checked with our team, and the intention behind auto-renewal is to prevent travelers from having a service lapse in the middle of traveling. The last thing we'd want to happen is for a traveler not be alerted that their plane is early/late (for example), when they're expecting to hear from us. However, we do provide a 2-week grace period following the charge, so cancellations can be made during that time.
Please know that your voice has been heard, and we're taking into consideration the suggestions you've made.
Again, my voice has been heard. Management received my request. Great. I responded to her:
My problem isn’t the auto-renewal at all. I understand that makes sense for some services.
Can you explain why they wouldn’t notify users that their auto-renewal is coming up, and that their auto-renewal was just processed? How does one even know when the grace period is if they’re never notified?
I heard nothing more from her or anyone at TripIt.
For a service built on notifications, and one that I thought was designed with the consumer in mind, I have been seeking alternatives. FlightTrack Pro, as mentioned, works well for notifications with a one-time $10 charge. Kayak's My Trips further organizes trips in a similar way that TripIt does and is proving to work well.
I'd like to keep using TripIt but can't if this is how they treat their users. Fortunately the alternatives keep getting better.