Want a Quick Discount? Threaten to Cancel From These Businesses

Portrait of a customer service representative smiling with her colleagues in the background
The other day, I called up ESPN to tell the company that we were breaking up.

A month prior, I had signed up for a free trial month of ESPN Insider, a subscription service that provides premium analysis and fantasy sports advice. I made an account prior to my fantasy football draft to get an extra edge, and set a calendar reminder to cancel the service before it rolled over into a paid membership.

That day had come, and while I'd enjoyed my free month, I decided it wasn't worth paying $40 a year. After poking around the website for information on how to cancel, I found that I'd need to call the company's dedicated customer service number.

A customer service representative picked up after just one ring, and after inquiring why I'd decided to cancel, he quickly offered me a 50 percent discount to stick around. I hadn't negotiated or haggled for a lower rate, I didn't ask to be escalated to a manager, and I didn't even give an indication that I would stick around for a lower rate. All I needed to do was call up and say I wanted to cancel, and within 60 seconds I was offered a 50 percent-off deal.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%While it was a compelling offer, I ultimately decided to decline. But it's a good reminder that if you want to save on any sort of subscription service, just call up and say you want to cancel your account. Whether you're a full subscriber or someone on a free trial, the cost of customer acquisition tends to far exceed the cost of customer retention, and that means that companies will bend over backwards to keep you in the fold.

"It is better to call with an actual reason for canceling and not just call and say 'lower my bill or I go,'" says Max Levitte, co-founder and CEO of frugal shopping site Cheapism.com. "Another option is to actually cancel, and then they start sending you offers to come back for much less."

There are numerous companies and industries where this tactic is effective. Here are five of them:

"Please Don't Cancel": 5 Businesses Where Threatening to Leave Can Get You a Discount
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Want a Quick Discount? Threaten to Cancel From These Businesses
 Earlier this month we noted that you can call up your credit card company to negotiate a higher limit or a lower interest rate or an annual fee. The threat of card cancellation is implied, but your odds of success depend on whether you use your card frequently and pay your bills on time. And remember that actually following through and closing your account can ding your credit score a bit.
This will depend a lot on which gym you're using. When I canceled my membership at my $20-a-month discount gym, I was offered no incentive to stay, probably because the cheap cost of membership meant profit margins were already tight. But Max Levitte, co-founder and CEO of frugal shopping site Cheapism.com, says that since leaving his gym, he's received multiple offers to return at a reduced rate.
Cable providers rope you in with a promotional pricing that's often under $100, but it's not long before you're suddenly paying upwards of $150 for your service. Fortunately, it's usually possible to get your monthly cable bill lowered by calling up the company to complain. Most customers can get their bill knocked down by calling to complain every six months or so, but remember that this only works if there's a competitor in the area you can threaten to switch to. Meanwhile, TiVo is also amenable to lowering your rate, given that cable providers now offer competing DVRs.
"We also worked on a dating app story and signed up for a month with HowAboutWe," says Levitte. "Since we canceled the subscription, they keep sending offers for lower subscription [rates] to come back." Match.com is also known for providing incentives to users who threaten to leave.

Sirius XM is well-known for being willing to negotiate its subscription rates. One Reddit user reports that he was sent a $500 bill for his next three years of service; by calling the company and threatening to cancel in favor of Pandora, he was able to get his bill lowered to $36 a year. ("Sirius XM is probably the most negotiable company I've ever dealt with," reports another user in the same thread.)

[A previous version of this article said that the user had his rate reduced to $36 a month, which would not have been a lower rate. We apologize for the confusion.]

As always, your mileage may vary based on a number of factors -- how good you are at negotiating, how many viable competitors the service has, and the specific company's policies. But as a general rule, it always pays to call up the company and see what happens when you threaten to cancel, whether it's cable TV, a magazine subscription or a streaming video service.

Breaking up is hard to do, and companies want to avoid it at all costs. Make them work to keep you around.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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