An old saying advises “what the big print gives, the small print takes away.” And it seems to me that the smaller the print, the more that is taken away. A recent trip to a Las Vegas Strip casino revealed, on every blackjack table on the main floor that I saw, a very small sign that advised “Blackjack pays 6 to 5.” Anyone familiar with the game knows that a blackjack should pay three to two, and that the difference is not insignificant, costing the typical player (in addition to the much smaller expected loss already built into the better game) three dollars a blackjack on a $10 bet, or some $12 to $20 per hour, depending on the speed of play.
The worst small print is that which directly contradicts the large print, such as coupons from retailers that offer __% off everything in the store in large print, but in small print contain a long list of excluded items, usually including the one you want to buy. Retail clerks seem immune to my argument that when two statements directly contradict each other, the one in more conspicuous type should be honored. I’ve never tried my luck in court with that argument.
Recently, I booked a rental car on the Southwest Airlines web site. In addition to the usual fictitious rate for the rental, there was an estimated total cost, which included taxes and fees, and was, as is typical in the industry, more than 50% higher than the quoted rate. When I got to the rental office, I was presented with a multi-page agreement, printed in microscopic type, which somewhat prominently quoted the base rate that had appeared on the Southwest site. However, as I carefully examined that document (which I suspect most people, fresh off a tiring flight and eager to reach their ultimate destination, don’t), I found the total cost, displayed much less conspicuously. It was about $100 more than the estimate that had appeared on the Southwest site. When I pointed this out to the agent, he backed down pretty quickly, but I imagine that his company (and perhaps others) get away with this trick (unless it was an honest mistake, which I doubt) more often than not.
As I have so often pointed out in this blog, buyer beware. Conservatives who decry big government ignore that fact that many, if not most, government regulations in the consumer protection area are the result of abuses of trust by companies selling goods and services. If the plutocrats who run those companies were a little more forthcoming, there would be less need for the big government they decry. Consumers also, unfortunately, deserve part of the blame, both for being unwary, which arguably they should not have to be, but also for being fixated on an often fictitious “price,” to which fees often are added, the fees being nothing more than an additional charge for the item to which the price is attached. I have been advised that consumers, given a choice between an item forthrightly priced at a given amount, will prefer buying the same item for a lesser quoted price, even when added fees bring the price up to the same amount.