One in three readers surveyed chose a triple-play package of TV, Internet, and home phone services from one provider—or for satellite-TV providers, bundles that include phone and Internet from a phone-company partner. Of those who took a bundle, 27 percent would definitely do so again with the same company, and 55 percent said they probably would. They liked the convenience of a single bill and simpler shopping, and more than half reported significant savings compared with buying the services from separate companies.
The most common reason other readers passed on a bundle was that it didn't offer big savings. Another reason some readers didn't go for a bundle was satisfaction with their current carriers. Let's face it, it's a hassle to wait for an installer, learn new features and channel lineups for TV, and change your e-mail address. Consider a change only if service is lacking or you can save enough money to justify a switch.
Here's how to decide whether to bundle, as well as tips on getting a good deal:
More from ConsumerReports.org:
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on Yahoo!
Choose a good bundle
Consider a triple play with Verizon FiOS or AT&T U-verse. They are top choices for bundling for several reasons. Both scored well on all three services. A higher-than-average proportion of readers who bundled with them said they'd do so again. And those readers were less likely to complain of big price hikes after the promotional period expired, compared with cable bundlers.
One caveat: Expect some errors on bills. Phone companies continue to have a worse record for billing problems with bundles than did cable providers as a whole.
Do your homework
Explore all avenues to determine the best deals offered by all carriers. Be sure to compare total costs, including hardware and any activation fees. Ask others what they're paying, check ads and websites, and call companies, perhaps a few times. Our reporters have received better offers in direct-mail promos than those found online or quoted by phone. We've also been given different prices by different phone sales representatives, even on the same day. So check around.
Haggle, whether switching or not
Some carriers we talked with insisted that there's little opportunity for consumers to negotiate given today's scripted sales pitches. But our survey suggests that it pays to bargain. One-third of bundlers said they negotiated for a better price or package before signing up. Of those, more than 90 percent were successful. For more than 40 percent, the reward was a discount of up to $50 a month.
If you're content to stay put, emphasize that you've been loyal and you're happy with everything except the cost of service. Ask your carrier to match current offers from its competitors. Also try to have any installation fees and equipment charges waived.
If a customer-service rep is inflexible, ask for a customer-retention specialist. If that doesn't work, hang up, call back, and try with another agent. Keep in mind that whatever bargaining takes place often uses scripted inducements: free premium channels for three months; fee waivers for installation, activation, and equipment; incentive cash; and free equipment.
As a rule, avoid contracts if possible because they limit your ability to switch providers or negotiate rates. You may also face a termination fee of several hundred dollars if you want to get out of your contract early. Cable companies seldom require contracts, though they may guarantee a promotional price for a set period. Before you accept such a deal, make sure it doesn't involve an early-termination penalty. Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, and Dish Network offer service with or without contracts. Prices without a contract are usually higher. DirecTV requires a contract.
Think beyond the deal
Don't get seduced by a come-on promotional price, only to wed a lifetime of steep regular prices. Before you sign up for any bundle, ask what the regular price will be after the promotion runs out, as 64 percent of our readers did. Calculate your costs over three years so that you understand what you'll be paying over the long run.
Fight the inevitable price hikes
About a third of the bundlers who were past their promotional period saw significant price increases after it expired. Adding insult to injury, those who negotiated a better deal were more likely to get smacked with a big price hike when the promotion ran out. So don‘t hesitate to haggle for a lower rate every time a promotional rate ends.
Copyright © 2006-2011 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.