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18 weeks in Amazon rebate hell

A CNET reporter learns that nothing in life is free, particularly slick new cell phones.

Last fall, I knew it was time to dump my 2-year-old cell phone--an old flip-top Motorola V360--when nearly all of my conversations ended with me saying, "Huh? What did you just say?"

I put up with this for months, reluctant to face the myriad choices of phones, the tangle of network plans and the pushy cell phone salespeople who didn't look old enough to buy a beer.

Finally, I chalked it up to the price of living in a disposable, high-tech world. The marketers and manufacturers of many phones designed this cycle of consumerism: Throw away that old, beaten phone, buy the newest gadget and sign on to another contract for wireless service!

Of course, I'd hate to please them. But if I had to, I wanted the sleekest phone out there.

Hello, Moto.

Sure I made a trip or two to Radio Shack to play with other models of phones--telling myself I should get one of the 50 or so free phones available nowadays that are dangled as carrots for costly service.

But there, in front of the rows of boring plastic and metal models, as I angled for the attention of a pimple-faced sales guy, my desire for the zippy-hip Motorola Razr V3 was sealed. After all, the phone had everything I wanted: a flip top, so you don't dial accidentally; a speaker phone so you can drive (or fold laundry) responsibly; and external caller ID so you know when to answer.

(Plus, it was Moto.)

When I knew what I wanted, I went straight to I knew the shopping giant offered super-duper rebates for buying a cell phone with new wireless service (that's how I bought my last phone). Plus, I didn't have to deal with salespeople.

The phone cost about $150. But Amazon offered a full rebate with the purchase of a new, one-year wireless contract for $39.99 or more. Choosing a carrier plan was fairly simple, given that only Cingular carried the Razr at the time, apart from my then-carrier TMobile. Staying with TMobile would have precluded the rebate.

I bought the package on Nov. 28, 2005, and immediately applied for the rebate on Amazon's site. Then all I had to do was wait for that surprise check in my mailbox.

In a fume

I'm still waiting.

Amazon acknowledged my rebate application on Dec. 12 with an e-mail, which included a tracking number in case I got antsy and wanted to check on the status of my refund on Amazon's site. Two months later, I took them up on the offer, input the tracking number and received this automated response: "Your rebate has been entered and is scheduled for final processing."

Technically, it takes between eight to 12 weeks for Amazon to process rebates, plus a nebulous "retention period," according to Amazon's rebate terms and conditions. But according to Amazon's Web site FAQ, it takes 10 weeks to process rebates. Can you say "confusing"?

Either way, I was still under the wire. I could still find a check in the mail any day.

Then a month later, given the same "final processing" notice, I e-mailed the Amazon help staff. I could expect a response within 24 hours, according to the site. No word. Another week later in March--when I could've really used that $150--I e-mailed Amazon's help staff again. No word.

Judging by shopper forums on, many other people have rebate problems, and it's certainly not exclusive to Amazon. FatWallet has a whole forum topic devoted to rebates and related tracking. And under that subgroup, I found kinship with other shoppers helplessly waiting for their $150.

"Just too much of a hassle," said one FatWallet poster.

By April 4, I resigned myself to the idea that I was $150 lighter. So what the heck, I decided to push the issue a little more.

I called Amazon's 1-800 number from the company's rebate site. After navigating an electronic phone tree that asked me to enter my tracking number, I found out that my rebate wasn't even on file with Amazon. However, as a recourse, the electronic female voice told me, I could e-mail the help staff online.

I hit "O" and was directed to a human being, who told me that processing time for rebates was three months with a "three-week retention period."

"But," I said, "I've been waiting four months and two weeks."

He answered, "At this moment we're having technical difficulties. I apologize for this inconvenience. You should receive your check in the next seven business days."

He wouldn't elaborate on what sort of technical difficulties. Later, an Amazon spokeswoman said she was looking into the problem but did not have an immediate answer.

I guess it goes to show that few things in life are free, especially my Moto.