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Crunch time for Kulula, BA credit holders, and sagging mattress battles

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s ‘watch-outs of the week’

If your new mattress starts sagging, it’s crucial to lodge a complaint within six months of purchase. Stock photo.
If your new mattress starts sagging, it’s crucial to lodge a complaint within six months of purchase. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/belchonock

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use.

Crunch time for Kulula & BA credit holders

If you have a Kulula or British Airways (BA) credit for flights which couldn’t take off during hard lockdown last year, you have only until the end of this month to book tickets and use them.

In other words, those credits can only be used for flights departing before the festive season peak.

Many are crying foul, of course, but there is no chance that Comair will extend the validity, because its business rescue plan doesn’t allow for that.

According to Comair, its Travel Bank account was set up to help customers who purchased a Kulula or domestic British Airways flight ticket for departure between March 14 2020 and November 30 2020 and who either chose to retain the value of their bookings, or failed to indicate what their choice was.

I’m currently getting many emails from those holding Kulula and BA Travel Bank credits, saying they can’t meet the deadline because they simply can’t get through to Comair’s contact centre.

The company says its contact centre service provider had employed more people to accommodate call volumes which have increased by “210%” since the “sudden relaxation in travel restrictions”.

New technology, too.

But clearly it’s not enough.

Lynda Sjoberg told me this week: “The problem is that Kulula no longer has flights to Gqeberha, and despite the original ticket being operated by BA, you cannot use the credit to book a BA flight yourself. 

“The only way it can be done is through the Kulula call centre but it is impossible to get through to them. I have emailed,  contacted them on the Facebook chat, been to the BA counter at the airport and tried to call, all with no success.”

Here is Comair’s advice: “Customers who are still struggling to get hold of us via the contact centre can email reservations@kulula.com or DM our customer relations team via our Facebook platform.”  

You can book kulula.com tickets online by logging on to the Travel Bank section, according to Comair.

Only if you want to book with British Airways do you need to contact the contact centre, but here’s the thing — according to Comair, many people holding Kulula ticket credits have “misplaced their usernames and/or passwords” and they can only get help by phoning the contact centre. 

All very unfortunate, especially when you consider that, according to the Consumer Protection Act, prepaid credit must be valid for at least three years from date of purchase.

What’s that stain on your mattress got to do with its premature sagging? Nothing

I so often get emails from those whose newish mattress has sagged or collapsed, and when they tried to get recourse from the retailer, an assistant pointed to a stain on the mattress and told them that their warranty was invalidated because of it.

I’ve always said that’s nonsense, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, given that a stain has no bearing on the structural integrity of a product. But the industry carries on regardless.

Importantly, the CPA warranty is only for six months, during which time, if a product fails in some way, you can return it for your choice of refund, replacement or repair.

But from the seventh month, the manufacturer’s warranty takes over, and they are free to impose any number of self-serving terms and conditions.

So if your new mattress starts malforming, it’s crucial to lodge a complaint within six months of purchase.

I was very gratified to see a case study in the consumer goods & services ombud’s latest newsletter about this tricky stain issue this week.

Within two months of buying a new bed, the complainant noted the mattress was sagging in the middle, but when she reported it, the retailer told her that because there was a stain on the mattress, the manufacturer’s warranty was voided.

The ombud’s office told the retailer that the stain wasn’t material — in other words it had nothing do to with the mattress sagging.

They then relented and replaced the mattress.

But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that retailer continues to deprive others of their right to recourse should their mattress fail in some way within six months of purchase, because of a cosmetic stain.

Knowledge is power — stand your ground and tell them that, legally, a stain is not material.

The same applies to a scratch on a cellphone’s screen, should the phone develop a fault — unless, of course, it’s “material”.

Cool off and cancel — if you can

If you buy something after being targeted by direct marketing, you have the legal benefit of a five-business-day “cooling-off” period in which to change your mind for a full refund.

The trouble is, too many businesses do everything in their power to deny your legal right to buyer’s remorse.

A consumer approached the consumer goods & services ombud earlier this year after agreeing to buy a “travel membership” during a Saturday morning trip to her local mall.

To qualify as a direct marketing deal, she would have to have been lured into hearing the sales pitch at a pop-up type stand, rather than choosing to enter a shop in the absence of any direct approach.

She cancelled the deal six days later and asked for a refund, but the company refused, on the grounds that she didn’t cancel in time — they were conveniently adding the Sunday to their day count.

They also argued that the consumer had made booking enquiries. That’s irrelevant, the ombud’s office said, as no payment was made.

“We therefore made a recommendation in favour of the complainant for a full refund and the supplier agreed to comply.”

Agreeing to a cellphone deal after being cold-called by a marketing company also fits the description of “direct marketing”. If you agree, work out when your five-business-day cooling-off period expires and make 100% sure that you are happy with what you’ve agreed to, so that you can cancel in time if you choose to.

* To lodge a complaint about being denied the right to cancel a direct marketing deal within five business days of purchase, go to www.cgso.org.za

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer