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HSBC Credit Card and Plat5 offer: Beware!

I have been getting calls from HSBC about their “Premier Circle” program where they offer:

  • Free 3 day/2 night stay at certain hotels all over India
  • Two return flight tickets to destinations of my choice
  • 5% cash back upto Rs. 500.
  • Some kind of “buy a cruise or a sport ticket outside India and get reimbursed”.

This is administered by Plat5 (Ok, they can’t spell “principles”, but so what).

Note the specific terms and conditions.

  1. You pay 6,067 rupees. First.
  2. You wait some 25 days to get some vouchers.
  3. You fill the hotel vouchers in painstaking detail – three alternative hotels and dates at least one month away. And send them by post to Plat5. Within four months of receiving the vouchers. And not within an “exclusion” period, different for each hotel. Bookings are room only, no breakfast, no taxes.
  4. They will call or email you within 15 days, maximum 7 days to the booking date. And choose one of them dates/hotels, or tell you nothing is available and you get to choose again.
  5. You pay Rs. 250 for booking and all the taxes are extra (10 to 15% of actual room rate)
  6. That’s hotel. For air tickets, you need to send Plat5 the airline vouchers – again, 21 days before travel and before a “last date”, 2 alternative dates and 2 destinations. And pray you get one.
  7. Only the basic fare is free. Taxes and charges are extra. Those are usually more than 75% of the fare!

They have no online process. In this day and age, when I pay my card bills online, get online statements and all that. The telephone process is just to make it less useful – after all, you pay upfront, no?

And would you trust a provider whose website has no phone number, but supposedly conducts its entire business on the phone?

I had to fight to refuse the offer but HSBC has been quite persistent. I finally said I will decide after look at the terms and conditions – and they’re supposed to call back tomorrow. But my worst fears have been realized – many other people are utterly dissatisfied with the scheme.

Look at Consumer Complaints (and another). Typical problems – no one answers the phone, they are rude, your choices are limited, you get ridiculous answers like this is not possible and so on. What’s the point? You already paid up! When you pay upfront, there is no incentive to service you, the money is gone.

(Just like I noted with Mahindra Holidays – while they are now public, such complaints continue to flood the internet. When you ask people to pay upfront, you need to provide exemplary service, and Mahindra Holidays doesn’t have the capacity to service all customers. But I digress)

Now, let’s look at the financial viability of the offer.

One of the hotels mentioned, Logoa Azul, is a 3 star, and currently costs Rs. 2000 per night including breakfast and taxes. That should be Rs. 1,500 a night excluding them. Two nights = Rs. 3,000.

Air tickets – the base prices, consider the cheapest ones. I went to Cleartrip and tried a flight ticket on July 30 to Bangalore from Delhi. The base fare for the WHOLE journey is Rs. 780. So two return tickets = Rs. 1500 value, approximately. (Btw, the ticket price was Rs. 7,000 = meaning, even with this silly HSBC/Plat5 offer, I will pay 90% of what I would pay otherwise)

The cash back offer = Rs. 500, maximum.

There is one other benefit – refund of a sporting ticket in a different country – which is of no use to me.

In total, that’s a value of Rs. 5,000, for which I need to pay Rs. 6,067?

And go through all the pain – I pay HSBC, I fill up vouchers, I go back and forth with Plat5, and then I don’t know how the experience is with the actual hotel or airline. For that kind of trouble, I need a DISCOUNT, definitely not going to pay Rs. 1000 extra!

It makes no sense. Buyers, beware. You have been warned.

Note: If you’re already in, there’s next to NOTHING you can get complaining to HSBC or Plat5. The money is gone. You can take them to court for misrepresentation if you like, of course, but expect no relief without a court order. HSBC is a well known entity and if there are enough instances of abuse (or a court order) they will terminate the relationship with Plat5.

Also note that Plat5 is not doing anything fraudulent; under current laws, you as the buyer need to read terms and conditions before buying.

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