Roam No More


A bit of advice for those of you Canadians travelling to the United States for any length of time. Leave your cellphone behind.

Despite the fact that my cellphones have worked perfectly well in the United States (uncannily even telling me when I’d crossed the border), the experience has always been marred by roaming charges. It appears that Canadian cellphone users can’t set foot inside the United States without the mere fact that the cellphone is on and connected to some network somewhere costing the user a big bundle.

My old Rogers plan seemed to handle this well enough that I didn’t really notice the charges, but Bell’s plan was markedly worse. During our visit to Chicago last March, I tried to keep my cellphone off or in “Airplane” mode for most of my trip. However, the fact that our computers and passports were stolen forced me to make a few calls, and the roaming charges stacked up quickly. For a five day visit to Chicago, my bill was dinged by about $100.

This time, our first stop once we crossed the Bluewater Bridge was to head to a Target in Port Huron and buy a pay-as-you-go phone from Virgin Mobile. This phone remains active while you “top it up”. You pay only as you use it, and there’s no contract to sign. And there are, of course, no roaming charges while you wander around the United States (I’m not sure what happens when you return to Canada, though).

We had a little difficulty activating the phone (we needed a web connection that we could not get until we got to our hotel that night), but within 24 hours, we had a brand new cellphone that we could use. To be safe, we provided a US contact address (my mother-in-law’s), which gave us access to an area code in Iowa. So far, in the two weeks since the phone was turned on, we have spent just $7 on calls. This experience might even lead us to go pay-as-you-go in Canada once our contract with Bell expires.

And speaking of good experiences, I’d like to sing the praises of Best Buy. About a month ago, I did some research and bought a Canon Powershot SX110 from our local Best Buy here in Kitchener. I love this camera. Its 10x zoom feature allows me to take great shots close up, and the quality of the pictures are excellent. However, when visiting a beach in Chicago’s north side, sand happened to get inside the camera case, and the camera lens jammed. This was a very disappointing thing to happen at the start of a trip with two young children out to visit their grandparents.

We were pretty sure there was nothing we could do. Not only did we not have the receipt with us (and who carries their receipt while on vacation?), but the fact that sand got in the camera while on the beach probably invalidated our warranty. But we felt we needed a camera, and we decided to go to the Best Buy in Des Moines to buy a replacement at full price, if we had to.

But on a whim, Erin decided to go to the customer service desk with the old camera in hand. She explained that the camera had died, that it was the start of a long vacation, and that we had no receipt. Was there anything that they could do? Well, the lady behind the desk replied: what credit card did you use to buy the camera? I can look up your receipt that way.

I supplied the credit card. But there was a problem: the receipts database only covered the Best Buy stores inside the United States. So the lady called the 1-800 number for headquarters to try and access Canadian receipts… and was put on hold. We waited. And waited. Erin and I were very patient, and I think the lady behind the desk got frustrated on our behalf. Finally, after getting no joy from the people she talked to, after getting shuffled onto other numbers and put on hold again, she basically slammed down the phone in disgust and said, “forget it! I’m doing a no-receipt return.”

She took our broken camera, got a boxed replacement, opened the box, and did a swap. They replaced what we returned, and we didn’t pay a cent. If that isn’t going above and beyond the call of duty, I don’t know what is.

But as I was telling Erin as we walked out the door, this is a savvy marketing move on Best Buy’s department. They’ve virtually assured that our next major electronics purchase will come from them.

Further Reading

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