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Whether it's misleading labels or mountains of fees, there are a lot of ways you can end up getting less than you thought you were buying. Here are six common instances where your purchase might not measure up.
It's snack time. You tear open your box of Whoppers, expecting it to be packed with delicious chocolate. But to your disappointment, you find a lot of empty space. Or, according to a lawsuit against Hershey's, the box is 41% empty.
And Hershey's isn't the only brand doing this, as lawsuits across the country attest. Apparently Junior Mints boxes are 40% empty and Wise potato chip bags are up to 75% air. And let's not forget the uproar over Toblerone bars, which are 20 to 40 grams lighter than they once were, all while keeping the same price. Sometimes this comes as part of a packaging update, puffing up the product's size so you think you're getting more. But other times, it's manufacturers quietly cutting out an ounce or two of product.
Oversize packages lead us to believe we're getting more than is actually in the box. It's common practice in packaged food products, cosmetics, and just about anything else sold in a box or a bag.
This empty space is called "slack-fill," and sometimes it serves a useful purpose. For example, some of that extra air in bags of chips helps protect them from being crushed. However, sometimes the packaging is designed to make us see value where it doesn't exist.
Late last year, Netflix boosted prices on two of its streaming plans by 10% or more. That's only a dollar or two a month, but those dollars add up — especially when it seems like all of our favorite content is vanishing from the service.
Netflix dropped over 100 TV series last year, losing binge-worthy staples like 30 Rock and The X-Files. Those losses are only going to get worse as more content creators decide to launch their own streaming services, though the biggest blow to Netflix — the loss of Disney — won't be felt until next year.
While the shows you know are vanishing, more appear to take their place. The difference is that many of this new content is Netflix-made — and that may not be what you wanted from the service. By the end of 2017, Netflix had added over 160 new seasons of television and more than 130 new movies or specials. We can only expect to see more Netflix originals this year, as the service plans to spend $8 billion creating new original content, building a library that's half original content.
If you love all of these original shows and movies, you'll find the service to be a good value at the higher price. But if you wanted to find all your favorite shows under a single streaming banner, Netflix may no longer be the service for you.
While Netflix prices have gone up by a dollar or two a month, major cable and satellite companies are planning to add around $10 a month to their plans. On top of higher prices, subscribers may also face higher fees. This isn't the first rate hike subscribers have seen, either. Over the past decade, TV service costs have gone up nearly twice as fast as inflation.
So what are you getting for your extra cash? Nothing new. Cable TV providers still sell big bundles of channels you may not want, and their customer service regularly ranks among the worst out there. It's no wonder that 22 million Americans had ditched cable and satellite TV by the end of 2017.
Your internet plan is probably slower than advertised, due to the fine print on most plans that says you'll only get "up to" a certain speed — and soon you'll pay more for it. Since many services that provide cable TV also provide internet, it's no shocker that internet price hikes are coming alongside TV price increases. Subscribers should expect to pay a few extra dollars a month in 2018.
The FCC's recent repeal of its net neutrality rules could also mean you get slower speeds, higher bills, or both. In plain English, the loss of net neutrality means your internet provider can throttle your internet or block access to certain sites at will. Does that sounds ridiculous? It's exactly what happens in countries that don't support net neutrality.
"In Morocco in 2016, multiple internet providers agreed to block voice over internet services, like Skype or WhatsApp, potentially in an effort to push users to subscribe to phone plans," Slate reports. "Unhappy Moroccans heavily protested the ban, which was lifted months later."
Should the FCC's repeal survive the courts, you may soon find your ISP charging an extra $5 to access social media sites, another $5 to access Netflix... well, you get the idea.
Surprise! Airline prices are probably going up again. The culprit is higher fuel prices, with airlines reporting they're spending from 8% to 27% more on fuel-related expenses. You can bet those costs will eventually find their way into ticket prices.
On top of potentially higher base ticket prices, airlines continue to pile on fees. As such, the final price for a ticket can be much higher than you'd expect. A study of airlines' ancillary revenue — that's business speak for all those fees — shows that Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier Airlines each made almost $50 worth of ancillary revenue per passenger in 2016.
That data came before major airlines started adding fees for carry-on bags. Both United and American no longer include a carry-on bag in their basic fares. And with that "budget-friendly" fare comes a new fee: an extra price if your "personal item" doesn't fit under the seat and has to be checked. (Be warned: Middle seats typically have less room for under-seat carry-ons, which could lead to this surprise fee.)
Seats have been shrinking, too, as airlines look to make room for more passengers on each plane. On major American airlines, pitch — the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on a seat in the next row — can be as little as 28", while seat width runs around 17". That's compared to a 31" minimum seat pitch and 19" width in the '90s.
In fact, airline aisles have gotten so narrow that federal judges ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to review seat spacing on planes because it could be a safety hazard.
Insurance companies make their money by charging you more than they're likely to pay you in services. For health insurance, monthly payments are on the rise, particularly for people buying without the help of an employer, whose premiums are up by as much as 50%.
Employer-sponsored plans saw a relatively modest average increase of 3% — but that's a cost boost nevertheless. Deductibles are also rising, with the average employer-sponsored health plan deductible shooting up by nearly 400% since 2006. In short, you're paying more every month and more if you have a medical emergency.
But health insurance isn't the only pricey premium you could be paying. Homeowners insurance premiums increased by 50% in the past decade, while car insurance premiums have increased by 21.5% since 2012. Worse, last year's glut of natural disasters may push premiums for homes and cars up even higher. You could opt for higher deductible plans to save on your monthly payment, but that only means you'll get less cash if you need it.
Then there's the fine print in insurance contracts. If you haven't read it carefully, you may find yourself stuck with big surprise bills that you expected your insurance company to cover.
Consider an ambulance ride. In 2014 26% of those rides were billed as out-of-network, and patients could be billed more than $8,000 for the trip. And while big bills are common in medical emergencies, homeowners hit by last year's hurricanes have been in trouble, too. Out-of-pocket expenses for Hurricane Harvey alone are estimated at $28 billion.
Readers, what other items and services have given you less than you'd expect? Share your examples in the comments below!