20 things that ought to be free
Most businesses these days have Wi-Fi for employees, so why not go the extra mile and offer it to customers at no charge? Especially in places where people gather who might also want to do business: hotels, airports, train stations, bus depots, cafes and libraries. The trend toward free Wi-Fi is growing, but there are still a lot of places that either charge customers to log on to their wireless networks or just refuse to share. Free Wi-Fi should be universal.
Remember when all you needed to watch network TV was a television set, and maybe a set of rabbit-ear antennas for better reception? We now have hundreds of channels to choose from, and we pay a high price for that, but network television should still be free.
The public owns the airwaves, and we allow broadcasters to use them free of charge. The broadcasters then turn around and charge advertisers millions of dollars for a slice of the air time that you and I gave them, and the cable/satellite companies charge us a small fortune to provide good reception for all that programming. This makes no sense. We ought to require the broadcasters and cable/satellite providers to strike a deal that would give the public free access to at least what we now think of as “basic cable.”
If you’ve had lunch or dinner out lately, you may be as shocked as I am to discover that a growing number of restaurants now charge for ketchup, tartar sauce and other condiments. What’s next? A surcharge on salt and pepper? The cost of condiments can’t add up to much, even for high-volume eateries, so why not build it into the price of the meal? Charging for condiments seems like an effective way to nickel-and-dime customers into going elsewhere.
Soft drink refills
Many restaurants now offer free refills for iced tea and even soda, but all of them should. The cost of a fountain drink at most restaurants is roughly equivalent to what you would pay for a six-pack of the same beverage at the grocery store. Surely, after charging you that much for the initial drink, the owners can afford to treat you to a refill or two at no additional cost.
Air and water for your car
With the high cost of gas these days, plus the high profit margin on items such as chips, candy bars, soda and cigarettes that service stations sell, it seems petty to charge customers to put air in their tires and water in their radiators. Air and water used to be free—the hoses were right next to the gasoline pump and available at no charge to anyone who needed to use them. They should be again.
Annual credit card fees
Credit card companies charge high interest rates. No argument there, right? And those fees more than pay for the cost of running the program and still guarantee a tidy profit. That’s why so many private institutions, stores, museums, nonprofit organizations and other groups now offer their own credit-card services. So let’s eliminate annual fees as unnecessarily greedy.
It makes sense that there might be a fee associated with a group we want to join, a college we want to attend or a service we want to receive, but why should we have to pay for the privilege of applying? Most of the places that charge application fees also charge pretty hefty fees once you’re in, so why do we need to give them an extra chunk of cash up front to decide whether we’re worthy? Just think how disheartening it is to pay a non-refundable application fee, and then be rejected.
You pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a laptop computer, flat-screen TV or game console, yet when something inevitably goes wrong you have to pay an extra fee for the tech support people to answer your questions and solve your problem. Technical support should be a service that comes free with purchase, not a separate revenue stream that companies count on to bolster their bottom line. Free tech support would inspire customer loyalty and create a strong incentive for companies to produce trouble-free products that are built to last.
Airline food was never gourmet cuisine, but at least it used to be free. A few years ago, airlines made the case that they were going bankrupt right and left, and the only way to keep their planes in the air was to let them charge extra for every service except turning on the seatbelt sign. The rationale was that asking customers who want those services to pay for them directly would lower costs and enable airlines to keep fares low and provide better service. Well, if you’ve flown recently, you know that fares aren’t low and service is worse than ever on most airlines. If we’re going to be miserable every time we fly, we should at least be well-fed.
At about the same time that airlines started charging for food on most flights, they also decided to charge extra for checked baggage. It’s another charge that is good for the airlines, but bad for passengers, who are now forced to try to get everything they’ll need for a two-week vacation into a couple of small carry-on bags and compete with every other person on the plane for space where they can stow their luggage—while the cargo hold remains nearly empty. Airlines should allow passengers to check one bag for free on all domestic flights, as most already do on international flights.