Our Daily Bleg: Something That You Expected to Be Free

Hi everyone. We’re working on a Freakonomics Radio episode about — sorry, I’m going to be cryptic here — a person who expected to get/use something for free but was very surprised to learn that it wasn’t free after all.

I am looking for another good/fun example of this same idea. Do you have any? Ideally, it would be something that happened to you personally but it’s okay if you only read or heard about it, as long as we can verify it and maybe interview someone involved.

Thanks in advance.

AJ from GA

This is going to sound ridiculous, but I was pretty much in shock the first time I ever learned about an installation fee. In my head I was just thinking, "Wait, I have to pay you just to pay you to use your product? How does this make any sense whatsoever?"

For what it's worth, this was with DirectTV, but it could have been any other product.

Seminymous Coward

On a similar note, I was appalled by Comcast's attempt to charge me for a technician to come fix signal issues entirely internal to their infrastructure. Apparently they felt (until pressed) that I should pay them for service and pay to fix the service as well.




The beach at the jersey shore. The price for a family of four is over 100 dollars for a week near Seaside area. At the same time, there's lots of $1 beer places.

Tax the alcohol, tax the rental properties, toll the bridges, but for the love of god let the beach be enjoyed by everyone for free.

The cost (which is essentially a tax) is supposedly to keep the beach clean and pay for lifeguards but it would make so much more sense to tax something with a much clearer negative externality.


...was supposed to attend a free local (university) lecture; turned into the opportunity to return to school-- for my MBA, where we used your texts in class... 'free' lecture turned into $65k grad school bill. #TrueStory


I'm a lawyer, and we've had people ask us where their tax money goes after we tell them we won't represent them.


happiness. i thought it was free until i saw how much psychiatrist make annually.


This is usually used as a sales tactic by either complete novices or 007-level sales professionals:

The hold out a product to you (say a delicious Krispy Kreme) donut. "Want a donut?" they ask. "Why, yes; yes, I do!" I reply, reaching for the donut. "It's only $3.00."

I retract my hand and go, "Thank you so much, but I just had breakfast."

It's not really bait and switch in the most classic form, but it's close.

Goncalo Veiga

Gift wrapping, definitely! I'm used to getting my products gift wrapped for free in my country (Portugal) and in Europe at large. The first time I spent Christmas in the States I was almost outraged that I should pay for something which is offered for free or its not even offered at all (you have to buy it in a separate store and do it at home) and talks to the spirit of the season. I know it costs money and it takes time but then again I tend to pick the stores not only according to the quality of their products but also to the quality of their costumer service.


Moved into the second floor of a 3 story building. Fully furnished and no elevator. All I had to move was a bunch of clothes, linens and not much else (esp not furniture). 300 dollar move in fee on top of 1.5 month security deposit. I've also heard of move-out fees.

Not sure if this fits the bill or just an example of getting ripped off. Seems crazy regardless.


Richard Hatch, first winner of Survivor, thought his winnings were going to be tax-free. They weren't.

DH from MS

I'm not sure that it fits your theme -- because it requires that one move in order to get the surprise of paying for what was once free -- but water for residences is unmetered and therefore free in NYC (or was when I lived there 25 years ago) and perhaps other places. I also had to pay for residential garbage collection by a private contractor when I moved to Portland, Or. (As I recall, the collectors were private, but each was given a monopoly territory.)

Air for tires at service stations used to be free; no more. I suppose a corkage fee might come as a surprise the first time you encountered one. Does the mandatory restaurant tip for parties larger than X count? (Here in the South, the mandatory tip is always less than I would have tipped if left to my own devices.)


When dining at a restaurant in Vietnam, we were surprised to learn that disposable wet wipes that are on the table by your table setting (plates, napkins), were not included with the meal, and we were charged money when we used them.


xbox live


I worked at a swim club that charged $0.05 for a cup of water (free if you brought your own cup). In fact, we often gave away water for free, but the nominal price kept the pool litter-free by discouraging kids from taking lots of free cups.

Rob Adams

Obviously the best example will be provided by charging for your freakonomics radio episode.


Never...EVER...under any circumstances respond to one of those water tests. Even if they offer you a gift card for Carrabba's (which I never received). You do not want a high pressure water softener salesman in your home.


It is very easy to fall for this sort of thing while traveling. Outside of the creeping fees that airlines charge for things that used to be free, a lot of people get surprised by fees for things at hotels that they took for granted as being free. Prime examples are: car parking and wireless internet. My hotel in San Francisco charged $60 per night for parking space!


Education and health care in the UK (and much of Europe)? It's all "free" until the tax man comes knocking. But perhaps a larger subject that the current scope.


One of the weirdest is the fee charged to use public restrooms in Paris (new meaning to flushing money down the toilet). Someone already posted WiFi, but I'm always shocked when a nice hotel charges me $19.95+ to use the internet in my room, while the value/economy hotels always provide free internet access (WiFi and Ethernet). Lastly, I expect to make purchases in our 'global economy' without foreign transaction fees, but using credit cards abroad typically involves some % F/X fee even though most of these cards are operated by multinational corporations. Seems like a racket to me.