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.

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  1. AJ from GA says:

    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.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      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.

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      • Neal says:

        CenturyLink is much more civil. In order to fix my service for free they give me a free one month subscription to their add-on care package which starts costing me ten dollars a month unless I remember to call back and cancel.

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    • Frank Izzo says:

      Ok, I just earned an upgrade from Verizon. I found out that I could get a free iPhone … But there was a $30 charge for the upgrade. How can something be free if the only way to get it is pay 30 bucks?

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  2. eugeneryder says:


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  3. cjl73 says:

    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.

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    • Joel Upchurch says:

      I wonder what person actually thinks alcohol is not taxed? The beach tax makes sense to me. The only reason that every beach isn’t taxed is because the local businesses figure they will make more money from the visitors then it costs to maintain the beach. Beaches that are mainly for the residential living have the same costs, without the revenue. Why should locals pay to maintain a resource you are using without being compensated for it?

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    • dev says:

      I was lounging in a beach chaise at a beach outside Barcelona, Spain. I kept noticing that — although the (unattended) beach lounge chairs were plentiful — most of the local people seemed to be lying on beach towels spread on the sand. Later, a man from a nearby hotel stopped by and explained in poor English that the cost of using the beach chair was $2 Euros apiece. My only complaint was they left the lounge chairs unattended with no sign explaining the rental price. After we were using them for an hour, they came by later to collect – too late for us to back out. Of course, the price wasn’t bad; and I was apparently one of the few (foreigners) who didn’t know the system. The locals seemed to shun the chairs in favor of towels.

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  4. bds512 says:

    …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

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  5. Who says:

    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.

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  6. emekadavid says:

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

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  7. AaronS says:

    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.

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    • wrytoast says:

      The most common perpetrators of this technique seem to be people “selling” CDs on the streets and subway platforms of NYC…

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  8. Goncalo Veiga says:

    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.

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    • Imad Qureshi says:


      That can be attributed to the difference in location. For example, in Europe I was not surprised to find out that you have to pay to use bathrooms even in a train station (Milan and Zurich HB was my experience). That never happens in US. Now you tell me what is more essential, gift wrap or ??

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Gift wrapping is free at many smaller and more expensive stores. There is also a mid-level option in my area: the store provides the materials and a counter space for free, but you do the work yourself. I like this, because it’s quick and has a lot of decorative options.

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    • rdk says:

      In Australia at Christmas the shopping centres (malls) often have charities running gift-wrapping stands, so you pay but are donating to the charity at the same time. Borders at Chadstone (now sadly closed) used to have the MS Society doing gift-wrapping at Christmas.

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