Have You Ever Complained to a Company Just to Get Free Stuff?

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A few years ago, I received a $5 gift card in the mail from a major fast food company. Enclosed with the gift card was a letter from the company following up with a recent complaint that I had made. The gift card was an apologetic gesture to keep me as a customer.

At the time, I was thrilled! I was working over 60 hours a week between 2 low-paying jobs, and still barely making ends meet. That $5 meant a free meal for me, and was a bit of an unexpected treat.

But I was little hesitant to accept it.

Why, you ask?

Well, you see, I didn’t make the complaint.

(I suspect that there was some sort of glitch in their system, because I had recently signed up for the company’s email newsletter. My birthday was coming up and I wanted to snag my birthday freebie! Otherwise, I have no idea how they would have gotten my mailing address.)

I have, however, complained to companies and asked for a discount or refund a few times in the past. But only when service I received was truly awful.

Like the time I complained to an airline after my flight was double-booked twice, the washroom on the plane was out of service, and they were unable to offer food during the flight due to a catering issue – all on the same trip! (I know, I know… complaining about airlines is such a cliche!) They did offer me a $50 voucher, which I accepted and then “paid it forward” by giving it to my sister for her to use.

I haven’t complained to a company just to get free stuff.

Nowadays, I’m sure companies get more complaints than ever thanks to the advances in technology. Between all of the social media channels and review websites, it’s so easy for customers to publically make their complaints.

And I’m sure that most of these companies offer some sort of discount, freebie, or incentive to many of those customers in order to keep them as customers.

But is it ethical to complain to a company just to get free stuff?

In the personal finance world, there is a sometimes overwhelming amount of advice out there on how to save money. Most of the time, this advice is offered in good faith. But I have seen articles that encouraged people to make false complaints (or exaggerate small ones) in order to get something for free.

I’m not going to tell anyone how to live their life, but I hope that you don’t do this.

There are honest ways to get free stuff from companies.

Most companies will give you a freebie or discount just by signing up to their email newsletter. These are usually applied to your first (or next) purchase, or will be valid on or around your birthday.

There are numerous places to find “freebies” online, ranging from Craigslist and Kijiji to Freebies.com and Canadian Free Stuff.

Or you could try thanking companies instead of complaining to them.

Back in 2006, Tom Locke conducted a 39 Dollar Experiment where he essentially wrote fan letters to 100 different companies and asked for free products. And yes, he actually sent real letters, printed on paper and sent through the mail. (Some of them are pretty funny!) He received over 60 responses and 35 freebies for a total of about $275 worth of products and coupons.

More recently, Jim Wang completed a similar experiment, called the Flattery Project where he thanked over 40 different companies (via email) to see if they would send him anything. He received mostly coupons and a few free samples from about a third of the companies he contacted. But one company, Nespresso, sent him a free set of cappuccino cups and saucers worth approximately $20. Just because he asked.

Complaining for the sake of complaining may get you a free appetizer or a $5 gift card.

But is complaining just to get free stuff worth it?

Is it worth lying? Compromising your values? Setting a bad example for others (like your kids)? Possibly costing an innocent employee their job – maybe even their whole business?

Is it worth possibly breaking the law by committing fraud and stealing? Just to save yourself a few bucks?

But alas, people of the Internet, I pose this question to you all:

Have you ever complained to a company just to get free stuff? Would you?

Have you ever complimented or thanked a company and received a freebie?

Please share your stories or thoughts in the comments and let us know!

A version of this post was originally published in November 2012 and has been majorly updated and republished.

Some personal finance articles advise you to complain to companies just to get free stuff. Is complaining to a company or making false complaints in order to get something for free worth it? Would it be better to thank companies instead?
Have You Ever Complained to a Company Just to Get Free Stuff? - My Life, I Guess
 

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Amanda

More about Amanda

Amanda is the owner and creator of My Life, I Guess... a personal finance and lifestyle blog that started back in 2013. She strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes and making the most of it.

9 thoughts on “Have You Ever Complained to a Company Just to Get Free Stuff?

  1. Avatar
    Michelle

    I’ve never complained and actually received free stuff, but I know of a couple of people who do so.

    Reply

  2. Avatar
    The Blonde

    I complained once. I had bought a big bag of potatoes (about 5kg) and 90% of them were rotten! after sending an email about this, and how dissappointed I was, as this brand was a bit expensive and always advertise about how good products they have. a couple of days later i received a long apologetic email, that said i would be recompensated and be given 100 NOK (18$) giftcard. I only had to go get the potatoes myself at a farm. We got 10 kg potatoes! So if I ever encounter upon a product that has gone bad, I`m sending an email at once!

    Reply

  3. Avatar
    eemusings

    Oh lord no. I’m way too chicken. Need to work on that assertiveness.

    Reply

  4. Avatar
    Tammy Dalley

    I haven’t but I know alot of people who do it regularly , I think it’s so wrong!

    Reply

  5. Avatar
    Brian @ Debtless in Texas

    Nope, but I have emailed/tweeted the CEO of companies that have provided less than dismal customer service (looking your way HP) and it has been surprisingly effective. Many of them actually respond and work to fix the problem. A few of them just have the corporate customer service manager deal with it – but when you directly address a company’s failings with its C level executives, a simple email is all it takes to make things happen.

    Reply

  6. Avatar
    Jess

    No, I have never complained just get free stuff. In fact, I think I have very rarely complained. Something would have to be pretty awful for me to actually take the time to write a complaint. But I do write notes to management about really excellent service. I think it’s so nice to be told when something goes right!
    But, I’m not going to lie, if Dairy Queen sent me $5 for ice cream, I would use it too!

    Reply

  7. Avatar
    Toya

    I would NEVER do this! and if i did have a complaint it be for a legitimate HONEST reason
    NOT to take advantage of a company and be a Cheap ass person. If that’s the case then maybe some people should stay home and eat instead of going out.

    Reply

  8. Avatar
    jj

    I never have complained on purpose, but for airlines I will be doing so going forward if I ever get stuck in a horrible situation.

    I do use social media to see if I can get discounts on bills however.

    Reply

  9. Avatar
    Patrice @ Financial Peacock

    I am known for writing letters to companies, but I don’t do it to get free stuff (although sometimes I do). When things are bad, I want companies to know about it and have an opportunity to correct the problem to prevent it from happening again. Or sometimes I want an apology. It just depends. I have a hard time doing this in person though so I write letters.

    United Airlines has been the best about giving me things when I complain. Normally a voucher towards a future flight. It’s never enough for an entire ticket (usually $100 or $150), so one went to waste, but I was able to use another one that I used towards my flight to FinCon last year.

    It’s a joke now with my husband about if I’m gong to “write a letter” when we receive bad service.

    Reply

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