Sam’s Club VIP Event Turns Adversarial as Credit Card Bait and Switch Attempted

by Kent Sterling

Sure, it's a big deal at Sam's Club, but for whom?

Sure, it’s a big deal at Sam’s Club, but for whom?

Shopping at Sam’s Club is always a little strange, but tonight was especially ugly as the cashier and customer service desk offered two very different realities in presenting the option to open a credit card account that would result in an immediate savings of $40 for my family during a VIP shopping event.

My wife likes bargains – and that’s a good thing because I’m not much of a comparison shopper.  One of us needs to be a bargain hunter, and sure isn’t going to be me.

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We go to the store together sometimes because my wife continues to harbor the hope that I will one day mature enough to not discover new ways to annoy her.  For me, finding brand new things to say that she will react to with exasperation is the great challenge of my life.  We both end up laughing, and tonight our son joined us for bargain hunting, so all the better.

The typical mockery about Sam’s Club’s mammoth portions of food was relentlessly performed with energy until my wife looked at me in a way that communicated her exhaustion with my act.  That coincided pretty closely with our trip to the checkout line.

The cashier offered my wife $40 off our haul of $360 if she signed up for a credit card that could only be used at Sam’s Club or WalMart.  Julie asked all the right questions, and when the guy said that we would never have to charge a dime on the card, Julie decided that $40 was worth the pain of waiting in the line at the customer service desk.

So off we went with our little form to customer service where the line took 25 minutes, and as the ordeal the the clerk named Sarah began, we were hopeful that everything would go smoothly and quickly despite watching the previous three or four people take 15 or 20 minutes to conduct their business.

When it was our turn, the clerk told my wife that the $360 minus the $40 would be assessed to our new card.  My ears perked up, and Julie told her before I could open my mouth that it was her understanding based upon her conversation with the cashier that nothing would be charged to the card.  My unease was disengaged.

Then the clerk said that she could run the initial charge on the new card, and we could immediately pay it off with our bank card.  Because this was a material change from the promise made by the cashier, I said, “To hell with the 40 bucks.  Let’s settle up.”  Julie had decided that was the right call before I said a word, “We’ll just pay with the bank card and go.”

The cashier then said, “Instead of arguing with me, we could have had you checked out and gone 20 minutes ago.”


There is really only one thing that can cause me to get angry enough to raise my voice, and that is something or someone that impugns the behavior of a member of my family.  “Arguing? just who was arguing?” I demanded.  Julie might be the best mannered person on the planet.  She loathes causing discomfort in others, so the accusation that she had argued, or even been mildly contentious was outrageous.

Our son laughed in disdain at the clerk, and said, “Wow.”

What I should have said was that a representative of the store making one offer and then another materially changing the terms in the advantage of the store is called bait and switch.  Not only is it wrong, it’s illegal.  While I have a tough time believing that this episode was anything other than an incompetent recitation of the terms by the cashier, he certainly had no problem presenting a litany of details about the deal, so who knows.

The truth of the thing is that two employees at Sam’s Club during a VIP shopping event presented an offer in a fundamentally different way that presented an advantage to Sam’s Club.  Because of the enormity of the chain of WalMart and Sam’s Club, it might be worth a look from the attorney general of Indiana to see if WalMart’s motive was as insidious as it might have appeared to a consumer more cynical and suspicious than me.

11 thoughts on “Sam’s Club VIP Event Turns Adversarial as Credit Card Bait and Switch Attempted

  1. Linda Christopher

    I had a horrible experience with the Sam’s Club VIP event tonight as well.

    I upgraded my membership yesterday to “Plus” status, just so I could buy the 70″ Vizio TV for $998 tonight. The manager told me they had “30-some” of the TVs and that if I got in line by 6:30, I should get one. No guarantees, he said, but there should be plenty of them for everyone because it was a high-ticket item, the event was “invitation only”, and they didn’t run out of them last year until 9:00 p.m. when the event ended.

    So … I made the 45 minute drive back there tonight, arrived well before 6:30, and they were GONE!!! I asked to speak to the manager, but a DIFFERENT manager was on duty. He said they only had twelve of the TVs, not “thirty-some” and that people had started lining up at 10 a.m. to get them. I asked him to sell me a comparable model at the same price and he refused. They actually had the EXACT same model but without the special “E” suffix on it which is a marketing gimmick. It’s the same TV in a different box with a slightly different SKU number.

    The bottom line is that I had two managers at the exact same Sam’s Club give me very different stories about the availability of a product. If I had known there were only 12 TVs available and that I’d have to wait in line for half a day if I expected to get one, I would have passed and never have made the drive back there. I feel like I really wasted my time due to the misinformation I was given.

    I told the manager tonight – in a calm but unhappy tone of voice – that I was going to cancel my membership. He then offered to give me a $50 gift card. I didn’t turn it down, but it sure didn’t make up for losing out on getting a $1698 TV for $998. I wonder if they’re told to give out $50 gift cards to anyone who threatens to cancel their membership …. I don’t know, but as I was walking away, my boyfriend and my son-in-law saw the cashier give the manager a “high-five” behind my back. I’m not sure what that meant, but it seems very unprofessional and inappropriate.

  2. Jeff Mason

    So open the Sam’s account and pay it off when the statement arrives in 15 to 30 days? Is that correct? My guess is the checkout clerk assumed you knew today’s charge would be on the new account but you could then never use it again?
    Sound about right or did I miss something?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The cashier explained that would not be the way it worked – when asked specifically. “So we will not have to charge a dime on this account ever, correct? “Yes.” We do not have to charge this purchase to qualify, correct? “Yes, that’s correct.”

      That was the conversation. We were explicitly told the card would never need to be used.

    2. Cris Brown

      That would work but they have a nasty habbit of intentionally losing your statement. I was baited and then switched (told I got the Master Card but then given store credit only). I was told my MasterCard would arrive in “a week to ten days” It has now been over 6 week. The card representative said they would send another invoice (nearly 3 weeks ago) and it has not arrived. meanwhile it is racking up interest and fees.

      This is a scam. Not only that but I cant access it online because it says my “temporary card” has an invalid card number and cant be used to access the account (only to spend money at Sam’s on)!

  3. Will Thompson

    Really upset with Sam’s Club in San Antonio, Texas. Sam’s had a special VIP event today from 7pm – 9pm. They offered some smartphones for 96 cents. Guess what? In order to get them you had to have a voucher. They gave out the vouchers before the event even started !!! Total b***shit.

  4. Marcela S.

    We had a bad experience at Sam’s Club VIP event as well. We had received the invitation to the VIP event by mail. We got in line for the event at around 2pm to make sure we would get a ticket for the 70″ Vizio. While we were in line a Sam’s employee that was coordinating the event told us our membership level wouldn’t allow us to shop the event, so we went inside and paid to upgrade the event. I left my husband and step son in line and returned home with our daughter. While my husband was in line the same Sam’s employee was handing out information about the Sam’s credit card offer and savings that would be applied to the purchase. I told my husband if he thought the deal was good to go ahead and apply for the card. So, he applied. He was approved and then directed inside the store BY THE SAME SAM’S EMPLOYEE to again get a new Sam’s card printed with the credit card information on it. Well… while he was inside getting his new Sam’s card printed, the same Sam’s employee that had been running the line and that had directed him inside the store, handed out the tickets that you need to purchase the Vizio 70″ television! Of course my 10 year old step son was in line but he was passed over for the tickets.

    When my husband returned and learned what had happened, he was obviously upset. The only reason he had left the line was because he was directed by the Sam’s employee to do so. Of course they told him that there was nothing they could do because all the tickets had been handed out. So, as we were about 8th in line, an extra lucky person further down the line received a ticket to purchase the TV.

    I am upset about the TV of course, but I am more upset that the whole situation was just bad business. First, they invite members who are “not eligible” to shop the sale, and then make them pay to upgrade while in line, because sure we want the deals too. So now am I not only stuck with an upgraded membership and a Sam’s credit card, but my extra savings that was offered with the credit card deal was only good that day and I didn’t get the item they my family stood in line for over 4 hours for!!! Had he left the line on his own, sure it’s our fault. But he was directed by the Sam’s employee to go inside!!!!

    No resolution has been offered by our local Sam’s Club.

  5. Jeff Russell

    2005 was the last time I threw a huge NYE party. I had about $600 worth of booze and food in 2 carts at Sam’s. My membership was thru work. Apparently the person in charge of the memberships at work was late in re-upping all of the employees memberships (I had just been there like 2 days ago and all was fine). They said they would “let me” make the purchase, plus 10%. That was th best they could do. I left the carts as they were in line and drove to Costco and have been happy there since. How ignorant.

  6. Helen

    I had a bad experience as well, I was at the club here in Saginaw, MI. the clerk wanted to know if I wanted to pay $28.00 to upgrade and come to the VIP event. I said no it was things I saw on the preview for black friday but I wouldn’t be available so I would just skip it. the clerk informed me that I would be able to get the black friday prices because this was an VIP by invitation only, I said really, so I can purchase the black friday item on this sunday and again re-interated that I would not be available on black friday. Oh yes ma’am. So I upgrade because I wanted the Vizio 55″ smart tv. Call my son had him to meet me there, the line out the door we get in and I was informed that the tv is only available for black friday I recant to the clerk the above situation and then consequently to different people claiming to be manager who kept saying to me that they were sorry for the miscommunication, there were no miscommunication I made it perfectly clear I would not be available for black friday. The store manager said I am sorry there is nothing I can do I can’t break pricing. I told him I could have ordered it but I didn’t want to because of a different debacle I ordered the 42″ smart tv it came as stated however I live on avenue and they left it on the Front Porch In the original box stated clear as day Smart TV!!! where do they do that at, Luckily I was at home and before I could get to the front door the guy was pulling off. No signature required just drop it off and go, so I called Sam some one was suppose to get back to me and they never did so I explain to them I would be telling everyone I know not to ordered anything off line. The so call store manager at this point tells me well see it’s not available for shipping, Yes it is starting at 7am on friday morning so I tells him you need to check your website mister, He then tells me another untruth and says I don’t even have my black friday product in the store yet, I say yes you do it is the E series and guess what it right here. well I am sorry its nothing I can do we can refund your upgrade. I said no you will refund upgrade and cancel membership as well and it doesn’t matter to you that you are losing a customer of long standing probably since they opened in our home town, you do the math sire. the different in the prices was about $200, they refunded me approx $100 and forfeit a sale and all future sales and by the way I do a huge open house every christmas eve and the bulk of the items was purchased there, so future sales and I was even going to give some sam club membership to family that was struggling but guess whats not going to happen now. thank for letting me vent. I had to be nice last night because my three young grandchildren was also present but I did inform the clerk in their present that I would be alerting the BBB as well as speaking to the attorney general because you right it’s called a lost leader false advertising and I am not a steward of letting someone waste my time, my money or insult my intelligence.

  7. Linda Christopher

    I posted my story on Yelp, not that it did any good. I haven’t heard from anyone at Sam’s Club about my bad experience. I’m certainly not holding my breath waiting for something to happen, but if they were a small business, they wouldn’t be able to afford the bad publicity that comes from posting on a social media site like Yelp. I guess Sam’s is so “big” they just don’t care about making things right with their customers … are they “too big to fail?”

    1. Faithful employee

      I have been working at a sams club for over 20 years and unfortunately this happens and not only at sams club! We have some great employees and managers. Most of us do go out of our way to give our members more than they expect as well as do a lot for our local community and donate twice a week to philabundance. The membership associate should have not spoken to you like that and for that I apologize. The cashiers have a lot that they have to tell the members about and do it with a smile. I imagine it can get very frustrating for both parties.

  8. tj

    They did this to me too, except they had a computer issue, and refused to give me or credit me 40$. They told me that 40$ wasnt really a big deal, and I should just take advantage of the sales on other items to make up for it. Bait and switch


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