If you think cable and Internet rates are one price for all, we have news for you: Signing up for cable and Internet is like signing up for cell phone service - there are a lot of options, often free equipment, and most things are negotiable.
In fact, consumers could receive anything from free channels and equipment to deep discounts that can add up to tens or even hundreds of dollars per year in savings, says Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor with Consumer Reports magazine, which has conducted surveys about the telecommunications industry.
So, don't miss out on cable savings any longer. Read on for ways you might be able to get the best deal on cable.
Make Use of Your Associations
Active military personnel, members of homeowner's associations, teachers, students…if you belong to one of these, you could be eligible for discounts on your cable or Internet service.
For instance, two providers I called - Hawaii's Oceanic Time Warner and DirecTV - said they gave military and teacher discounts for my area. Oceanic's representative listed a 20 percent discount. DirecTV's representative said that since deals vary, she didn't know the exact discount, but that I would have to be a member of the military (I'm not) and also speak to the local base commander for details.
Homeowner's associations can also often broker good rates for their members, according to 58-year-old retiree Jillian McLaren, who is saving approximately 15 percent on her monthly Time Warner cable and Internet bill thanks to the downtown Honolulu Condominium Association.
"I had to get a code and tell [the cable company representative]," says McLaren. "But once I did, they were very nice and I saved almost $150 a year."
Ask Your Cable Company to Double the Timeframe on Your Promotional Rate
You've heard the saying, "Time is money"? Well, that's also true in the cable TV biz. Of course, we mean it a little differently: The more time you can get your new cable company to extend your promotional rate, the more money you can save. I.e., Time is money - in your wallet.
Blyskal says that because of added competition in the cable and satellite TV industry, providers are often willing to extend their promotional offers for first-time customers. For instance, he says, if the promotion is for six months or one year, you can often negotiate to double the time.
And extending these promotional timeframes could put a lot of money back into your pocket.
For example, an Oceanic Time Warner sales associate named Ryan told me that their military, teacher, and other association discounts ran about 20 percent each, bringing a $49.95 per month package down to $39.95.
Let's say this discount period was for the duration of one year. That's a savings of $120.
However, if you politely asked your new service provider to double the timeframe to two years, you could enjoy $240 in savings instead. That's a pretty nice chunk of change, isn't it?
And just think, all you have to do is ask. The worst that can happen is they say "no."
Use Satellite Providers as a Bargaining Tool
If there's only one cable company in your area, you may feel you have no bargaining power. But, in the age of satellite TV service, this is not necessarily true.
"Most places around the country are stuck with one cable company. That can constrain your bargaining capability. But you do have access to satellite providers like DISH and DirecTV. That's one bargaining lever that you have," Blyskal says.
So when calling for new service, Blyskal says to research the competitor's costs and be honest with them about what other providers offer you. Providers are eager for your business, he says, and are often happy to give you their best deal possible.
Blyskal adds that free premium channels - such as HBO or Cinemax - are usually available as an enticement for new, or even existing, customers. They might also try to win you over with free equipment or installation.
For instance, when I called DirecTV to inquire about starting a new service, their sales representative was enthusiastic about giving me the best deal possible. Without even asking for it, she offered me free equipment and installation.