Although I try to shop locally, there are times when the convenience and price savings of the Internet win out. Such was the case several months ago when we ran out of Special K cereal.

We eat a lot of Special K, so I always look for sale. This time, however, none of our local grocery stores had any sort of special on my cereal. Prices for the 16.7 oz box of cereal were close to $4 at all of our local stores. So I surfed over to Amazon. They offered three 16.7 oz. boxes for $10.47. If you signed up for their Subscribe and Save auto delivery option, you got a 5% discount lowering the cost to $9.97, or about $3.33 a box. Amazon describes their Subscribe & Save program with these points:

• automatically receive a new shipment of the item in the monthly intervals you select
• get a discount on our everyday price
• get free shipping on every Subscribe & Save shipment
• pay for each order only when the item is shipped
• have the option to cancel at any time 

It all sounded pretty good, so I decided to subscribe. The sign up was easy. I enjoyed having the cereal appear on my doorstep every other month, just when I needed it. 

Everything went along quite smoothly, until recently. I received an email from Amazon saying that my Special K was shipping.  Great, I thought. Then I took a closer look at the attached invoice.

My price went up to $16.35, after the 5% discount. That’s $5.45 a box. Those of you who are good at math, will see that is almost a 65% price increase. It would seem to me that Amazon would have notified me about the price increase, but I didn’t get any notice. I immediately canceled my order.

That led me to investigate Amazon’s Subscribe & Save Terms & Conditions a little more closely. They state: “The total cost charged to your credit card for each Subscribe & Save order will be the cost of the item on the day the order is processed less the Subscribe & Save discount, plus any applicable sales tax.”

I even found another statement in the terms that surprised me a little: Amazon reserves the right to change the (Subscribe & Save) discount amount at any time in its sole discretion.” So while I thought I was locking in the price and would be notified of any price change, that was far from the truth.

If I had not looked carefully at my emailed invoice, my charge card would have been charged a much higher price than I thought I was paying. I wonder how many people wouldn’t have caught this before the order was shipped. And how many people who don’t monitor the details on their credit card bills, were charged more than they thought they signed up for.

It seems to me that this is a real money maker for Amazon. If 2,000 people who were using Subscribe & Save for Special K cereal didn’t notice the price increase, and paid the higher price for just 3 month, Amazon would have made an extra $38,280…. And that is just on one item.

At some point, it dawned on me that the price of Special K might actually have increased dramatically at all stores. So I decided to check out the cost of Special K at our local stores again. Wal-Mart had the 16.7 oz box for $3.66, a little lower than their previous price.

If you are looking into the Amazon Subscribe & Save program, please be aware of the details and know that you must check out each order to see how much they are charging you. For me, I think from now on, I’ll stick to the local grocery store. At least there I can clearly see the price that I am paying.