How to strike a better deal with your cable company

Cheaper television and internet are just a phone call away.
man celebrating on the phone
You can strike a better deal Good Faces / Unsplash

This story has been updated. It was originally published in December 20, 2018.

Your TV and internet package looked so affordable when you first signed up for them. But after a short introductory period, there’s a good chance your bill has skyrocketed. Here’s how to talk the cable company back down to a more reasonable price.

Research the competition and set a realistic goal

You can call up your cable company to negotiate your bill at any time—but you don’t want to rush in half-cocked. The customer-service reps you’ll talk to are trained to convince you to stay on their plan, and they know the details of their competitors’ offers very well. So before you dial, do some research on the alternatives in your area. Knowing how much those other options cost will give you some extra leverage.

Annoyingly, TV and internet providers frequently have very little competition, but if you’re lucky, your area may have at least one other option. Usually, a different source will use a different technology—so if you currently have cable internet, you should look at the costs of DSL, satellite, and fiber services.

There’s an easy way to estimate these prices: Plug your zip code into Broadband Now, and it will show you other providers in your area. Then you can check out their plans.

[Related: How to watch live TV on your computer]

For example, when my wife and I moved into our current house, we got an internet plan with Cox for $65 per month. After the first year, that bill went up to $85 per month. Knowing that AT&T provides Fiber access in my neighborhood, I looked up their comparable internet plan—with the same 100 Mbps download speeds—and calculated its cost as around $55 per month ($65 per month after the first year).

Make sure you read the fine print of these plans, as it may affect that cost. AT&T advertised the aforementioned plan at $50 per month, but that doesn’t include taxes and fees like Cox’s plans do, so the total ended up closer to $55.

In addition, add in the cost of any installation fees, early termination fees for your current plan, or other tacked-on payments. Remember, the goal is to estimate the total cost if you were to dump your current plan and replace it with a cheaper one—because that’s what you’ll be threatening on the call. If the new service requires that you sign a contract, make sure the price doesn’t go up within the contract period (or if it does, factor that into your average monthly cost).

If you’re ever unsure about anything, hop into the competitor’s online chat—they can sometimes help clear up fees or confusing policies for you. However, it may help to do some outside research on any hidden fees the salespeople aren’t telling you about.

Once you’ve done your due diligence, decide on a reasonable price you hope to pay for your service. I was happy with the $65 a month I paid before the price hike, and it was unlikely Cox would go lower than their original introductory price, so I stuck with that number. Your decision will vary depending on the service in your area.

When you have your goal cost, write it down, along with your notes about the competition, and prepare for battle.

Make the call

With notes in hand, find the customer service number for your cable provider, call them up, and tell them your bill is too expensive and you’d like a better price. Most companies have an entire “retention department” dedicated to keeping you as a customer—in fact, you may even be able to Google that department’s number and call them directly. They’ll be happy to help.

At this stage, the customer service reps will let you know of any current promotions they are running for existing customers—this usually ends up being a paltry discount. In some cases, they may even try to upsell you a better package “for only $5 more!” But this is just the first layer of discounts they’re allowed to offer. You can go much deeper.

Tell them thank you, but you’re really looking to save more than that. Reiterate the price you used to pay, and mention that their competitor is offering a similar plan for X dollars per month. At this point, they’ll likely put you on hold to “see what they can do.” Make sure you act polite and pleasant during this exchange—if you behave antagonistically, so will the representative.

After a minute or two, the rep will come back with another number, usually still above what you’re asking. Confirm your commitment to your goal price. At this point, they may say that’s the best they can do—they’re hoping to call your bluff. You can take the deal, or you can skip straight to Expert Mode and let them know you’d rather cancel your service and go with their competitor.

[Related: Here’s how much internet bandwidth you actually need to work from home]

The more willing you are to walk away, the better your deal will be. I’ve had representatives put me on hold multiple times, telling me they’re “double checking” their promotions and coming back with lower numbers every time I asked to cancel.

Just be aware that the fewer competitors you have in your area, the harder this will be, and the less of a deal you may be able to get. Still, if you stand your ground, you should at least manage to get back down to the introductory price you originally had. And if not, hey—there’s always the option of actually cancelling and taking the competitor’s better offer!

Your exact experience may vary. I’ve had friendly reps bend over backward to help me get what I want, and I’ve had reps that were straight-up hostile, lying to me about what their competitors offered and threatening to shut down my service immediately instead of at the end of the month. It’s just the luck of the draw. But after holding my ground, at the last minute, every single rep I’ve talked to has put me on hold again and come back with a better deal.

Take notes and set a reminder for next time

After you hang up, take a moment to jot down some notes about your call—the name of the rep you talked to, the discounts they offered, and the deal you were ultimately able to nab. Stash that note in a safe place—it’ll be handy to have later on.

Over the next few months, keep an eye on your bill to ensure they honor the deal you struck. I’ve seen my cost go unchanged before, forcing me to call the company back and do it all over again. In one situation, my bill went down, but they also downgraded my service—which I did not agree to. The notes I had saved helped me stand my ground. Keep your scribbles in mind as you check your bill and your speeds to make sure they honor their end of the bargain

[Related: Better internet could be a simple router upgrade away]

Even if the company follows through, most of the deals you’re offered will only last six months to a year. When your bill increases after that period, you’ll have to call back and do it all again. Set a reminder on your calendar, and be ready with your notes when that time comes.

This process feels a bit nerve-racking the first time you do it, but after a bit of practice, you’ll be a pro. Plus, you’ll be sitting on a bit of extra cash. In my case, a 15 minute phone call helped me save $240 per year—not a bad deal.