Francis, of Plainview, N.Y., recently discovered one of the downsides to using a gift card to buy gasoline. She just got an American Express $100 gift card for Mother's Day and immediately purchased $25 worth of gasoline at a Hess station. When she tried to use the card again the following day, she was in for a surprise.

“I was so embarrassed in the store as they told me the card was declined,” Francis told “I will not be able to use this card according to Am Ex for two or three days until they get the clear from the station.”

Even though there was $75 left on the gift card, the gas station placed a freeze on the entire amount. Some bars and restaurants – places where “pre-authorized” debit purchases are accepted – do it too.

The reason is simple. It can take two or three days for the transaction to clear. The gas station wants to make sure there is still money left on the card when the transaction goes through. It's something to keep in mind when you are shopping with a gift card.

Direct contradiction

When you subscribe to any service, the provider has to be able to deliver it to you, or you shouldn't be bound by the agreement, right? Eric of Mount Pleasant, S.C., cancelled his DIRECTV service when he moved to a new apartment and DIRECTV coiuldn't get a direct line of sight to establish service.

“They said they'd let us out of our fees because it was not our fault,” Eric said. “They then hit our checking account for a full months service and billed us for $300 more for early cancellation.”

Eric is trying to work things out with DIRECTV but still hasn't been reimbursed.

Mistaken identity

It's one thing when you know you are booking travel through a travel site like, but often, when you are searching for the name of a particular hotel or location, you can be on a travel site's web page while you think you are on the hotel's site.

“I called and spoke to a person who did not identify himself as a representative, so I proceeded with my reservation thinking I was speaking with someone at the Mariott,” V., of Philadelphia, told “ I booked a room for one night May 7th. After they got my credit card info he mumbled some disclosures and wished me a nice evening. To my understanding he said to call the day before if I wished to cancel my room, no specific time was mentioned. Our plans fell through and we decided to stay home that weekend so I call at 7:20PM on the 6th and was told that I will be charged the full fee!”

V. doesn't really have much of an argument, since she booked the site through and has to abide by their rules.

“I work very hard and long hours, don't have time to fool around online,” V. said. “I trusted people to take care of me on the phone with clarity.”

Sorry, V., but in the Internet age careful attention to detail is a requirement, and sometimes old fashioned trust is misplaced.

No shield against inconvenience

Many people purchase home warranties, or service contracts, thinking it protects them in the event of a major system failure. But getting satisfactory service when something goes wrong isn't always easy.

“We contacted American Home Shield regarding our residence hot water heater that was not working,” said Michael, of Phoenix, Ariz.

AHS sent its contract plumber out the next day and relit the burner on the water heater that Michael says had been working fine for six years. But the pilot would not stay lit, and Michael found the service company less and less responsive.

“I would think that with all the 24-hour plumbing service companies in Phoenix that AHS could have someone available for us,” Michael said.

True, but that's not how these service contracts work. The warranty company strikes the best deal possible with a local contractor, who may be paid less than the normal rate for the service call. At any rate, they are likely to be less enthusiastic about your emergency than a contractor that you hire directly. It's something to keep in mind when someone tries to sell you a service contract.