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Carriers improve membership benefits

But foreign customers miss out on deals due to lack of information
Mar 29,2018
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Korean telecom companies are upgrading the benefit packages tied to their phone plans in response to the Moon Jae-in administration’s push to lower household phone bills.

Most recently, Korea’s largest mobile carrier SK Telecom announced that it will offer unlimited membership points to all its subscribers on Tuesday.

Membership points can be used at affiliated stores including major bakery chains and theme parks to get discounts. Previously, the points were based on the membership grade of each subscriber, generally determined by how much they pay each year.

For SK Telecom, those paying over 900,000 won per year were VIP members and were the only subscribers given unlimited membership points.

Gold subscribers that spent more than 480,000 won received 100,000 points. Silver subscribers received 70,000 points and standard grade, or those paying less than 240,000 won per year, received 50,000 points.

However, under the new rules all SK Telecom customers will get unlimited membership points. The only difference between membership grades will be how many times you are allowed to use the membership points and the discount rates.

For instance, at a family restaurant affiliated with SK Telecom, VIP and gold grade members can receive a 15 percent discount while silver and standard members can only get a 5 percent discount.

The company said standard grade subscribers would benefit the most from the change.

SK Telecom isn’t the only company expanding benefits tied to phone plans.

KT brought back its double discount benefit for membership point users, originally scrapped last year, this month.

All KT subscribers can enjoy doubled discount benefits once a month on a day of their choice, according to the mobile carrier, though they will be using membership points.

The mobile carriers have also been rolling out a series of discount benefits for roaming services.

LG U+ released a roaming phone plan for overseas travelers that offers up to five times more data at cheaper prices in comparison to existing options.

Such aggressive moves by carriers are likely a preventive measure to avoid having to pull down the actual price of their monthly phone plans.

The Moon Jae-in administration has been emphasizing the need for telecom companies to come up with cheaper phone bill options that make data more accessible to consumers, but telecom companies have been trying to avoid criticism by revising the terms of existing phone plans and adding benefits rather than lowering prices.

Despite the growing push to increase benefits, foreign customers residing in Korea are likely to be left behind as the services are often not explained in English.

Many long-term subscribers admitted they didn’t even know the carriers offered membership point benefits.

“I know that there are apps that people use at convenience stores, but no one ever explained [the membership point system] to me and I never really asked,” explained Kevin Miller, a professor at a Korean university.

Despite living in Korea since August 2011, Miller has never used membership points to receive discounts and wasn’t really aware the system existed.

All three mobile carriers claim that they do have some translated explanations of their basic phone plans but they don’t offer English apps to guide foreign customers through the membership point system.

Last year, SK Telecom launched a customer service app in six languages including English, Chinese and Vietnamese. Through the T World Global app, foreign customers can check their phone bills, remaining data and the cost of international calls.


BY KIM JEE-HEE, HA SUN-YOUNG [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]