I was taking a ferry to a convention hotel and learned that the price was $26 for two.

"Do you have a seniors rate?" I asked.

"No."

"Do you have an AAA rate?"

"Yes -- $12 apiece."

I got on line for the boat and told my wife I had saved $2 with my AAA card.

Someone ahead of me remarked: "I'm in the AAA too Why didn't they tell me it could save me money?"

Well, they should have told him.

Why do you have to go out of your way to get the best rate? It should be offered to you whether or not you know it's available.

Are banks similarly guilty of holding out, giving their best deals only to those who are aggressive and smart enough to demand them? You bet.

Think of how many banks allow customers to leave large amounts in no-interest demand deposits for months or years when instead they might be encouraged to switch to certificates of deposit, or at least to interest-bearing savings. And think how mad customers get when they finally realize how much money they could have made if only they'd known.

Maybe some kick themselves for being uninformed or naive, but most blame the bank for failing to bring a good option to their attention. The result: The bank not only loses free use of the customer's money, but may lose the entire account as well.

Why do we have to have special rates for some people or classes anyway? Is it because everybody else offers them, or is there an economic reason?

Children's discounts in restaurants make sense because they encourage family outings. Early-bird specials fill seats that would otherwise be empty, just as commuter trains' off-hour rates do.

At banks, special accounts for the poor and lower rates and more relaxed terms on loans are a given under the terms of the Community Reinvestment Act. Deals like low-interest loans to help hurricane victims rebuild are both good citizenship and good PR.

But otherwise, if you want to make some people feel special, why make them beg? And why risk alienating them if they miss out on a special offer they should have been told about?

If you have special rates, reevaluate them. If they make sense, promote them -- actively and conspicuously.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.