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Consumer Watch: Perishables too pricey for DeCA home delivery

Oct. 5, 2009 - 08:34PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 5, 2009 - 08:34PM  |  
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An Army wife wrote recently to ask when she'll be able to order groceries online from her local commissary.

There is no answer to that question — at least in the broad sense in which she posed it.

For the past few years, varying types of gift baskets have been available through the Defense Commissary Agency's Virtual Commissary.

"There is no timeline" for introducing other products, DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson said. "Gift baskets is pretty much the assortment for the Virtual Commissary."

DeCA officials continuously evaluate the program, looking for ways to improve what they offer while holding to the Defense Department's mandate of 30 percent average savings for customers, Robinson said.

But "currently, there are no plans for perishable products," he said. "We've studied home delivery of perishable products ordered via Virtual Commissary, but the cost of doing so would drastically diminish the savings."

As for other items — such as health and beauty or paper products — again, there is no timeline.

Forty-two items are now available at the Virtual Commissary, with prices ranging from a $12.60 "Mug of Plenty," a hand-painted mug with cocoas and cookies, to the $86.10 "Plentiful Autumn Tray," a brown faux leather tray with everything from peanut brittle and smoked salmon to apple cider and chocolates. Prices don't include shipping costs.

Save more at the pump

In addition to a 5-cents-per-gallon discount on gas at Army and Air Force Exchange Service stations when you use a Military Star card or Military Star Rewards MasterCard, AAFES will offer two more promotions for those who pay with their cards:

• Nov. 11: An additional 6 cents off per gallon, for a total of 11 cents off.

• Nov. 30-Dec. 4: An additional 15 cents off per gallon, for a total of 20 cents off.

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Vance Silvia asked why the discount is given only if you use a Military Star card. He noted that since the Military Star card charges 9.99 percent interest on purchases if you don't pay them off in full, the customer is actually forced to pay extra. However, that's assuming the credit card balance is not being paid off each month, and interest charges are piling up. I'm assuming you are paying off the balance. Check the math in the example at left.

AAFES offers the discount on gas only on Military Star or Military Star Rewards card gas purchases because no transaction fees are charged back to the exchanges when you use their internal "store" cards. That saves money for the exchanges.

If you use another credit card — perhaps because you want to earn points — that card issuer will charge the exchanges a transaction fee, generally 3 percent of the sales price.

Since 2001, AAFES has paid more than $500 million in such transaction fees to card-issuing banks, spokesman Judd Anstey said. Ultimately, that affects the military community by cutting the dividends that AAFES returns to morale, welfare and recreation programs.

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Questions? Comments? E-mail staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers.

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