Applecare dodginess

Every single person I know who’s had an ibook or powerbook has had to send it back for repairs at some point, including me with all four I’ve had. Although it’s a nuisance, Applecare’s pickup from home and return again often in less than a week somewhat mitigates the disaster of being computerless, and I’ve stayed loyal. But two I know people recently have been told on the phone that Apple no longer do pickups and they have to take their laptop to the local Apple reseller and have them fix it instead. In Bristol there’s a six week waiting list just to get the damn thing assessed and then n weeks + to get it fixed. I can only assume that the Apple hardware is about to get significantly more reliable such that they won’t need this kind of service. Grrrr.
Has anyone else had this problem? anyone know a way around it? when mine last broke it was under warranty; they tried to get me to take it to the reseller, but when I phoned them again they had it picked up.