Money and Markets

Revealed: Discovery Vitality discounts on flights may be much smaller than you think

Business Insider SA
  • Vitality members are promised large savings on flights.
  • But our analysis shows that what is advertised as a 25% discount can in fact be as little as 13%.
  • Discounts only apply to the ‘base fare’ – and that makes a big difference.

One of the key benefits for Discovery Vitality members is the offer of discounted domestic and international flights.

According to the Discovery website, members can save up to a “maximum of 35%” on the base fare of flights. How much members are eligible to save depends on his or her Vitality status: Blue status attracts a 15% discount, Bronze 20%, Silver 25%, Gold 30%, and Diamond 35%.

Travellers can apply this discount to fares on domestic flights with Kulula and British Airways; and on international flights with British Airways, Emirates, and Qantas.

But there have been several caveats, many of which have lead to complaints about the true value of the advertised discounts. And in reality, our analysis shows, what is advertised as a 25% discount can in fact be as little as 13%.

Here are some of the pitfalls that make Vitality flight discounts less useful than you may think.

Discounts only apply to the ‘base fare’ – and that makes a big difference

Vitality only offers discounts on the “base fare” – which is not the same as actual price of a ticket. The base fare does not include taxes and other  fees, which make up a sizeable percentage of every airline ticket.

For example, a full-fare flight between O.R. Tambo and Cape Town International on June 1st, 2019 was advertised at R638.36.

This flight includes taxes of R198.36. This puts the base fare for this flight at R440.

If the full price of the ticket were discounted by 25%, you would pay just under R480 for that flight. In reality though, thanks to the base-fare caveat, the final price of the ticket is closer to R530 – a discount of only 17.2%.

The same condition applies to international flights.

A flight to London between O.R. Tambo and Heathrow Airport on June 1st, 2019 was advertised at R11,831.68.

This flight includes taxes of R2,331.68, which puts the base fare for this flight at R9,500.

Silver users who assume their discount applies to the base fare may expect a discount of R2,957.92. But given the base fare condition, they will only receive a discount of R2,375 – a little over R580 less than the advertising suggests.

If you want to see the details, you’re going to have to hunt for them

If you are a Silver member and log in to the  Vitality portal, you’ll see that you are eligible for a 25% discount. If you want to see the details, you have to go to the main Discovery website

In responding to the article, Vitality CEO Dinesh Govender also pointed out that the details are contained on a terms and conditions page on the Kulula website.

But during the initial booking phases there is no mention of, or link to, conditions, including that detail about the “base fare”. Vitality says  “Discovery total” and “Save" columns on the website clearly show the saving, from the moment they select their route and date range”, to make things  transparent.

But those numbers do not include a variable “booking fee” that is added in a following step – and reduces the actual saving again.

If you want to know how that all works,  you need to hover your mouse cursor over a small yellow “i” which then  reveals that “The Discovery contribution only applies to the base fare, YQI - Carrier Imposed Fee (where applicable) and VAT only.”

The “booking fee” can really eat into the discount

In order to book a flight using the Vitality discount, you have to pay a  “Discovery booking fee” – and that can get relatively pricey.

According to Discovery, the booking fee applies to all flight bookings and is charged per member, per booking.

For international bookings the fee is a flat R385. But for South African flights the price varies.

If booking 21 days or more in advance the booking fee is R55. Between seven and 20 days the rate is R80. And less than seven days the fee rises to R99.

According to Govender, the booking fee varies in order to “help encourage members to book early”. He says by doing so travellers can avoid the “higher fares generally associated with last-minute bookings”.

The booking fee can really eat into the actual discount you get. For the R638.36 flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town it means the final discount is just 13% – rather than the advertised 25% – if you book less than a week in advance. Book more than three weeks in advance and the real final discount will be  16% after that booking fee.

When a customer in a social media response to this issue raised on the Vitality Facebook page, the company said “The total Discovery amount reflecting throughout the booking process does not include the booking fee which only reflects before the payment screen.”

Business Insider requested Vitality to demonstrate how the advertised percentage saving on “flights” can be achieved, given the inclusion of the booking fee that erodes the discount. In their response, they demonstrated how the discount applies to the base fare, and chose not to include the unavoidable booking fee in their discount calculation.

For more go to Business Insider South Africa.

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