The discounts on some Vitality domestic flights are not as big as what Discovery advertises

Price review

  • Discovery Vitality promises discounts of between 10% and 75% off flights for its members.
  • But a real-world analysis shows that discounts advertised as 30% can, in fact, be as little as 23% at checkout.
  • Vitality’s own internal calculations revealed that a discount advertised at 75% resulted in an actual saving of 61% at checkout.
  • Mandatory non-refundable administrative charges, base fare calculations, fare discrepancies, and potential bank transfer fees eat away at the promoted discounts.
  • Here’s how much you might really be saving – and why Vitality domestic airfare discounts at checkout are less than you may realize.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

One of the major benefits for Discovery Vitality members is discounted flights.

Discovery Vitality currently promotes these discounts as a percentage “off your flights”. Some Vitality marketing collateral for its medical aid members also advertises this as “save 15% to 35% on flights”.

Discovery Bank gives its Vitality clients additional benefits – with promises of “personalized discounts” of up to 75% for local flights.

But if you consider an airline ticket cost as the amount you have to pay to fly, it is impossible to achieve Vitality’s percentage discount claims.

Despite the advertised claims of “discounts of up to 75% on all domestic airlines in South Africa”, Discovery Vitality could not demonstrate to Business Insider SA how users can ultimately achieve this discount versus booking with airlines directly.

Vitality’s internal tests mirrored those of Business Insider’s, in which the percentage discounts at checkout were significantly smaller than those promoted – in some cases by up to 14% less.

Here’s why it is not possible to match Discovery Vitality’s percentage discount claims at checkout:

Discount applies only to base fare

Discovery Vitality still only offers discounts on the ticket’s “base fare”, which is much lower than the actual ticket price.

Base fares do not include taxes, extras, and other fees and can make up to 7% and 10% of a return domestic airfare.

Users who consider a plane ticket’s cost to be what they ultimately pay for the flight, not just the “base fare”, will never achieve Vitality’s promised discounts “off flights”.

For example, a return flight on Lift between Johannesburg and Cape Town in September was advertised in August for R4,410. R288.92 of this went towards taxes. This puts the base fare for this flight at R4,121.08.

If the ticket price had a 30% discount, you would save R1,323. But with the same discount applied only to the base fare, you’ll only get R1,236.30 off.

This means even before the mandatory fees that come later in Vitality’s ticket buying journey, you’re already only getting 28.03% off your whole ticket.

The booking and checkout process also does not make this entirely clear from the outset. Vitality allows users to select a “30% discount” option during the flight selection process, despite its calculation alongside showcasing very different maths.

Advertised discount versus effective discount.

Hidden beneath the dropdown accordion menu are the actual numbers. These reference the base fare and associated discount but without a percentage. In this example, the percentage discount is already down to 25.7% for 30% off, and 8.6% for 10% off.

Mandatory booking fees erode discount

Vitality adds another surprise to some that further erodes your discount – a mandatory booking fee that doesn’t factor into the promised percentage discounts.

The fee appears only at the checkout phase, once you’ve already gone through the agony of comparing, selecting, and committing to a flight.

These mandatory flat fees make it impossible to achieve the advertised flight discount – and it is challenging to predict what percentage you’ll save without reaching for a calculator.

Vitality says these fees are to pay “Vitality to manage and facilitate the booking”. How high they are depends on when you’re booking and intend to fly. Vitality penalizes last-minute bookers more than those who plan, and fees range between R55 and R99 for each ticket.

This fee does not scale with the discount percentage or the ticket price – but it does change when the fee is so high, and the discount so low, that it removes any Vitality benefit altogether.

On the fifth page of Vitality’s domestic flight terms and conditions, it states that if there are fewer than seven days between booking and departing, you’ll pay R99, “Unless your Vitality flight discount [sic] is less than R99, in which case we will lower the booking fee to either R80 or R55”.

This fixed, flat-rate fee makes it impossible to ever walk away with a ticket that’s precisely the percentage Vitality advertises – even when accepting the base fare calculation approach.

To test this, Business Insider SA examined several flights with promised 30% discounts across all Vitality Travel airline partners and with various booking fees.

On return flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town, with multiple partner airlines, the best “30%” deal Business Insider SA could achieve after the mandatory fees was 27.27% off an SAA flight. The worst was a Safair discount that was just 23.2% off.

Business Insider SA requested assistance from Discovery Vitality to recreate a real-world 30% discount. Vitality CEO Dinesh Govender responded, among other comments, that “the net flight prices paid by Vitality members are significantly below those directly available from the airline”.

Ticket price discrepancies

While comparing various fares, Business Insider SA also uncovered several instances where Vitality’s claimed airfare prices were higher than those directly on airline websites.

On several occasions, Vitality’s fare was R2 or R3 more than that posted on airline websites in real-time comparisons.

Business Insider SA provided screenshots of this issue to Discovery Vitality, who responded that these discrepancies are “most likely a timing issue” – despite a real-time comparison and the discrepancy appearing on multiple occasions across more than one airline partner.

Fare difference between Lift and Vitality Travel.

Fare difference between Lift and Vitality Travel.

In response to this, Govender told Business Insider SA that “The sector is competitive with high visibility across the various online channels, so there are rare ticket price discrepancies before our discounts are applied. In the rare event that there is a discrepancy in flight inventory supplied by the airlines, this is identified and resolved immediately with the airline”.

Bank transfer fees

For those who currently bank elsewhere, Discovery’s new policy that all Vitality members must sign up for a Discovery Bank account and pay for all airfares using a Discovery Bank virtual card, adds additional fees.

Although Discovery Bank has made a pay-as-you-transact bank account available to Vitality members and does not charge fees for Vitality Travel payments, getting money into that account from your preferred partner may cost you.

How much depends on your bank – and whether you wait two to three business days for it to clear or pay another flat fee for it to reflect instantly.

With ticket prices fluctuating, often on the hour, many banking customers may choose the latter to avoid missing a deal. If the price goes up after transferring the exact funds into your Discovery Bank account, you’ll have to start again.

Confused fare classes

Business Insider also uncovered some instances where fare classes and benefits represented on partner websites did not appear to match those on Vitality Travel’s.

For example, a ticket booked on Lift comes with no change penalty if made 24 hours before; according to Vitality Travel, the same ticket on the same flight will attract a change penalty.

Flight change policies on Lift differ from Vitalit

Flight change policies on Lift differ from Vitality Travel.

Vitality Travel also describes some of its fare classes differently to airlines – which at best leads to some confusion.

Fare class differences on SAA.

Fare class differences on SAA.

The higher the advertised discount, the lower the effective discount

In response to questions on the topic of discount accuracy, Govender supplied Business Insider SA with a “benchmarking test” conducted by Vitality. It highlighted that a 35% advertised discount resulted in an effective discount of 27%; 50% advertised resulted in 40% off; 60% advertised resulted in 48% off; and 75% in just 61% off.

The above-supplied calculations also suggest that the higher the discount earned by climbing Vitality’s behavior change programs, the lower the actual discount.

Govender said this analysis shows “that the net flight prices paid by Vitality members are significantly below those directly available from the airline.”

Although it’s therefore true that in all flights checked by Business Insider SA, domestic flights were cheaper through Vitality Travel than through partner airline websites, in no instances were Vitality’s advertised claims replicable at checkout.

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