|Update: Be sure to read Part 2 of the investigation as well.|
If you’ve been surfing Facebook or Instagram lately, you may have come across an advertisement for something called “The VIP Pass”, which on the surface, appears to be a sensational deal.
The VIP Pass offers six nights redeemable at 73+ “luxury hotels around Singapore” over a 24-month period, with a 100% money-back guarantee. It normally costs S$600, but the price is frequently reduced to S$399 during its many flash sales.
There are a handful of restrictions to note. All bookings:
- Are room-only
- Must be made at least 14 days prior to arrival
- Are valid for weekend or weekday stays, but not if they fall on the eve or day of a public holiday
Even so, S$399 for six nights works out to just S$67 per night. That’s incredible value given how the showcased hotels like Amara Sanctuary, M Social and Hilton Singapore have weekend rates in excess of S$250. VIP Pass boldly predicts that the total value of your six nights could be as high as S$2,093.
How can VIP Pass offer such low rates? Here’s how they explain it:
When the Covid19 Pandemic hit worldwide we saw an opportunity to secure deep discounts with hotels and hospitality providers across the world and we did just that. We were able to lock in the hotel’s unsold rooms at almost 90% discounts and package it for you, the travelers. As a smart traveler this is going to be the only way to travel moving forward. You get to be the Smart VIP.
I suppose that’s…plausible. But here’s a much simpler explanation: they aren’t.
I’ve spent some time investigating the VIP Pass, and the story starts to fall apart once you dig a little deeper.
You need to add S$150 to the price
While the headline price can be as low as S$399, you’re going to have to shell out more than that to fully utilize the VIP Pass.
That’s because nights 4-6 come with a S$50 “cleaning fee” attached. It’s odd, since you’d think this sort of thing would be included in the hotel rate, but it basically means the actual cost of the VIP Pass is at least S$549 (S$399 + S$150).
Still, with the cleaning fees factored in the average nightly rate works out to S$92. That’s great if you can snag the So Sofitel or Pan Pacific, right?
Some hotel partnerships are non-existent
VIP Pass claims to partner with 73+ luxury hotels around Singapore. Here’s the full list, as provided on their website and booking portal:
|🏨 VIP Pass Hotel List|
|It’s worth noting that some properties like 8 On Clairmore (sic) and Orchard Park Suites are registered as serviced apartments, and do not have a hotel license. This means a minimum stay of six nights is required by law, if indeed VIP Pass really does partner with them.|
Seriously, all the typos make me feel like I’m at some shady night market being offered a Relex watch or a Louie Viton bag. One night at Hotel Saloha, anyone?
Look through the list, and you’ll realise the vast majority of these hotels are in the 2-3 Star range. Hotel ibis? Value Hotel? Aqueen? Not exactly the stuff of staycation dreams. And maybe it’s fun to stay at the Y.W.C.A, but only if you’re a young man who’s in a new town.
But fine, no one’s forcing us to choose those options. Can’t we just focus on the A-list names like So Sofitel, Pan Pacific, Oakwood Premier etc.? Well, here’s the thing. I contacted some of the 5-Star hotels on this list to ask if they worked with VIP Pass. Across the board, the answer was a flat “no”.
Ascott sent the following response:
Please be informed that Ascott in Singapore does not have a partnership with the VIP Pass Programme.
Our team had attempted numerous times since last week to contact the VIP Pass through the contact details that are available on the website and we are still following up to remove Ascott brand logo and property mentions from the website.
Pan Pacific did likewise:
As you may have heard from other hotels/hotel groups as well, this is not a legitimate source. We have been alerted and have reached out to them on this misinformation.
No, we are not associated or partnering with this company and we are unsure of where they are getting the room rates as well. We stumbled across their social media ads on Facebook last Friday as well and we are also trying to reach out to them from our end.
We would like to confirm that we did not partner with them and are also doing our checks on this matter.
Even Carlton Hotel, which featured prominently in one of VIP Pass’ adverts, said very succinctly:
We regret to inform that it is not a legitimate offer and they are not our booking partner.
That alone should already be raising a ton of red flags.
Media mentions aren’t actually for VIP Pass
The VIP Pass website says it’s been featured in publications like The Star, New Straits Times, Malay Mail and more.
But I can’t find a single mention of VIP Pass in any of these publications. I reached out to ask if they could send these links over, and have not received a response yet.
What I can surmise is that the media mentions were for SubHome, the company behind the VIP Pass (but, surprisingly, not its legal parent company- see below).
A little bit of history: the VIP Pass Facebook page was formerly known as the Subhome VIP Pass, and before that the Subhome Home Suite Pass, 1Tebrau Suites by SubHome, and 1Tebrau Suites.
SubHome is a hospitality company that manages serviced apartments in Malaysia. Landlords list their apartments, which SubHome matches with tourists and business travellers, handling all the screening, correspondence and upkeep (basically a more specialised airbnb).
SubHome used to sell a Platinum VIP Pass which could be used for stays at any participating property. The links on this page now redirect to the VIP Pass, which is presumably what it evolved into.
Look, media mentions are not transferrable. If I were to start a line of male virility enhancement products (become a “mile”-lion, the ads would say) and slap a banner on the website saying “as featured on Muttons in the Morning“, you’d cry foul, and rightly so.
Come to think of it, that’s an idea…
VIP Pass didn’t win any awards
VIP Pass claims it’s been in the hospitality industry for over eight years, and showcases two awards on its website: Agoda Gold Circle (which it mistakenly calls “Golden” Circle) and The Brand Laureate.
The first is odd, given how the Agoda Gold Circle award is issued to hotels, not booking agencies. Again, the only way I can make sense of this is that one of SubHome’s serviced apartments received a Gold Circle award, but I fail to see what this has to do with VIP Pass, especially since Singapore customers won’t even be staying in the Malaysia properties.
Regarding the Brand Laureate seal, SubHomes did indeed receive an award in October 2018, the “Prominent Business Brand Award under Services- Hospitality Investment”. Before you put any weight on that, however, pause and consider how this award isn’t endorsed by an industry association nor any government body, and perhaps read this Straits Times piece on the unregulated nature of the awards industry.
When the application form asks you to fork over a RM 1,000 processing fee, I think you know what’s going on.
It’s owned by a baby-making company
VIP Pass has incorporated a company in Singapore, aptly called VIP Pass Pte Ltd. I pulled a copy of its business profile from ACRA, and the ownership structure makes for interesting reading.
VIP Pass Pte Ltd was incorporated on 8 June 2021, with a virtual business address at The Forum Shopping Mall. A total of 5,000 shares have been issued, all of which are held by a Malaysian company called Choice Baby (K.L).
What does Choice Baby (K.L) do? Exactly what it sounds like.
We are a Malaysian based company offering the services of gender selection using the Selnas Method. It is based on the Polarity Cycle of the ovum membrane. This method identifies the timing of intercourse for the desired gender. It’s purely natural, no drugs, surgery nor any side effects.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping a baby-making company from having diversified interests, but it’s noteworthy that despite SubHomes’ CEO being one of VIP Pass Pte Ltd’s directors and SubHomes registering the VIP Pass domain, SubHomes itself is not the ultimate owner. Choice Baby is held by three individual shareholders, according to its SSM filing (Malaysia’s equivalent of ACRA).
The VIP Pass website also mentions a further company, VIP Pass Holidays (Malaysia), which I wasn’t able to find any information about.
You’ll have to wait two years for your money-back guarantee
VIP Pass offers a “no-risk, 100% money back guarantee” to unsatisfied customers. But if you’re intending to use this as your fallback option, you’ll be waiting a long while for your refund.
The landing page states the following:
10) Money back guarantee only applies in the instance that during the validity period, none of the nights were booked or utilised.
This is further elaborated in the full T&Cs:
For matters of money back guarantee, this applies to only specific types of vip passes and the mechanism is that the purchaser will have a window of 3 months to claim back the money back guarantee only if after the end of the validity of the pass and there was no successful booking for any nights during the validity period, for avoidance of doubt in the instance there was a successful booking but the purchaser cancelled the booking at any time, this will invalidate the money back guarantee as there was a successful booking made during the tenure of the validity.
Setting aside the caveat that the guarantee only applies to “specific types” of VIP Passes (they don’t say which), you can only file your refund claim 24 months down the road- assuming VIP Pass is still around to honor the refund!
Potential VIP Pass buyers would do well to pore over the rest of the T&Cs too, although they might find it difficult to read in parts. Case in point: this section that looks like someone just did a very bad find and replace.
Good luck booking anything
If you nonetheless take the plunge and purchase a VIP Pass, you’ll receive an email to set up an online account (I didn’t actually buy one, but a reader who did kindly provided me with his login).
Once that’s done, you’ll be able to access the VIP Pass booking portal. The interface looks like any regular OTA, but the confirmation process is decidedly old-fashioned. You select a hotel from the dropdown list, enter your dates and click “Request”.
Then you wait. And wait.
Confirmation isn’t instant, and although VIP Pass quotes a waiting time of three working days, people end up waiting longer in practice:
You won’t be able to find the above comment on VIP Pass’ Facebook page anymore, because it was later deleted or hidden. But the reader who provided the login also told me the same thing. He waited more than three working days with no news, posted something on the Facebook page, received a response blaming it on a system issue, and then his comment was deleted or hidden.
Eventually someone did get back, but not quite as expected. The original hotel requested was Ascott Raffles; the offered hotel was Hotel Royal. Leaving aside the fact that Ascott disavows working with VIP Pass in the first place (see above), the alternative hotel costs just S$73 a night- hardly the type of luxury hotel VIP Pass advertises.
The reader replied asking for availability at 15 other hotels on the VIP Pass hotel list, but did not get a response.
VIP Pass likes to say it’s a “guaranteed stay, not a lucky draw”, but based on the evidence so far, it seems to be very much the latter.
Otherwise, there’s nothing else in the members’ area, except a section where you can view your upcoming bookings. I highly doubt this reader is going to get Ascott Raffles, but hey, he could always stay at the “Naomi” Hotel- I hear the turndown service involves someone uncovering your feet in the middle of the night.
Let’s be brutally honest: No one buys the VIP Pass because they want to stay at Hotel Royal. They buy it because they believe it’s a chance to score a fantastic deal on a luxury staycation, an impression the creators of the VIP Pass are only too happy to cultivate.
While VIP Pass never promises you’ll get a 5-Star hotel, it certainly has no qualms about name-dropping marquee brands like Hilton and Pan Pacific. I don’t know how many people have actually bought one, but based on the responses I’ve received from Ascott, Carlton, Hilton, Pan Pacific and PARKROYAL, they’re going to be very disappointed.
Can the VIP Pass make financial sense? Yes- for the ones selling it. If the average customer ends up staying in a 3-Star hotel that costs S$70-90 per night, and the booking company earns a 20% commission, then the margin on a S$549 VIP Pass (remember the cleaning fees!) is more than comfortable. Obviously, that math breaks down if every customer opts exclusively for 5-Star hotels.
It’s trite, but still worth repeating: if a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. Seriously, you didn’t expect to book six nights at the Pan Pacific for S$399, did you?
- The VIP Pass does not really cost S$399
- It does not have all the hotel partnerships it claims
- The media coverage and awards listed do not actually pertain to the VIP Pass itself
- The Singapore operation is owned by a baby gender selection company
- The money back guarantee involves a two-year wait
- I have yet to hear of anyone successfully booking a 5-Star hotel
So if you come across one of VIP Pass’ many advertisements, don’t worry.
I’m quite certain they won’t be increasing the price to S$2,093 anytime soon.