VIP Pass S’pore: All you need to know about the controversy over hotel booking platform

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You may have come across this hotel booking platform called VIP Pass that claims to offer enticing hotel deals.

VIP Pass has come under public scrutiny recently, after travel blogger Aaron Wong wrote extensive investigative pieces about it on his website The Milelion, which you can read here and here.

Too good to be true deals

For the uninitiated, the website suggests that one has to purchase a pass that costs S$600 (or S$399 when on promotion), which will unlock a range of exclusive hotel deals. According to users, what you can choose while booking on the platform is the hotel and date you want, and the number of people you are booking for.

Speaking to Mothership, Wong said that he first became aware of the VIP Pass platform in early June after coming across its advertisement on Facebook and Instagram. There were also some chatter in The Milelion’s Telegram Group over the deals which seem “too good to be true”.

Here’s what VIP Pass has claimed on its advertising post, which is still live on Facebook at time of writing (June 29):

Screenshot from VIP Pass/Facebook.

The advertising poster attached in the post claimed that those who purchase the VIP Pass can enjoy a 7D6N stay at a luxury hotel in Singapore for just S$399.

Screenshot from VIP Pass/Facebook.

Several red flags

In his article on The Milelion, Wong has pointed out numerous red flags, which include an additional S$50 “cleaning fee”, as well as several claims like awards won, partnerships with hotels, and media mentions.

Several hotels featured deny partnership with VIP Pass

Mothership reached out to some of these hotels that VIP Pass claimed to have partnered with.

Screenshot of VIP Pass website taken on June 28 morning.

Spokespersons from Pan Pacific Hotels Group and Hilton Singapore replied on June 28 afternoon that they are not working with VIP Pass.

Here’s the response from Pan Pacific Hotels Group:

“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… We have reached out to them last week, but have not heard from them yet.”

Here’s the response from Hilton Singapore:

“We wish to inform that Hilton Singapore is neither associated nor in partnership with The VIP Pass. We are investigating this and the hotel has also reached out to The VIP Pass to delist the hotel from their website.”

As of the time of writing, the above mentioned screenshot featuring the logos of “hotel partners” remains prominently live on its website.

Other hotels that have denied any partnerships with VIP Pass include Ascott, Goodwood Park and Carlton, Wong reported in his article.

On this note, VIP Pass told Mothership that they source hotel rooms via wholesalers and other partnership arrangements, not just directly with the hotels themselves.

Here’s what VIP Pass said in their statement:

“The VIP Pass is a travel pass with the intention to change the way people book and travel, we have many segments that are rolling out soon across over 14 countries, it is not just about hotel rooms. We source our hotel inventories through multiple mediums which include direct contract with hotels, hotel room bed banks or wholesalers and other marketing /partnership arrangements.

We have direct contracts with hotels and are able to market the rooms that the hotels do not utilize. These rooms are sold to us at an operational cost price which is much lower than normal listed rates. This way, the rooms are not empty and are still generating revenue. We also have other hotels that we are authorized to remarket through the multiple wholesaler agreements with our partners.

Yes we do admit sometimes the front line of certain hotels are not aware of all the platforms they are listed on because when they list on the wholesalers and bed banks their hotel room inventory immediately gets pushed to hundreds of different hotel booking platforms around the world. Nonetheless, when we do get such inquiries from hotels we update them of this manner and they acknowledge their hotels are listed on the wholesalers.”

Veracity of awards won

The VIP Pass website also claimed that they have received the “Agoda Golden Circle award for 2 years in a row”, and describes the award as “reserved for the top 1% worldwide”.

First, as Wong pointed out in his article, there is a typo of the award’s name, which should be “Agoda Gold Circle” instead.

Second, there also seems to be a misunderstanding of what the award is about.

The Agoda Gold Circle award is presented to hotel partners of Agoda with “superior service, high scoring peer-to-peer reviews on Agoda, pricing and availability excellence”.

Therefore, it is odd for a booking platform to confer such an award to another booking platform.

Having said that, it is unclear who exactly won these awards from the site’s description. Who, exactly, is the “we”?

Screenshot of VIP Pass website taken on June 28.

In the statement given to Mothership, VIP Pass has also recognised Agoda as one of their competitors, adding that they are running “amazing deals” to “stand out from the competition”:

“Right now we are running promotional offers as a path to grow the market share vs established travel portals such as Agoda, Traveloka and Hotel.com. In this path we must give amazing deals to stand out from the competition. And that is exactly what we are doing now with the current promotional offers, details of which are on our website www.GetVipPass.com.”

In response to Mothership, Agoda replied that “to confirm that we have not provided a Gold Circle award to The VIP Pass Pte Ltd”.

Mothership has reached out to VIP Pass for further clarification on this and will update this article accordingly.

Photo of team a stock image

Noticeably, the website uses a stock image for its “About Us” page, where the VIP Pass team is introduced.

Screenshot taken on Adobe Stock.

With an impressive description of its network across Asia and Australia, details of its founders, its team and its “regional bases” are unfortunately, sorely lacking.

Screenshot of VIP Pass website on June 29 night.

Media mentions are not VIP Pass’s legal parent company

Wong also did a background check on the VIP Pass and found that the media mentions were for Subhome, an accommodation provider in Malaysia that is not VIP Pass’s legal parent company.

Instead, VIP Pass is fully owned by Choice Baby (K.L) from its business profile from ACRA, according to Wong’s research.

On this note, VIP Pass clarified in its statement to Mothership that the team is in the midst of a corporate exercise.

“As for our corporate structure we have our HQ in Singapore that will oversee regional expansion across Asia and Australia. We have an operations team based in Malaysia through partnerships and inhouse to support the development and operations of the portal.

Our origins are from business & investment holding companies that have investments in properties and ventures in a variety of businesses from childcare to hotel management. We are in the midst of a corporate exercise with some well known industry players and will be announcing more on that in the coming future.”

Wong also shared with Mothership that during his investigation, he noticed the VIP Pass has been deleting negative comments on its Facebook posts.

“I also spotted a few comments on the VIP Pass Facebook page complaining about the difficulty of booking hotels and slow response times from VIP Pass customer service, but those comments were subsequently deleted or hidden.”

After Wong’s first investigative piece went on June 22, the VIP Pass continued to run Facebook ads with the logos of its “hotel partners” on its poster.

It also appeared on The Straits Times (ST) as a branded content article published on June 22.

However, the ST article is now no longer accessible.

Following his two articles, Wong said that neither VIP Pass nor ST has reached out to him.

In response to Mothership‘s queries, an SPH spokesperson replied that VIP Pass’s branded content on ST was taken down as a “precaution”, as investigations are ongoing.

Here’s the statement from the SPH spokesperson in full:

“Due to alleged claims on another website about VIP Pass, we have taken down their branded content on ST as a precaution, pending investigation of the claims by the client, VIP Pass.”

Police reports allegedly lodged

Given the irresistible deals and the fact that Singaporeans cannot go overseas due to travel restrictions, some people gave the VIP Pass platform a try.

A member of The Milelion Telegram Group said that he had tried using the booking platform. However, he did not get the hotel of his choice during his first two tries, and was counter-offered with a lower-end hotel instead.

The third try was apparently successful, and after about three weeks into the experiment, he secured a booking of the hotel of his choice, although it was not the date that he had originally chosen.

At least two other Facebook users whose comments were subsequently deleted shared the same frustration of being counter-offered a lower end hotel or failing to book a hotel successfully, according to screenshots shared by Wong.

At least two people who left comments on Wong’s article said that they have lodged police reports.

VIP Pass: Booking system crashed twice in the past month

On the accounts of negative user experience, VIP Pass told Mothership that the attractive 7D6N deal that they offer has received “overwhelming response”, which led to the booking system to crash twice in the past month.

VIP Pass added that they have been focusing on delivering to their clients, even as they admitted to their shortfalls.

13,733 room nights have been fulfilled to VIP Pass members thus far, according to the company.

Here’s their statement on this:

“One of the most significant deals we are rolling out now which is shocking the hotel industry is that; if you get the VIP Pass membership now, We will give you 7 Day/6 Nights Free at a selection of over 73+ hotels in Singapore. This sign on bonus is at our cost and is to build our membership base. This deal has been getting an overwhelming response and has resulted in our system crashing 2 times over the past month but we have fixed this and have been focused on delivering to our clients. Details of this offer is on our website.

Although we do admit we have had shortfalls as with many companies at certain times, we strive to improve and rectify this with the intention of ultimately delivering the best level of service we can, so our customers keep us at top of mind when choosing their travel partners.

Nonetheless we have been able to deliver and provide bookings and room night stays in all tiers of hotels from 5 stars to boutique hotels to many satisfied clients and strive to keep doing so. To date we have been able to book over 13,733 room nights for our VIP Pass Members.”

CASE: No complaints received yet

In response to Mothership‘s queries, the President of Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), Melvin Yong, said that the organisation has not received any complaints made against the VIP Pass.

In addition, CASE shared the following advisory to those who are considering third-party discounted deals, vouchers or credits for hotel accommodations:

Do their own research on the track record and reviews of the third party platform service provider/partner, and disregard reviews that may not be genuine such as unverifiable sources.

Verify the authenticity of the third party discounted deals, vouchers or credits with the hotel directly before they commit to the purchase. Be wary of claims which are too good to be true.

Consider options that suit their needs, and not be swayed by attractive headline price or time-limited deals that may not suit their needs or if they do not have any immediate intention to utilise the hotel accommodation.

Go through the Terms & Conditions thoroughly to see if there are any restrictions on usage or booking dates, and hidden or additional fees/charges on top of the price of the deal.

Find out the service recovery and refund policies in the event of disputes and/or if the deal cannot be utilised.

Top image via the VIP Pass website and Facebook