Airport lounge comfort can come at a very uncomfortable cost

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Airport lounge comfort can come at a very uncomfortable cost

Check your rewards scheme closely and frequently, because its benefits can - and do - change at any time

Consumer journalist

One thing you can count on if you give your business to a bank, airline, medical scheme or supermarket because of their rewards programme is that, soon or later, the benefits will change – and not in your favour.
Because rewards are not purchases, companies can change the rules any time they like.
Airport lounge visit rewards, a big drawcard for frequent flyers, are almost always reduced, often repeatedly.
Over the years, for example, FNB’s Slow Lounge rewards have been dramatically reduced to limit access.
Often those making use of lounge access rewards complain that they weren’t properly notified of the changes via e-mail, SMS or notices in the lounges themselves.
Many a cardholder has entered an airport lounge and enjoyed its hospitality, not realising that they will be charged – and not a small amount – for it. That realisation happens long after the fact when they get their monthly card statement.For Mohamed Shaheen Amod of Pietermaritzburg, his April Diners Club statement contained a massive shock.
All the visits made to airport lounges locally and abroad since January this year by himself, his wife, son and daughter-in-law – all their cards being linked to his Diners Club account – had been charged for: R258 for each local lounge visit, and R430 for the international ones. They added up to more than R5,000.
Those visit charges are described on his statement as “valued added service fees”, so he had to make a call to find out what they were.
“Since I signed for the card in 1991, access to airport lounges around the world was free for me and my dependent cardholders, with no limitations,” Amod said. “It was the hallmark of the card, offsetting the very high annual card charge.”
But changes have meant that, since January, lounge access is only free – and only for one a month – for those who spend R5,000 per month on their cards.
“So I need to spend R20,000 on that card in a month in order to get four free lounge entries,” Amod said.His biggest gripe is the lack of disclosure of the radical change, and the delay in the fees for his lounge visits reflecting on his statement.
“An e-mail was sent to my old e-mail address, so I didn’t get it, and that was that,” he said. “There is nothing in their 2018 brochure. Only the benefits are mentioned. Nor are there notices in the lounges themselves, and the staff at the entrances to the lounges didn’t mention the radical change either.
“Who in their right mind would spend R5,074 to visit airport lounges – that’s almost the cost of an economy ticket overseas!”
When Amod asked Diners Club why fees for visits to airport lounges in January and February only reflected on his April statement, a consultant responded that lounge fees were only calculated every quarter.
“How convenient. If I’d seen the January charges on my February statement, that would have alerted me to the new rules, and we would not have used our cards to enter any lounge in February.”
Amod accused Diners Club of hiding the new lounge access rules from unsuspecting clients in order levy hefty lounge access fees.Responding, the manager of Diners Club’s member services, Chantell Derbyshire, “kindly advised” that “the lounges are run by third party companies who operate different lounge programmes … so they are unable to confirm charges relating to specific programmes”.
As for Diners Club’s own notification process, she said: “We do communicate our pricing each year to our customer base by adding the updates on our website.” 
The lounge access rules change is not highlighted on the site, however; the details appear in small print under the “Pricing” section.
“And an SMS is sent to remind our members that the debits will be processed on their account should they fall under the ‘not met’ category,” Derbyshire said.
The e-mail notification about the change in benefit was sent to the same address as Amod’s monthly statement is sent, she said. Amod, like many other cardholders, accesses his statement online.
The moral of story: Spare yourself the shock of far-from-free airport lounge visits by proactively checking that your card spend still qualifies you for a “free pass” – before you sit down on that cushy chair and help yourself to the buffet.Grocery shopping got even less rewarding 
For Stephen Davey of Darling, a recent change in Absa’s rewards programme saw the reward linked to his monthly spend on groceries reduce by about two thirds.
“I discovered that the bank has now placed a cap on monthly combined spend of more than R3,000 at Woolworths, Spar and Food Lovers Market,” he told In Your Corner. “This was done in April with no notification or consultation.
“The only supermarket in our town is Spar and grocery shopping is normally the largest item of a family’s monthly spend, so Absa has really devalued their rewards programme for us,” he said.
Responding, an Absa spokesperson said the bank had introduced a “system change” to include “bank earn” rewards above that R3,000 cap, “going forward”.
“Clearly a seamless changeover should have happened, but the new reward has yet to be finalised,” the bank said. “But it won’t be any later than the end of July.”
In the meantime, the bank has deposited an “adjustment amount” of about R50 into Davey’s Rewards account.
If I were an Absa client who lost out on Rewards due to the new “grocery spend limit”, I’d be taking a good look at my statement right now.
CONTACT WENDYE-mail: consumer@knowler.co.zaTwitter: @wendyknowlerFacebook: wendyknowlerconsumer
#ShelfieRYE OH RYE? Food manufactures are notorious for highlighting the presence of a key, premium ingredient (berries, for example) on a label when, in fact, the product contains very little of it. So about six years ago, our food legislators came up with the “QUID” (Quantitative Ingredient Declaration) labelling requirement that states that if a food manufacturer emphasises a “valuable or characterising” ingredient in the name or description of a product, they have to declare the percentage of that ingredient. So, clearly, this “Rye Bread” by Lupo Bakery (on sale in my local Spar) is not complying with QUID. The ingredients list reveals that it’s mostly wheat bread, and the rye percentage is not revealed. When I pointed this out to the bakery, a spokesperson said that would be remedied with a new label within weeks, and undertook to send it to me. Watch this space.

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