OPINION: As a South African, if it hasn’t happened to you, it’s happened to someone you know. I’m not talking about suffering through another season of Idols or being the victim of an equally traumatic crime; I’m talking about getting screwed over by Discovery. Eugene Yiga, has strong views on the customer loyalty programmes game.
I’ve had friends and former colleagues recount horror stories of rejected claims for dentist appointments, allergy medication, and important surgery. And yet Discovery remains the largest medical scheme in South Africa. What’s up with that?
Method to my madness
After a brief and expensive stint on Discovery Health, I swore to never come back. Besides, given how much more value I get from Bonitas (never mind the shoddy customer service) there’s no reason to move.
And yet I joined Discovery Life (where it seems they’re much more generous, perhaps because the chances of paying out are so low). What was the method to my madness? To take advantage of all they had to offer. My goal was to get my Vitality status from Blue to Gold in less than a month. Here’s how I did it.
Hacking Discovery Vitality
Getting to Gold (45 000 points) won’t happen by doing only the little things, like buying healthy food (20 points per item) or going to the gym (150 points per workout). You need to go all out.
Start by completing all the online tests. That means declaring you’re a non-smoker (5 000 points), finding your Vitality Age (2 000 points), and completing fitness (1000 points) and mental wellbeing assessments (2 500 points). It’ll take you an hour at most and will give you a break from all that time you waste on Facebook at work.
Next step? Do the physical assessments Discovery actually pays for. But besides seeing a nutritionist for (5 000 points) or having a fitness assessment (up to 15 000 points depending on how fit you are), my first choice is to go to a pharmacist for a range of tests.
In addition to the Vitality Check (up to 12 000 points if your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose are in the acceptable range), you can also have an HIV test (5000 points), a flu vaccine depending on the time of year (1000 points), and other tests depending on your gender and age.
Keep the rewards coming
At this point, I was scoring 25% off HealthyFood at Pick n Pay (and 10% at Woolworths), plus 25% off HealthyCare products Clicks (and 10% at Dis-Chem). But I also signed up for a Discovery credit card to keep the rewards coming.
According to my Quicken personal finance records – yes, I’m one of those people – my cash back for 2014 was over R8 000! And this doesn’t even include the upfront discounts: 35% off Kulula flights, 80% off my Virgin Active gym membership, and discounted movies at Ster-Kinekor.
In other words, my cash back was more than my premiums (for life insurance and Vitality) and the monthly fee on my credit card (which doesn’t cost anything else since I pay off the full balance every month). That means I didn’t pay a cent to Discovery. They paid me!
This year has been full of exciting changes. First, it’s my five-year anniversary on Discovery, which means I received a nice PayBack Integrator (or something) a few months ago. (Why the terms have to be so confusing or why I was excited about money that was mine in the first place is beyond me.)
Best of all, I’m now on the highest level on Diamond status, enjoying 20% off already well-priced Uber trips and 22% off travel partners like Contiki, something I might as well enjoy now before I’m too old to go on those trips.
But besides the 25% cash back at specialised fitness programmes like CrossFit – a good deal, although still not enough given how much they subsidise gyms where people sit around and watch TV – there have been great extra rewards from Discovery Miles.
At first I was reluctant to sign up for Discovery Miles; I thought it would be as useless as airline miles, except with the added charge of a yearly fee. But now I see that it’s quite a good deal. Unlike rewards from places you can’t or don’t use, there are a ton of online partners (like Takealot!) that make it worthwhile.
What does the future hold?
“I want South Africans to look at Discovery with hope, to feel the future is certain,” said founder Adrian Gore in McKinsey Quarterly. But are all these deals sustainable? Time will tell. After all, Discovery tends to cancel the most generous offers when they realise they’re giving away too much value.
It happened when they scrapped the Investment Booster (which gave you returns of over 100% if you played it right). It happened again when they changed the rules on the Discovery credit card, which now caps your discount on partner store spending to 20% of your total (instead of 30% as before).
It also happened when they stopped offering 10% off everything at Pick ‘n Pay (thanks to the multiplier on Smart Shopper points) and 15% off everything at Clicks. Now you just get extra miles, which used to be one for every R12 you spent but are now one for every R15.
Who’s playing whom?
Ultimately, customer loyalty programmes are a game and who wins depends on how much time and effort you take to play. It’s like Warren Buffet said: “If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.”
In other words, unless your cash rewards exceed the premiums or fees you pay, you’re losing out. And unless you’re getting rewards in a currency you can use (and for doing what you would have done anyway), it’s a waste of your time.
What’s love got to do with it?
In October 2011, Discovery told The Economist that “participation in the programme more than pays for the rewards”. That’s only possible is if some of us aren’t winning the game.
What a pity! There’s no reason why every single Vitality member shouldn’t be basking in the glory of Gold (or Diamond after three years in a row). Yes, it can be a bit of a schlep to do all the check-ups and tests, but it’s worth your time.
That’s why I’m calling for an anti-boycott of Discovery Vitality and all other customer loyalty programs. Love them or hate them, use them as much as you can! Since they’re making us pay, we might as well make them pay too.
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