Think you're a VIP Vodacom customer? Your perks are actually limited

22 May 2021 - 12:44 By dave chambers
Vodacom has been instructed to stop advertising 'unlimited minutes' without an indication that the offer is subject to a fair usage policy.
Vodacom has been instructed to stop advertising 'unlimited minutes' without an indication that the offer is subject to a fair usage policy.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Not even VIP customers are safe from offers of “unlimited” benefits which turn out to be nothing of the kind.

The ad watchdog has censured Vodacom for offering “unlimited minutes” on Red VIP packages costing between R1,199 and R1,999 a month.

The Advertising Regulatory Board told the company to stop using the phrase after customer Bryan Schimmel complained about an SMS that said he was approaching a “fair usage” threshold.

Schimmel told the watchdog: “The advertisement does not contain an asterisk or some alert to the terms and conditions that a limitation is applicable to the 'unlimited minutes'.”

Stefan Vos Marketing Regulation Advisers, which responded on behalf of Vodacom, said the fair usage policy is a “reasonable limitation” and unlikely to mislead consumers.

The company said upper limits on Red VIP package voice calls are set at about five hours a day, and customers who exploit the “unlimited minutes” benefit “directly impact other customers’ usage experience”.

Vodacom said it did not enforce a rule but managed its fair usage policy on a case-by-case basis, and Schimmel's monthly voice calls had increased from an average of an hour a day to about three hours.

However, “the fair usage policy was merely brought to his attention, and his 'unlimited' calls benefit was in no way impacted by this notification”.

In its ruling, the watchdog said it had become common, particularly in the mobile industry, to advertise “unlimited” packages.

“But it is trite that if these packages are restricted in any way, the advertisements must alert consumers to the restriction,” it said, noting that the Vodacom ad did not have any indication that terms and conditions applied.

Vodacom's online fair usage policy suggested the limit on voice calls was 9,000 minutes a month, but Schimmel had used only 2,000 minutes when his warning arrived.

“It is extremely unlikely that [he] would have gone over the 9,000 minutes, when he was on an average use of three hours a day at the time that he received the alert,” the watchdog said.

“However, the issue remains. The minutes available are not unlimited. The hypothetical reasonable person would not expect an offer of 'unlimited' minutes to restrict them in this way, especially in current times where work-from-home situations may, for certain people, require more time spent on their mobile phone than would previously have been necessary.”