News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.

VivaAerobus: Deceptive Marketing, False Advertising

This week's ad, featuring prices that don't exist.

This week’s ad, featuring fares for $508 pesos that don’t exist.

By Darren M. Popik

How does a non-existent MXN $508 peso airfare become a $1,888 peso airfare?

When it’s on Mexico’s VivaAerobus. (Read on to see how this happens.)

Yes, you have to wonder about the legitimacy of an airline that seems to have “sales” every single week.

If you don’t pay close enough attention, you might be inclined to believe you’re actually getting a genuine sale price.

But when it comes to VivaAerobus, the name of the game seems to be fooling the customer. Or as I’ve seen this week, plain old false advertising.

The Ultra Low Cost Model

For those not familiar with Viva, they’re considered an “ultra low cost” airline, like Europe’s RyanAir (the Ryan family owns 49% of VivaAerobus, by the way) or Spirit Airlines in the U.S. (And all three have well-deserved reputations for being customer UNfriendly.)

With VivaAerobus, nearly every move on the promotional front seems designed to con the flying public into thinking they’re getting a deal.

And guess what? After monitoring this airline for some time, I’ve come to realize that fares they promote as a sale fares, are in fact generally the same as their regular prices.

The polite word I want to use to describe this airline’s practices is “dishonest”.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

This week, they put out an ad offering flights for MXN $508 pesos (one-way) from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido or Campeche.

A close read of the small print says it’s for flights between August 19 to December 11.

So, I checked their website. And checking the entire calendar of dates in that window, I found not even one flight for 508 pesos. The lowest fare (on either route) is in fact 677.99 pesos — before taxes and VivaAerobus-imposed fees.

No, VivaAerobus isn’t being dishonest — they’re outright lying.

The correct phrase is FALSE ADVERTISING.

(Note: I attempted to get a response from the airline on this dishonest fare. As of this writing, nobody has responded.)

(UPDATE – July 3, 12:30 pm: Still no response from Viva – no surprise there. But now they’re promoting Mexico City-Monterrey, also for the alleged price of $508. Guess what? Reviewing all dates, once again, this fare is not available. The lowest price – pre-taxes and fees – is $858!)

(UPDATE – July 3, 9:00 pm: Suddenly, the mystery $508 fares have shown up for flights to Campeche. Kind of suspicious that they show up almost three days after they launched this “sale”. Still nothing for Puerto Escondido, however.)

Plus, at minimum, you’ll have to pay an extra 100 peso “electronic payment fee” on top of this price. And by the way, that’s even if you choose to pay in cash. (It’s 180 pesos if you want to pay for your ticket at VivaAerobus’s airport ticket counter, as you’ll note in the image below.)

So already, the minimum price for MEX-Puerto Escondido is $778, NOT $508.

Checking a bag will also cost you 100 pesos, if you pay for it with your ticket online. Pay at the airport, and this fee balloons to 500 pesos!

But Viva really does care about you, the poor, uninformed customer. See, for some credit card customers (depending on your bank), they offer you the ability to pay for your ticket in 3, 6, or 12 easy “no interest” monthly payments!

Of course, you’ll pay fee to get the “no interest” deal – between 30 to 110 pesos, according to the pretend booking I made, though their own website lists this fee at 210 or 250 pesos (see photo below). Who knows.

Want "no interest" payments? It will cost you. (image: VivaAerbus website)

Want “no interest” payments? It will cost you. (image: VivaAerbus website)

Yes, there’s a reason VivaAerobus has been penalized by federal authorities for deceptive practices.

Just who are you trying to fool, VivaAerobus?

(If you really want to torture yourself, try reading their terms and conditions of flying.)

If you’ve never flown with this airline, just for fun, try doing a booking on their website. It’s filled with clever traps designed to make you, the unwitting customer, pay more.

On top of the fees already mentioned, there are the fees for faster check-in (75 pesos), priority boarding (40-150 pesos), two different “insurance” options (a complete waste of 25-45 pesos each), and for text-message notification about your flight status (15 pesos).

Note that these charges are automatically added to your ticket price without your authorization — you have to read everything very thoroughly on each page of the booking process, find the charges, and then uncheck the boxes to get rid of them.

They also attempt to sneak in a 200-peso fee to give you 15 kg limit for your carry-on bag, instead of the 10 kg that is standard.

And if you think this is bad enough, just imagine the kind of headaches you’ll face if your VivaAerobus flight is delayed or cancelled. (Don’t expect compensation!)

So, the next time you think about booking a ticket with VivaAerobus, just remember the old adage of “buyer beware”.

With VivaAerobus, you get what you pay for.

Getting back to their phony Puerto Escondido and Campeche fares, if you were to accept VivaAerobus’ automatic fees without proactively declining them, you could actually end up paying $1,887.99 (see below), a far cry from their advertised price of $508, or even the real base fare of $677.99.

Final breakdown before payment.

MEX-PXM (Pto Escondido) final breakdown before payment.

Of course, this is assuming you don’t choose the easy “interest free” payment option, which would add 130 to 210 pesos more to the price.

So, consider yourself warned. And happy flying … preferably with another airline.

Twitter: @darrenchannel

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This entry was posted on July 2, 2013 by in Travel / Transportation and tagged , , , , , , .
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