Members Only

WisePass offers a license to luxury

Text and images by James Pham

In the 80s, my dad had a chintzy maroon jacket which he wore everywhere. It paired with bell-bottom jeans or sensible polyester dress slacks with equal ease. The kid in me thought it was the coolest thing ever, not just because it was shiny and had shoulder epaulets but because it had a tiny label which read “Members Only”. What secret society was my father a part of? And would I be able to join when I got older?

The idea of belonging to an exclusive group with access to some of life’s finest pleasures is the driving concept behind WisePass, a lifestyle membership available in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok, and Manila. With a month’s Standard membership costing VND 6,000,000, users are able to receive a service (or “pass” in WisePass-speak) once a day for 30 days at over 300 partner venues (think: lunch at Runam, a bottle of Absolut at Hard Rock Cafe, or even a chiropractic session). A Premium Membership (VND 15 million) allows two Standard passes or one Premium pass a day.

Luxury is defined as “a condition of abundance, or great ease and comfort” which sounds a lot like the WisePass tagline of “Enjoy anything, anytime, anywhere”. Launched in 2016, the company hopes to log 20,000 passes a month by the end of the year. At a reasonable cost of VND 200,000 per day at the Standard level, I set out to answer a few questions: Is WisePass worth the VND 6 million a month? Would I be treated the same as a regular paying customer? Would services and products be the same quality as if I paid cash? And what would my ego (and waistline) look like after a month of living like the 1%?

Day 1: Lunch at San Fu Lou

I download the WisePass app (available on both iOS and Android) on my phone and head to a San Fu Lou at lunchtime. The server helps me scan the WisePass QR code on the distinctive black pyramid by the cashier to redeem my set lunch. She brings over a special menu just for WisePass customers and when she’s not looking, I compare it to the regular menu. Serendipitously, the regular menu indicates how many pieces each serving has and I can confirm both menus are the same. Dishes come out quickly – an appetizer, dim sum, and a noodle dish. Value: VND 290,000

Day 2: Breakfast at Propaganda

I normally scarf down a quick breakfast to start the day, but since Propaganda is one of the few WisePass partners to serve breakfast, I head out for a leisurely stuffed banh mi and an iced Vietnamese coffee. While not quite adding up to the average VND 200,000 of a pass, Propaganda’s colorful murals in the regal shadows of the Notre Dame Cathedral always put a smile on my face. Value: VND 150,000

Day 3: Adjustment at 3C Care Chiropractic Center

Stretching this morning, I hear a troubling pop in my neck followed by shooting pain. I look through the WisePass list of partners and luckily see 3C Care Chiropractic Center, conveniently located at Vincom B. I book an appointment and soon Dr. Kevin Mernissi (France) is deftly feeling out points of tension and stiffness while providing a reassuring running commentary. He cracks my neck with a bone-jarring crunch (“just gas”, he assures me) and the pain immediately subsides. Between the neck anomaly and tweaking my back lifting a water jug, I end up going five times, which at VND 1 million per visit basically pays for the entire month of WisePass. Normally a Premium service (along with most dinners, higher-end brands of liquor, etc.), WisePass is allowing Standard users to access this service for a limited time as a tantalizing glimpse into the world of higher-value WisePass options. Total value over 5 trips: VND 5.25 million

Day 4: Haircut at House of Barbaard

Could a USD 20 haircut really be that much better than my usual USD 5 haircut? I head to House of Barbaard to find out, a posh Old School barbershop where a guy in an old-timey flat cap and suspenders spends a glorious hour meticulously washing, cutting, and styling my hair. Afterwards, I sip on an included drink in the lounge below, the ultimate Man Cave with tufted leather sofas and a jazzy soundtrack. Now that I’ve been reminded what a proper haircut feels like, I don’t think I can ever go back. Value: VND 450,000

Day 6: Sharing the wealth at Board Game House

While most passes are meant for one, I gather up some friends and take advantage of the deal at Board Game House Saigon which allows entry for 3 people, including a drink for each of us, and a plate of chicken wings and fries to share. The staff recommend a few board games, patiently sit with us to explain the rules, and we spend a thoroughly wholesome evening building railroads across North America in Ticket to Ride and double-crossing and triple-crossing each other in Avalon. Value: VND 240,000

Day 11: Brunch at Latest Recipe

I come back after 4 days out of the country, ruing the missed passes. Unlike a newspaper subscription which can be temporarily halted, it’s “use it or lose it” with WisePass. Looking to make up for lost time, I reserve a spot at brunch at Latest Recipe at Le Meridien Saigon. At VND 1,500,000, it’s by far the highest-value dining venue at the Standard level and I happily spend a lazy afternoon in the cheery, contemporary space, downing copious amounts of fresh oysters and lobster while a guitar duo plays catchy arrangements of pop songs. In addition to monthly subscriptions, WisePass offers the option of buying a single Standard pass for VND 750,000 or five for VND 3,000,000. For this brunch (as well as most bottle services), it’s actually a great deal if you want to bring along a non-WisePass user. Value: VND 1,500,000

Day 16: Cocktails at Shri

From the very beginning, WisePass has targeted the “going out” crowd, offering bottles of liquor at some of the city’s hottest clubs and lounges. Even with the addition of restaurants, health clubs, movie theaters, and more, redeeming bottles is still one of the best-value uses of WisePass. I get a small group together and head to Shri, known for its 23rd story views and amazing cocktails. We redeem a bottle of Havana Club 3-Year and order a gorgeous tapas sampler. It’s one of their famous Library events with DJ’d music in the Whiskey Room hidden behind a sliding bookcase. At most venues, you’ll need to order mixers to go along with your WisePass bottle, but Shri has them all beat, offering 70% off their legendary cocktails (normally VND 250,000) when using WisePass alcohol. We happily indulge and stretch out the bottle to make 15 of Shri’s famous cocktails inspired by Saigon neighborhoods and theatrically presented in a cloud of dry ice. When an average night out in Saigon can easily set you back a cool million per person, we spend a fraction of that for an awesome evening of good music, good company, and good drinks. As the WisePass provider, I immediately go from Zero to Hero with my ragtag band of friends. Value: VND 2,345,000

Day 18: Lunch at Saint-Honoré

It’s a sunny Sunday and I make my way to Thao Dien for lunch at Saint-Honoré. While the majority of WisePass partners are centered around Districts 1 and 3, there’s a cluster in Districts 2 and 7, and more scattered around elsewhere (mainly chains like Starbucks and CGV cinemas). When I arrive for the set lunch, Saint-Honoré tells me that the WisePass lunch is only available on weekdays, although the app says it’s every day. Fortunately, the manager kindly makes an exception and I’m soon enjoying prosciutto-wrapped mango and baked pesto chicken in the tranquil garden setting. Afterwards, I load up on gorgeous breads and bagels and a slice of Normandy tart. The allure for WisePass partners presumably is the ability to upsell customers on the spot, or more valuably, gain exposure to an economically-desirable segment of the market who can potentially be converted into long-term customers. With so many partners, WisePass certainly invites users to try venues they might not normally, thereby connecting customers and businesses. Value: VND 185,000

Day 20: Drinks at Loft

The WisePass app gets a much-needed upgrade, now streamlining important information like exactly what a pass entitles you to, when it’s available, and adding a map and telephone function. It comes in handy for venues like Loft, which offer multiple deals at the same time. I meet a friend for after-work drinks, swiping the deal for four free cocktails, and we order extra nibbles. When the bill comes, the server takes VND 300,000 off the bill (one of their other offers), but we quickly get it sorted. Value: VND 470,000

Day 22: Lunch at Octo Tapas

After hearing people gush for months about the best tapas in Saigon, I finally make it to Octo Tapas and I’m not disappointed. The set lunch starts off with velvety smoked eggplant that’s lightly breaded and fried then topped with a dollop of fennel jam for a touch of sweetness. While the regular mains look lovely, paying VND 120,000 to upgrade to Wagyu steak is a no brainer, the light char pairing well with the caramelized onion. Value: VND 200,000

Day 24: Steak at Rehab Station

Planning on lunching in District 3, the venue I go to say they’re no longer a WisePass partner, despite still being on the app. WisePass partners are constantly being added and deleted, with the app often not able to keep pace despite regular notifications to update. Thankfully, Rehab Station is just around the corner and I settle for a nice steak lunch with salad, Dong Son golden ale, and an ice cream finish.  Value: VND 250,000

Day 30: Whiskey at Hard Rock Café

It’s Pink / U2 tribute night at Hard Rock Café performed by the excellent Indonesian house band. We rock out in the family-friendly atmosphere with burgers and ribs to go along with our WisePass bottle of Ballantine’s Whiskey, a great way to share a final pass. Value: VND 1,500,000

Cost of Standard WisePass membership: VND 6,000,000

Total value received: VND 15,314,000

The Verdict:

Is WisePass worth the membership? Probably not if you’re a homebody who enjoys cooking at home and only occasionally going out. But if you’re spending at least USD 200 eating out and going for drinks, it’s a small price to pay to have daily access to all the WisePass venues. Especially if you live or work in District 1 or 3 where most of the venues are located, you’ll likely be able to use WisePass every day without going out of your way. Having WisePass in your pocket with its curated list of venues is also like having a hip local friend who can recommend some of the city’s best dining and entertainment options. WisePass also makes a great gift for that person who has everything – the gift of living like the 1% at just a fraction of the cost.

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