“Best rates guaranteed” said the Langstone Hotel website. “Best Price Guarantee” said the Holiday Extras website. Following challenges, both were investigated by the ASA, who reported its findings in consecutive weeks. Omar Bucchioni reports the verdicts and the lessons.
Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and BDL Select Hotels t/a The Langstone Hotel and Holiday Extras
When: August 2012
Law stated as at: 31 August 2012
First case: BDL Select Hotels t/a The Langstone Hotel
The ASA has recently investigated the claims “BEST RATES GUARANTEED … BEST RATE GUARANTEED WHEN YOU BOOK DIRECT! … If you find a lower publicly available rate on another website, we’ll match the lower rate and also give you and [sic] additional 10% discount … Best Rate Guaranteed is not available with any Packages or Special Offers” which appeared on the hotel website www.langstonehotel.co.uk.
A complainant saw a promotional ad, published on a third-party website for the same hotel, which offered rooms for £69.00 to £79.00 per night, reduced from £410.00. It seems that the complainant asked for this lower rate to be applied less 10% to his own booking direct with the hotel, but was told that the third party price did not qualify as it was a “Special Offer.”
The ASA was contacted and requested to investigate whether:
1. the claim “BEST RATES GUARANTEED” was misleading and could be substantiated because a cheaper room price, on a third-party website, was described as a special offer by The Langstone Hotel and therefore not subject to the guarantee; and
2. the original price of £410.00 stated on the third-party website exaggerated the cost of rooms at the hotel.
What The Langstone Hotel had to say
The Langstone Hotel said that the offer seen by the complainant included free breakfast if they stayed for a minimum of two nights. They said this was a special offer which meant it did not meet the terms of their Best Rate Guarantee policy. In addition, it said that the original price of £410 was incorrect and had been amended.
What the ASA had to say
The ASA observed that the ad on a third party website did not state that the free breakfast was included in the price quoted or that it was a special offer. Also, the ASA considered that consumers would expect advertisers to make discounted prices available in order to secure bookings without these being seen as a special offer or package deal.
Therefore, the ASA concluded that, because Langstone Hotel had excluded the third-party price from their best price guarantee, the claim breached the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.9 (Qualification).
In addition, since the quoted price was incorrect, the ad also breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.17 (Prices).
Second case: Holiday Extras Ltd
The ASA has also recently investigated the claim “… BEST PRICE GUARANTEE – FREE airport parking* …” displayed on the Holiday Extras website www.holidayextras.co.uk.
The message also included a logo carrying the text “BEST PRICE GUARANTEE”. Further text stated “If you find the same parking or hotel product or package of products for less within 24 hours of making your booking with HolidayExtras.com, then tell us and we’ll give it to you FREE*”. A hyperlink below stated “(*Terms and conditions apply)”. Text above the heading “Best Price Guarantee”, which appeared above the terms and conditions, stated “… At Holiday Extras, we compare hundreds of prices each week to bring you some fantastic deals. In fact, we are so confident that we offer the BEST PRICE that if you find the same product cheaper within 24 hours of making and paying for your booking with Holiday Extras, we’ll give it to you absolutely FREE* (*see terms and conditions below)”.
A promotional e-mail sent by Holiday Extras included the text “10% off Airport Parking + Best Price Guarantee”. The “BEST PRICE GUARANTEE” logo appeared twice and further text stated “… And we guarantee that our prices can’t be beaten … BEST PRICE GUARANTEE Find airport car parking spaces or airport hotel rooms for less and we’ll give them to you for free+”. Small print, which included a hyperlink, stated “+Best Price Guarantee terms and conditions apply”.
Three complainants found cheaper alternatives to meet and greet car park bookings but the advertised guarantee was not honoured.
One of them also challenged whether the claims “… we offer the BEST PRICE …” in ad (a) and “… we guarantee that our prices can’t be beaten” in ad (b) were misleading and could be substantiated, because he believed they implied Holiday Extras offered the lowest prices whereas he understood they offered only a price promise.
What Holiday Extras had to say
They said that on over two million airport bookings in the previous year, they received only less than 0.1% of complaints i.e. consumers understood the offer. The ‘best price guarantee’ offer was genuine e.g. in the previous year they gave refunds to over 1,000 customers.
The product being compared had to be the same in every respect, they said. Whilst Holiday Extras could ensure they sold contracted services at the best available rates, they could not do so in relation to other non-contracted services i.e. the comparison had to be carried out with the same car park or meet and greet operator.
On this occasion, Holiday Extras rejected the claims under the guarantee because the quotations they had submitted related to products that were not the same in every respect e.g. the car storage arrangements located by one complainant and the supplier found by another were not the same as those provided by Holiday Extras.
They acknowledged that meet and greet parking presented a particular challenge, in that the identity of the service provider and the location of the parking appeared to be a difficult point of comparison and accepted that consumers did not necessarily understand that not all meet and greet services were the same. This was why, Holiday Extras said, they endeavoured to make their position clear via their Ts&Cs, which were easily accessible via hyperlinks in the ads and set out in other areas of their website.
Holiday Extras acknowledged the contradiction in stating that they offered the best prices but also that they would refund anyone who could prove the contrary, but they considered that the restrictions they imposed were not unreasonable. They also stressed that prices were checked regularly and any disparities were addressed as a matter of urgency.
What the ASA had to say
The ASA acknowledged that both ads included a hyperlink to the terms and conditions of the offer; however, although they considered it was reasonable to expect consumers’ claims to be based on a like-for-like comparison, they noted the ads did not make clear that the products compared had to be the same in every respect e.g. that they must be with the exact same meet and greet operator that Holiday Extras used.
Holiday Extras should have made clear in the ads all the significant conditions of the promotion and all the details of the extent to which they had to be the same to qualify. In the absence of those details, the ads breached the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 (Qualification).
In addition, the ASA noted the claims “… we offer the BEST PRICE …” and “… we guarantee that our prices can’t be beaten” were intended to relate to the price promise. However, the claims were likely to be interpreted as being lowest price claims, rather than as relating only to a price promise and the ASA could not see any evidence that Holiday Extras always offered “…the BEST PRICE …” and that their prices could not “… be beaten.
Therefore these claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.9 (Qualification) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).
Why this matters:
Significant offer conditions must be made clear in advertising messages. In addition to that, these adjudications focus our attention on the use of “guarantee” as a verb which is generally riskier than the use of “guarantee” as a noun. Advertisers and brand owners must be aware of the difference between promising lowest prices and promising to match lower prices/refund any difference.
While a price match promise or price match guarantee gives consumers narrower comfort, a lowest price promise or lowest price guarantee implies that the advertiser/brand owner actively monitor all prices and have an adjustment policy to ensure that claims can be substantiated i.e. customers can’t find a better price elsewhere.
More info at: