ASA Adjudication on InterContinental Hotels Group plc
InterContinental Hotels Group plc
20 June 2012
Internet (sales promotion)
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
Claims on the ichotelsgroup.com website, which related to a loyalty scheme. Text stated "Redeeming your points for rewards+ couldn't be easier. From Reward Nights with no blackout dates at over 4,000 Priority Club Rewards properties worldwide to excellent brand name merchandise and gift certificates, you can choose from a number of ways to redeem in a way that suits you**". Small print stated "... ** Rewards and partners vary by Region +Valid at InterContinental Hotels and Resorts locations only. Registration required".
The complainant challenged whether the claim "Reward Nights with no blackout dates" was misleading, because he had attempted to book an available room via the loyalty scheme and was advised that the points could not be redeemed at that time.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
InterContinental Hotels Group plc (IHG) said individuals who applied for the InterContinental Ambassador programme automatically became members of the Priority Club Rewards scheme and the web page that included the claim was one of several that related to the Ambassador programme. They said the web page set out various relevant details relating to the operation of the reward scheme, which was subject to terms and conditions. Those terms and conditions were available on their website and new members were also given a copy. IHG said the claim was asterisked and was qualified with the text "... ** Rewards and partners vary by Region …". They believed it was reasonable to assume that would be understood to mean that further conditions applied to the claim. They said consumers were additionally directed to the terms and conditions via a hyperlink labelled "Members Terms". They said consumers were also directed to the reward scheme web pages, also via hyperlinks, which contained further information on the rewards scheme as well as also including links to the terms and conditions.
IHG said the terms and conditions stated "Rooms are limited, subject to prior sale and availability of allocated resources and may be unavailable during high demand periods". They therefore believed it was clear that booking rooms using reward points was subject to the availability of those rooms. They said their understanding of "blackout dates" was that it related to dates on which certain travel rewards or special offers could not be used, which they believed was the general understanding in the hotel industry. They said the claim was therefore accurate, because all participating hotels were required to allocate a percentage of their daily room inventory to the reward bookings. They said there was therefore always the opportunity for reward scheme members to make a reward night booking although there was naturally greater demand during certain busy periods and the reward bookings were therefore subject to availability as was made clear in the terms and conditions, which were brought to consumers' attention in a variety of ways.
IHG said they monitored the allocation of rooms made available for reward nights by hotels. They submitted evidence from their internal system that related to the number of reward nights that had been booked at the hotel the complainant had attempted to make his booking for, which was for the same weekend as an event in the city. IHG said the same number of rooms the hotel should have allocated to reward nights, based on the percentage of inventory requirement, had been booked via the reward scheme. They said that although the reward room inventory for the hotel had not yet been fully booked when the complainant tried to make his booking they understood that to be the result of a one-off technical error. They said they were not aware of any other incidents of the same nature and believed the claim "... Reward Nights with no blackout dates ..." was not misleading.
The ASA considered the claim "… no blackout dates ...", particularly in the context of the clearly linked qualification "... ** Rewards and partners vary by Region …", was likely to be understood to mean there would be no dates for which the reward rooms were entirely unavailable, rather than that there would always be rooms available for reward scheme members to book at any hotel on any given date. We noted IHG required all hotels to allocate a percentage of their daily room inventory to the reward nights and that the evidence they submitted demonstrated that rooms had been reserved using reward points at the hotel in question for the same date the complainant wished to stay. We noted that some of those rooms had been booked before the complainant had attempted to make his booking and that some had been booked subsequently.
We acknowledged the complainant's concern that IHG had not made any reward nights available for the particular date and location he wished to stay and were concerned that he had been unable to reserve a room, in particular given that reward night rooms remained available at the time he attempted to book. We noted, however, it was not the case that the reward night rooms were not available at all on certain dates and understood that the reward night rooms should have been available for the complainant to book but that the particular problem related to a technical error. We considered the ad made sufficiently clear that reward night rooms would not always be available, for example due to high demand, and understood the claim that there were "… no blackout dates ..." was accurate. We therefore concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.9 (Qualification) and 8.17.1 (Sales promotions) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.