An ad on De Vere Hotels' own website www.devere-hotels.co.uk. Text in the ad stated "WINE & DINE FROM £99* ... STAY FOR 1 NIGHT WITH DINNER, BED & BREAKFAST AND BOTTLE OF WINE IN YOUR ROOM. QUOTE PROMO CODE CB1". Text in the middle of the ad listed the room rates for each hotel "HOTELS ... 1 NIGHT DINNER, B&B + BOTTLE OF WINE FROM (per room per night) ... Oulton Hall Leeds £99.00 ... Slaley Hall Newcastle £99.00".
Text at the bottom of the page stated "*The offer is subject to availability and change. Offer needs to be booked before31st May 2014. Offer stays available between 13th February and 31st May 2014 and excludes The Grand ... The Rates are subject to availability and peak night supplements may apply. The offer is subject to a limited allocation of bedrooms and may not be available everyday".
The complainant challenged the availability of rooms at the advertised rate of £99 per room per night, as they were unable to find any rooms for the offer period at this rate.
De Vere Group Ltd said that they took their pricing very seriously and always ensured that they had integrity in the price point shown and parity with all channels in which they worked.
De Vere provided a spreadsheet detailing the number of bookings made at the advertised "from" price for the period from 1 February to 31 May 2014, including the number of ungraded rooms where the booking price would have been £99 without the supplements. They also provided us with a spreadsheet detailing the number of rooms available at the advertised "from" rate and the total number of available rooms at Oulton Hall and Slaley Hall for the period from 13 February, when the offer went live, to 31 May 2014.
De Vere pointed out that 3,671 out of 11,063 rooms were available at the £99 rate at Oulton Hall during the offer period, which equated to 33% of the total number of available rooms. They also stated that 2,434 out of 8,599 rooms were available at the £99 rate at Slaley Hall during the offer period, which equated to 28% of total number of available rooms.
They felt that the issue at hand was the rooms at the advertised rate were available for booking from 13 February until 31 March 2014. Given that the complaint was made at the beginning of April when the relevant £99 period had lapsed, no available rooms could be found at the advertised "from" rate from that point onwards.
De Vere stated that they were looking for future ads for offers similar to the one that was the subject of the complaint to include a table which would detail a "from" price for each month of the offer period and a peak night surcharge from each day of the week.
The ASA welcomed De Vere's plan to include a table in future ads for similar offers detailing "from" prices for each participating hotel for each month of the offer period as well as the Peak Night Surcharge for each day of the week.
We acknowledged that the terms and conditions in the ad made clear that the offer would be only applicable to a limited allocation of rooms at each participating hotel and that this offer would not be available every day of the offer period. However, we noted that the ad stated "Offer stays available between 13th February and 31st May 2014 ..." We considered that, in the context of the ad, consumers would expect that a reasonable number of rooms were available at the advertised "from" rate of £99 and this would be reasonably spread across the offer period from 13 February to 31 May 2014.
We noted that the data provided by De Vere had demonstrated that the number of rooms available at the advertised "from" rate had exceeded 10% of the total number of available rooms at Oulton Hall and Slaley Hall during the offer period.
However, we noted that the rooms at the advertised "from" price were only available in the period between 14 February and 31 March 2014; there were no rooms available at the advertised "from" rate for the remaining two months of the offer period. Although De Vere was able to demonstrate that a reasonable proportion of the total number of rooms were available at the advertised "from" price of £99, we did not consider that the number of rooms at the advertised "from" price was reasonably spread across the offer period. On that basis, we concluded that ad was misleading and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading Advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. and 3.22 3.22 Price claims such as "up to" and "from" must not exaggerate the availability or amount of benefits likely to be obtained by the consumer. (Prices).
The ad must not appear in its current form again. We told De Vere Group Ltd to ensure that in future promotions a reasonable proportion of rooms are available at the advertised "from" price and that this is reasonably spread across the offer period.