A hotel listing on www.expedia.co.uk stated, "from £1382/person". Under the heading "Room Amenities", text stated, "... guestrooms [sic] include complimentary wireless internet access ...". A text box headed "ROOMS & RATES" stated, "Total: £2,763.36 (includes 2 travellers) ... Trip includes: FLIGHT (2 return tickets) + HOTEL (7 nights), taxes & fees". Within the box, three "Room type" options were available. Text stated, "Deluxe Room, 1 King Bed Non-Refundable. Includes: Continental Breakfast, Free Wireless Internet, Drinks and hors doeuvres [sic] ... Special deal + £0.00 per night".
The complainant, who was told on arrival at the hotel that they had to pay a non-optional 'resident fee' of $30 (before tax) per person, per night, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Expedia.com Ltd said that they displayed the resident fee applicable to the Westhouse Hotel in two places on their website − on the hotel details page and on the payments page under a link entitled "taxes/fees paid at hotel - details". They said that the resident fee applicable to the WestHouse Hotel was not included in the price for two reasons. Firstly, the fee was charged by the hotel and payable directly to the hotel on checkout. Secondly, it was difficult to quantify and calculate an accurate fee for customers at the time of booking, because there were different factors which could make the resort fee not applicable for certain guests, or which could alter the amount of the resort fee payable. For example, it applied to adults but not to children. The fee was calculated on a per person per night basis, so was also dependent on how many people stayed in the room per night. They said their approach of displaying the resident fee was consistent with market practice in the UK, and that they believed the complainant would have been aware of the resident fee charge prior to completing their booking.
The ASA noted that the CAP Code required all non-optional charges to be included in price claims. However, where a charge was payable, but could not be calculated in advance, advertisers were required to make that clear and explain how the fee would be calculated.
The ad stated that the trip included taxes and fees. However, the stated price did not include the resident fee.
Information including the number of guests and whether they were adults or children would have been provided by consumers when entering their search criteria, and it would therefore have been possible for the total amount of the resident fee to be calculated.
The price claim was given in pounds sterling, whereas the resident fee was charged in US dollars. We acknowledged that, because the resident fee could not be paid at the time of booking and because exchange rates would fluctuate, the charge could not be accurately converted into pounds sterling in advance, and therefore could not be included in the total quoted price. However, we considered that the amount of the resident fee was likely to be information that consumers would need in order to make an informed decision.
We understood that the total resident fee payable for the entire stay could be calculated in advance in US dollars. We considered that that amount (including tax) should have been clearly presented in US dollars alongside the price claim. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
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. and 3.4.3 3.4.3 the price of the advertised product, including taxes, or, if the nature of the product is such that the price cannot be calculated in advance, the manner in which the price is calculated (Misleading advertising), and 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. and 3.19 3.19 If a tax, duty, fee or charge cannot be calculated in advance, for example, because it depends on the consumer's circumstances, the marketing communication must make clear that it is excluded from the advertised price and state how it is calculated. (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Expedia Inc. to ensure that price claims included all non-optional charges, and where those charges could not be included within the price, they were immediately and clearly presented.