A listing on the website www.ihg.com, for the Holiday Inn Express in Nine Elms, seen on 15 May, included the text “Best Price Guarantee when you book with us” and “Best Price Guarantee We promise you the lowest available price online, or we’ll match it and give you five times the IHG Rewards Club points, up to a 40,000-point maximum”.
The complainant, who stated that they were able to find a cheaper room but were unable to claim the best price guarantee, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Intercontinental Hotels Group Plc t/a IHG responded that, under their Best Price Guarantee, if a guest booked a hotel room directly with IHG and within 24 hours of making that reservation they found a lower rate online for the same hotel room, number of guests and reservation dates, and then submitted a qualifying claim to IHG, they would match the lower online room rate for that hotel stay and give the guest five times the IHG Rewards Club points, up to a 40,000-point maximum. IHG said that, in order to achieve a qualifying claim, consumers would need to show that they booked at the lowest available rate on the IHG website and that the lower rate on the non-IHG website was available to book at the time of IHG’s own verification, which it would carry out within 24 hours of a guest contacting them about the claim. They stated that to verify the claim they would carry out a test booking for the identified room. They would not, however, be able to accept screenshots from customers to prove that the room was available at a lower rate. IHG said that prices for IHG branded hotels on third-party websites were set independently by those websites and that they did not have any control over those prices.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claim “Best Price Guarantee when you book with us” to mean that they were guaranteed not to pay more by booking the same hotel room on IHG’s website than if they booked it elsewhere.
We noted that if consumers clicked on that message, it expanded to show further text explaining the offer in more detail: “We promise you the lowest available price online, or we’ll match it and give you five times the IHG Rewards Club points, up to a 40,000-point maximum”, though it was not obvious that the message was clickable. We understood that the terms of the best price guarantee were communicated within the two separate pages. It gave details that consumers were required to make a purchase first through IHG’s website, and that IHG would then perform a test purchase to verify the claim. We did not consider that was clear from the claims on the page, and those terms should therefore have been more prominently communicated. In addition, we considered that the requirement to purchase through IHG, and for them to make a test purchase confirming the price, contradicted the claim that they promised the lowest price available online. The terms and conditions of the offer required consumers to book the room directly with IHG before submitting a claim, which would be verified by IHG, who would not accept screenshots or links as proof, but would carry out a test booking within 24 hours of the original submission. They were not willing to match the price at the time of the booking – rather, they offered a price match, based on an equivalent room to the one already booked still being available.
We noted that many websites advertising hotel rooms made use of dynamic pricing models and the prices for those rooms could change quickly. We were concerned that consumers who booked with IHG instead of taking advantage of a competitor’s cheaper offer, on the assumption that they could make use of the best price guarantee to pay the same price, would be disadvantaged if that test booking took place after the room was already booked, and potentially a full day later. Due to the very finite nature of hotel rooms at a specific hotel, by making a booking, consumers would reduce the availability of equivalent rooms and affect the price that rooms were sold at. By having to make the booking through IHG.com, the specific room would be taken off the market, making it more likely that the rate would no longer be available, and where that room was the last one available, it would make the price promise impossible to honour.
Because the terms of the offer had not been made sufficiently clear, and because the ad implied consumers were guaranteed not to pay more by booking the same hotel room on IHG’s website than if they booked it elsewhere, when that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.17 (Prices).
We told Intercontinental Hotels Group Plc t/a IHG not to claim or imply that consumers were guaranteed not to pay more by booking the same hotel room on IHG’s website than if they booked it elsewhere if that was not the case. We also told them to make sufficiently clear the terms under which they would match the price of an equivalent room.