An email from online travel agency Opodo, received on 29 July 2019, stated "CAR HIRE … SUPER SALE … Save up to 50%* … Click on this email to hire your car at half price!". Next to that was an image of a car over which the words "Up to 50% off your car hire" had been superimposed. The asterisk linked to text at the bottom of the email that read "*CLICK ON THIS EMAIL TO ACTIVATE THE PROMOTION … The car hire promotion of ‘up to 50% off’ is valid from 24/07/2019 00:00 (GMT) to 05/08/2019 23:59 (GMT) on pick-ups between 23/07/2019 and 31/12/2019. Offers are subject to availability … applied to selected car hire brand across selected destinations".
The complainant, who had been unable to locate any rental cars to which the offer applied, challenged whether the claims “Up to 50% off your car hire”, "Save up to 50%*", and "... hire your car at half price!" were misleading and could be substantiated.
Opodo Ltd said they operated car rentals in 2,764 destinations across 131 countries and the countries to which the offer applied – Spain, Italy, France, UK, Portugal, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, and Latvia – represented the top 12 most in-demand countries in the 30 days leading up to the beginning of the promotion. They said 32% of potential consumers received at least one 50% off offer, and 9.5% of those consumers obtained the maximum 50% discount. They said availability was unlikely to have been exhausted in the period of time between the promotion going live on 24 July and the consumer receiving the email containing the promotion, which was sent and received on 29 July. They explained the complainant had been unable to find any discounted car rentals for any destinations due to a customer service agent error.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the claims “Up to 50% off your car hire”, "Save up to 50%*", and "... hire your car at half price!", when read in conjunction with the offer terms and conditions, to mean a significant proportion of rental cars were discounted at the maximum saving of 50% off when booking a car between 24 July and 5 August, for pick-up between 23 July and 31 December. The complainant had been unable to find any cars with the discount for any destination when searching within the dates stated in the terms of the offer, and had contacted Opodo, who had told them they were also unable to find any cars to which the offer applied. Opodo explained that was down to customer service agent error. The data from Opodo showed the proportion of consumers who made a booking during the promotion and obtained some form of discount. It did not show the number of discounted vehicles available during the promotion and was not therefore appropriate substantiation for the claim in the ad. We noted the offer applied to 180 car rental destinations in 12 different countries, and that those countries were the largest by booking volume in the period immediately preceding the offer.
We also noted Opodo operated car rentals in 2,764 destinations across 131 countries. Given the number of countries and destinations to which the promotion applied and in the context of the total number of countries and destinations in which Opodo operated car rentals, we considered the limited number of participating stores was a significant limitation of the offer that ought to be made clear in the ad. Although the small print at the foot of the ad stated “across selected destinations”, it gave no indication of to which destinations the offer applied, nor did it make consumers aware of the extent of the excluded destinations or countries.
Because we had not seen evidence showing the maximum discount applied to a significant proportion of the available rental cars, and because the ad did not clearly state the significant limitations of the offer with regard to participating destinations, we concluded it was misleading and had therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.9 (Qualification), 3.17 and 3.22 (Prices).
The promotion must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Opodo Ltd that when making “up to” claims they should ensure a significant proportion of rentals were discounted by the stated percentage. We also told Opodo to ensure their future marketing communications stated all significant limitations and qualifications to the main claim.