A promotion in the Sunday Express newspaper for Puma Hotels had a headline stating "Christmas & New Year hotel breaks from just £25pp per night". Text below stated "... Choose from 21 great locations across the UK ... from just £25 per person per night, bed and breakfast ... You can stay any day of the week from December 17, and if you can't get away over Christmas, then don't worry as you can still enjoy great New Year deals right through until January 6, 2013! HOW TO BOOK. Visit pumahotels.co.uk/express or call us on 0800 XXX XXXX and quote promo code FESTIVE. This offer is valid for stays from December 17, 2012 - January 6, 2013. See below for terms and conditions ...". Small print stated "TERMS AND CONDITIONS: ... Offer is subject to availability and may not be available on New Year's Eve at some properties ... Some blackout dates & supplements will apply at some hotels, see website for price details at each hotel ...".
The complainant challenged whether the claim "Christmas & New Year hotel breaks from just £25pp per night" was misleading because she was unable to find a room for two nights on 31 December and was told the promotion was not available on those dates.
Puma Hotels Plc (Puma) explained that the promotion ran in the Sunday Express from 25 November, promoting stays at 21 Puma Collection hotels from 17 December 2012 to 6 January 2013. The promotion was given maximum availability during the campaign period as it was given a "free sale" status. This meant that as long as the hotels had rooms unsold, the offer could be booked. They said the exception was New Year's Eve and they pointed out that the terms and conditions of the promotion stated "offer is subject to availability and may not be available on New Year's Eve at some properties".
They provided an inventory showing how many rooms they had available at the advertised price across the promotion period. They explained that five hotels out of the 21 hotels in the promotion had, between them, 501 rooms at the advertised price on New Years Eve. In total, they had over 23,000 rooms available at the advertised price during the promotion period across the 21 hotels, which equated to approximately 38% of their total number of rooms during the period. Puma said they sold 682 rooms during the period at the offer price of £25 per person per night.
Puma believed the complainant had been given incorrect information by their reservations agent and was told by mistake that there were no rooms available at the advertised price on New Year's Eve. When this came to their attention, they briefed their other agents to make sure they were all aware of what was on offer.
The Sunday Express said the promotion was geared towards rooms being available during the Christmas and New Year period, not specifically New Year's Eve and that the terms and conditions made clear that the offer was subject to availability and may not be available on New Year's Eve.
The ASA understood that only five out of the 21 hotels in the promotion had rooms at the promotional price on New Year's Eve. We noted that the terms and conditions were set out in small print and stated "Offer is subject to availability and may not be available on New Year's Eve at some properties".
We considered that consumers would have interpreted the headline "Christmas & New Year hotel breaks from just £25pp per night" to mean the discounted rooms were available during the period from Christmas into the New Year, including New Year's Eve. We considered that references in the body of the promotion added to this impression, for example, "you can enjoy unbeatable deals from today and celebrate right through into the New Year", "Choose from 21 great locations across the UK", "You can stay any day of the week from December 17" and "This offer is valid for stays from December 17, 2012 - January 6, 2013". We considered that because 16 out of the 21 hotels in the promotion excluded New Year's Eve from the promotion, and that availability on New Year's Eve was limited, the small print contradicted the overall impression given by the ad including the headline claim "Christmas & New Year hotel breaks from just £25pp per night". For these reasons, the claim was misleading.
The claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification), 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 3.22 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 claim must not appear again in its current form. We told Puma Hotels to ensure that in future promotions they do not exaggerate the availability of rooms on key dates.