A national press ad for cruise1st.co.uk, a travel agent, seen on 3 August 2019, listed promotional prices for three “Full Board” cruises with Royal Caribbean, to various destinations and with a range of departure dates. Prices were shown as “from” prices.
The complainant, who understood that the prices did not include a daily service charge, which was automatically added to a passenger’s on-board account, challenged whether the prices were misleading.
Sunshine Cruise Holidays Ltd t/a cruise1st.co.uk said that their customers were advised of the gratuities policy of suppliers before they booked and that such gratuities were discretionary and could be changed or removed. Therefore, the customer was made aware of the discretionary nature of the service charge and how it could be changed. They explained that the Royal Caribbean website made clear that the service charge was discretionary.
The website also stated that the charge could be removed by a verbal request. The service charge was displayed on the Royal Caribbean on-board account, which could be accessed from the TV in each cabin or via reception. The account would be settled at the end of the cruise and guests were given the opportunity to question it beforehand. They provided a definition of “full board” as the provision of accommodation and all meals. They said that a guest at a hotel would normally add a gratuity to their final bill if they were pleased with the service regardless of whether they had full board, half board, or room-only.
Customers would not expect the advertised rate to include gratuities. They provided data from Royal Caribbean for two of the advertised cruises, showing the percentage of customers who opted to pay gratuities. They said that this demonstrated that customers were aware that it was a discretionary service charge and they were not required to pay it.
The CAP Code stated that quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that applied to all or most buyers. The ad featured “from” prices for three Royal Caribbean cruises and listed the departure point, trip duration, flight details, stop-off points and the board basis. We considered that consumers would understand that because the prices in the ad were quoted as “from” prices, this would vary from the price they paid, depending on the type of room they chose. Nevertheless, consumers would expect the “from” price to include all non-optional charges.
We understood that although the daily service charge was automatically added to their on-board account, consumers were not required to pay the charge and could change or remove it at their discretion. Passengers were informed of the daily service charge prior to booking their holiday and they could change or remove it by contacting the Guest Services department. We understood that, based on the data provided by the advertiser, the proportion of passengers who chose not to pay the service charge was sufficient to demonstrate that the charge was optional.
We concluded that the daily service charge was optional and the omission of the charge from the prices stated in the ad was therefore not misleading. We investigated the ad under 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), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. 3.18 3.18 Quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is clearly addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable. 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), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.