An ad for a hire car, seen on www.rentalcars.com on 9 November 2018, featured text which stated "Citroen C3 or Similar...Price for 5 days: £102.30 [struckthrough] £93.86". Further text stated "+84.13€ (about £73.28) car hire company fee".
The complainant, who believed that non-optional fees such as the car company hire had not been made sufficiently clear, challenged whether the rental price claim was misleading.
TravelJigsaw Ltd t/a rentalcars.com (Rentalcars) said the ad included explanatory text which indicated that the car hire company fee was a one-way fee that the company charged. They said that text appeared when the consumer hovered over the fee and that they did not need to click away from the search result to be able to see that information.
Rentalcars said the headline price on the search result page showed all compulsory charges, including the car hire company fee (as well as its currency converted amount), although, because that was a 'pay later' item, it appeared as a secondary line. They said the search results were capable of being sorted by estimated total price so the consumer could compare appropriately between the overall value of each offer and was able to understand the total price more easily.
Rentalcars said consumers were able to understand the total price by adding the headline price and the car hire company fee together on the search results page, and that the estimated total price was displayed to the consumer as the final drive away price on the payment page, which included all mandatory fees and which identified the items a consumer was required to pay for immediately and those they were required to pay for later.
The ASA considered that the final price consumers would pay to hire the car, inclusive of any non-optional fees, was likely to be material to them. The most prominent price in the ad was the £93.86 price, which was displayed in bold and in a larger font than any other price. We considered, consequently, that consumers’ attention would be drawn to that price and that they would be likely to understand that was the total cost of the booking.
The CAP Code rules on misleading advertising and pricing required that, to avoid misleading consumers, quoted prices must include non-optional taxes and fees that applied to all or most buyers. The only exception was when those fees and taxes could not be calculated in advance.
When a consumer entered their itinerary into the search on the home page, they were required to tick a box which stated “Drop car off at different location” if their itinerary required them to hand the car back to the car hire company in a different place to where they had picked it up. Therefore, for those consumers who arrived on the page in question, it was a requirement to pay the car hire company fee and we considered, consequently, that in that context the fee was non-optional.
It was clear that Rentalcars were able to calculate the car hire company fee in advance, because it was displayed separately in euros and converted to an estimate in pounds sterling beneath the headline price in a smaller font. We acknowledged that the fee was approximate because it was a price in euros that needed to be converted into pounds sterling. Nevertheless, we considered that a total price should have been given, and that an explanation breaking down the relevant fees could also have been given.
However, we noted that the £93.86 headline price was not a total price, and did not include the car company hire fee.
Therefore, because the total price, including all non-optional fees, was not clear as soon as prices were quoted, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code Edition 12 rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.17 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 3.18 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. (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told TravelJigsaw Ltd t/a rentalcars.com to ensure that their future advertising made clear the total price, which included all charges consumers were required to pay immediately or later as part of the same booking, as soon as prices were quoted.