Two holiday brochures, viewed in June and September 2011. Both brochures included a table of prices that related to a hotel on the same page. The tables included columns that were headed "Child Prices 1st Child from 2nd Child from". Text in each box in the "1st Child from" column stated "FREE" and various prices were given in the column headed "2nd Child from". Small print below the tables stated "These prices are a guide only and apply to selected flight departures between each date range. All prices can go up and down, please check at the time of booking for the most up to date price ... See our A-Z of Essential Reading at the back of the brochure for a guide to the symbols and abbreviations used, any additional charges (e.g. flight and/or fuel) and other important holiday information".
a. The first brochure also included text below the table that stated "Free Child Places available on codes WHV and WKB".
b. The second brochure included the text "FREE Child Places" in a panel headed "At a Glance".
The complainants challenged whether the ads misleadingly implied all 'first child' places were free, because they were informed there were only a limited number of free child places available.
TUI UK Ltd (TUI) said their brochures were printed months in advance. They disagreed that the price panels were misleading, because they stated "... from ... FREE", that the prices were a guide only and that they might go up or down. The brochures also made clear that the prices in the panel applied only to selected flight departures within each date range and that consumers should check at the time of booking for the most up-to-date price. They said the price panels did not advise that free child places were guaranteed on all dates but that consumers could purchase a holiday and the price for the first child started from "FREE". In addition, the 'A-Z of Essential Reading' at the back of the brochures stated "these are only available on the holidays and dates we advertise and are subject to availability". That text appeared under the 'special offers' heading, which readers were referred to when they consulted the 'free child places' section.
TUI said all prices in the panels applied to selected flights and departure dates and could go up or down, that was also the case for the "... from ... FREE" child places. They said they had ensured that free child places were available for ten per cent of all holidays advertised and that availability was reasonably staggered across the relevant dates; however, they were not aware of the date the complainants made their enquiries or which departure dates were chosen. They said the free child places might already have been sold when the complainants tried to book their holidays. They said there would be free child places available but, like all prices, they would not be available all of the time; the first child place was available 'from' free and the second child place attracted a charge 'from' the price that was outlined in the brochure. The stated prices for the second child gave consumers an idea of how much child places might cost if the free child places were no longer available. They said their prices were generally advertised as 'from' prices and consumers did not expect to obtain that price 100% of the time. They said the price panels in newer brochures would be updated to state below "Free Child Places subject to availability. See our A-Z at the back of the brochure for any additional charges and information". They said that where free child places were promoted elsewhere in the brochures, text would state "See A-Z for details".
The ASA noted the "1st Child ..." column headings in the tables included text that stated "from" and that each box below stated "FREE". We noted that text below the prices tables indicated that prices could go up and down and referred consumers to the back of the brochure, where it stated that special offers were "... only available on the holidays and dates we advertise and are subject to availability". We considered, however, the overall impression of the ads was such that all first child places were free, in particular because unqualified text in the body of ad (b) stated "FREE Child Places" and because the text that stated "FREE" in the tables in both ads was much more prominent than the "... from" that appeared above.
Nevertheless, we considered the text that stated "These prices are a guide only and apply to selected flight departures between each date range. All prices can go up and down, please check at the time of booking for the most up to date price" was likely to be interpreted as being related to the numerical prices in the tables and that referring consumers to the 'A-Z' was not sufficient to make clear that there were only a limited number of child places available. We considered references to free child places throughout the brochures, including in the price tables, should have made immediately clear that there were a limited number of free child places only. We noted TUI intended to amend the price panels to state below "Free Child Places subject to availability. See our A-Z at the back of the brochure for any additional charges and information" and that other references to the free child places would include text directing readers to the 'A-Z'. We considered, however, that was also not sufficiently explicit to make clear that the free child places were limited in number. We concluded that the ads breached the Code.
The ads breached 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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) 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 ads must not appear again in their current form. We told TUI to ensure significant qualifications were made clear in future.