A website for Virgin Experience Days, www.virginexperiencedays.co.uk, seen on 26 November 2018, featured a listing titled “The View from The Shard and a Three Course Meal for Two at Marco Pierre White's London Steakhouse Co” that read "£95.00 ... SAVE 46% WAS £178.50".
Text underneath the heading “What’s Included?”, stated "Entry to The View from The Shard for two adults ... Three-course meal for two including a cocktail at one of two Marco Pierre White Steak restaurants ... Experience gift pack including personalised voucher and message card ...".
IssueThe complainant, who believed that purchasing the individual elements of the experience directly would cost less than £178.50, challenged whether the saving claim was misleading.
Virgin Experience Days Ltd said the experience comprised two parts – entry to the Shard, and a three course meal and cocktail at London Steakhouse Co, Chelsea. Entry to the Shard was based on the ‘walk up’ price which they said was £32 per person, giving a total of £64 for two people.
They said that they had based the restaurant component of the “was” price on the most expensive starter, main and dessert options on the Virgin Experience Days set menu, based on their equivalent prices on the à la carte menu – for example, the cured mackerel was the most expensive starter at £13.75. They said those options, plus the price of the cocktail, came to £114.50 for two, which, added to the cost of entry to the Shard came to a total of £178.50.
They also said that there was a set menu of three courses for £29.50 that was offered to members of the public by London Steakhouse Co and was discrete from their own exclusive menu. Because they sold the experience for £95.00, they said that represented a saving of just under 46.77% against the “was” price.
The ASA considered that the claim “£95.00 ... SAVE 46% WAS £178.50” was ambiguous in the context of the ad, and the basis of the claimed saving was not clear. Some consumers were likely to understand from the fact that it was presented as a “WAS” price, that the price at which Virgin Experience Days usually sold the package had been reduced and that they would save against that price, which we understood was not the case. We considered the ad was likely to mislead those consumers on that basis.
We also considered that some consumers would understand from the claim that they could make a saving against the amount it would have cost to book the two components separately with the venues. We noted there was a section on Virgin Experience Days’ website titled ‘Additional information’ that stated entrance to the Shard for the purposes of the experience could be booked between 24 hours and four months in advance of entry.
We also noted that the cost to consumers of purchasing a ticket directly from the Shard, 24 hours to four months in advance of entry, online was £27.50 per person. We considered that was more than the cost to consumers who booked entry themselves, independent of the experience. Virgin Experience Days provided a copy of the à la carte menu and the menu exclusively provided to consumers as part of the experience. The experience menu was similar to the à la carte menu, with a number of the more expensive dishes removed.
We noted that there was also a three-course £29.50 set menu which featured some of the same main and dessert courses as the experience menu but did not include a cocktail, and did not feature the cured mackerel – the most expensive item available on the exclusive menu. We noted Virgin had said that their calculations were based on the most expensive items common to the starter, main and dessert courses of each menu, as well as the most expensive cocktail. We considered that consumers purchasing the elements of the deal themselves – the online Shard entry and the three course meal – would not have paid £32 per person entry and would not necessarily have purchased the most expensive items out of those available on the exclusive menu. We therefore concluded that the “was” price of £178.50, and the associated savings claim of 46% were misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.40 (Price comparisons).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Virgin Experience Days Ltd to make clear the basis of their savings claims, and not to exaggerate such claims by, for example, basing them on the most expensive options available on a menu.