A travel company advert has been banned for falsely suggesting holidays could be cancelled without charge before specified dates.
The sanction was imposed on online discount firm Alpha Rooms by the advertising watchdog after three complaints were made over Malta and Dubai hotel offers.
The listings on Alpha Holidays’ website, alpharooms.com, in February included a banner with the text “Free cancellation until [DATE]”.
Those dates were April 29 for the Solana Hotel and Spa in Malta, March 18 for the Rixos Premium Dubai, and October 8 for the Fairmont Grand, also in Dubai.
But three complainants, who attempted to cancel their bookings and were charged a cancellation fee, challenged whether the “Free cancellation until [DATE]” claims were misleading.
Alpha Rooms responded that the complainants had not been charged a cancellation fee.
However, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld the objections, saying consumers would understand from the “free cancellation” banner that they would be able to cancel their holiday without incurring a financial penalty as long as they did so by the date stated in the claim.
In a ruling made today (Wednesday), the ASA said: “We considered that would be understood to mean not only that there would be no additional charges, but they would also be refunded any payment that they had made on the holiday.
“Alpha Holidays had not provided us with details as to their policy. However, the complainants had provided the ASA with emails from Alpha Holidays which showed that they had initially attempted to charge the complainants cancellation fees, before later offering them credit vouchers for the value of their bookings.
“Because consumers would understand the claim ‘Free Cancellation until [DATE]’ to mean that they would be refunded, with no charges, should they wish to cancel their holiday booking before the date stated in the claim, and we understood that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.”
The ASA ruled that the advert must not appear again in its current form.
“We told Alpha Holidays t/a Alpha Rooms not to make the claim ‘Free Cancellation until [DATE]’ if any charges were applied for cancelling within the stated timeframe, or if consumers who cancelled within the stated timeframe were provided with a credit voucher rather than a refund,” the ASA added.