Published on Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Booking.com TV advert banned



Advertising watchdogs have told Booking.com not to repeat a TV advert in which it claimed that most of the time customers could cancel their bookings for free.

Following a customer complaint, the Advertising Standards Authority investigated the advert from last July, which included the claim "..if you have to cancel, cancel. Most of the time it's free".

It found that although customers were usually given the option of free cancellations, they would have to pay more for the accommodation to qualify.

Booking.com explained that there were usually two pricing options for accommodation; the first option was for non-refundable, cheaper booking and if customers chose that option they would have to pay the full cost of the room at the point of booking, which was non-refundable. The second option was described as 'free cancellation' but came at a higher price. If a customer chose that booking, they would only pay for the booking upon completion of their stay and if they cancelled the booking within the relevant time period, they would not pay any costs and therefore would benefit from free cancellation.

Booking.com highlighted the voice-over in the ad which stated '... most of the time it's free '". They said that the phrase informed customers that the majority, but not all properties, allowed cancellation without charge.

The advertisement clearing service Clearcast told the ASA that it was unaware that the 'free cancellation' option was more expensive than other options when it approved the script so had been unable to advise that the claim was unacceptable under the BCAP Code.

In its ruling, the ASA said: "While we understood that flexible booking options were common in the travel industry, and considered that consumers would generally be aware that as the degree of flexibility increased, so would the cost, we did not consider that they would understand from the reference to free cancellation that it was only available with more expensive, flexible bookings.

"We considered that consumers would understand the claim "... if you have to cancel, cancel. Most of the time it's free" to mean that if they wished to cancel their booking in most instances they could do so without incurring cost.

"While we acknowledged that if a customer cancelled the free cancellation booking within the relevant time period, they would benefit from having made the booking at no financial cost.

"Nevertheless, we considered that consumers would not regard the cancellation provision as an additional and/or free benefit which incurred no cost, because the price of the booking was more expensive when it included the cancellation option."

It concluded that the ad was misleading and banned Booking.com from describing the cancellation option for rooms as 'free' if those bookings incurred a premium.

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