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Alpha Holidays ad slammed over misleading claims

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The advert on Alpharooms.com claimed that holidaymakers could cancel trips for free before a stated date – but customers who tried to do so were charged a cancellation fee.

The free cancellation claim appeared on Alpha Holidays’ website, www.alpharooms.com, in February 2021. Adverts for the Solana Hotel and Spa in Malta, the Rixos Premium Dubai and the Fairmont Grand in Dubai included a banner with the text “Free cancellation until [date]”.

Those dates were 29 April for the Solana Hotel and Spa in Malta, 18 March for the Rixos Premium Dubai, and 8 October for the Fairmont Grand.

But three customers who attempted to cancel their bookings were charged a cancellation fee, and subsequently complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They challenged whether the “free cancellation until [date]” claims were misleading.

Alpha Holidays Ltd t/a Alpha Rooms responded that the complainants had not been charged a cancellation fee. However, the complaint was upheld by the ASA.

The watchdog considered that consumers would understand from the claim “Free Cancellation until [date]” 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.

The ASA 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 failed to provide the ASA with details as to its policy. However, the complainants provided the ASA with emails from Alpha Holidays which showed that it had initially attempted to charge the complainants cancellation fees, before later offering them credit vouchers for the value of their bookings.

The ASA concluded that the ad was misleading and told Alpha Holidays that it must not appear again in its current form. The regulator told Alpha Holidays not to make the “free cancellation” claim 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.

Alpharooms.com is sister company to Teletext Holidays, with both firms being part of Truly Holdings. Both brands were threatened with court by the Competition and Markets Authority earlier this year for failing to repay refunds to customers who had trips cancelled due to the pandemic.