Thomas Cook has been told not to claim a holiday has been discounted unless it can prove that it has actually sold one at the original price.

The Advertising Standards Authority said it wasn't enough simply to claim the package was cheaper than the launch price if no bookings had been taken.

A consumer had complained to the ASA about an advert on for a 14-night all-inclusive holiday at the Melia Cayo Guillermo in Cuba, which claimed that the holiday 'was £2,736' and had been discounted by £350. The consumer said they had been monitoring the price for several months and queried whether the savings claim against the 'was price' could be substantiated.

Thomas Cook Retail told the ASA the holiday had gone on sale 17 months before the date of departure, but it admitted that no bookings had been taken at the full price. However, it said this should not be interpreted to mean that the launch price was not a genuine, retail price, but said it was willing to consider how it could make changes so that the pricing basis of holidays would be clearer to consumers.

Upholding the complaint that the Thomas Cook advert was misleading, the watchdog said: "The ASA considered consumers were generally aware that holiday pricing was fluid and that some variation in price might occur for that type of product, but that consumers would understand the savings claim against the 'was' price to mean that by purchasing the holiday at the lower price shown in the ad the consumer would be making a genuine, meaningful saving against a price that had actually been charged.

"We also considered that the phrase "Saving today" suggested the lower price was time limited. In combination with the higher "was" price, we considered consumers were likely to expect that if the price changed the following day it was more likely to increase than to decrease, which put pressure on them to make a decision more quickly than they might otherwise have done.

"We noted that there was no explanation in the ad that the savings claim was made against the launch price of the holiday. However, even if an explanation had appeared, we considered it was unlikely to have any meaning for consumers unless it was a genuine price that had actually been charged, and Thomas Cook had already told us that no bookings had been taken for the holiday at the launch price.

"Because we considered consumers would understand the savings claim to be based on a genuine price for the holiday that had actually been charged, but Thomas Cook had said that was not the case, we concluded that the savings claim had not been substantiated and was misleading.

"The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Thomas Cook Retail Ltd to ensure savings claims represented genuine, meaningful savings against prices that had actually been charged for the holidays in question."

Courtesy of Travelmole