Online retailer Cruise Nation has been ordered to substantiate ‘lowest price guaranteed’ claims in future promotions to avoid misleading consumers.

The ruling was made today by the advertising watchdog as it upheld a complaint against two direct marketing emails sent out by the Swansea-based firm in September and November last year.

A consumer who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority found it was cheaper to book flights, accommodation and cruise travel separately, and challenged whether the ‘lowest price guaranteed’ claim was misleading.

The ASA agreed and ruled that the claim must not appear again in its current form.

Cruise Nation was ordered not to use the term ‘lowest price guaranteed’ unless it “made the basis of the claim clear in their advertising and held evidence to substantiate the claim”.

Upholding the complaint against the company, the ASA said that “consumers would understand the claim ‘lowest price guaranteed’ in both ads to mean that the trips referenced in the ads by Cruise Nation could not be purchased elsewhere for less than the price advertised, and that the claim was accurate at the time the ad was seen.

“[The] ads did not feature any information making clear that the claim was based on a comparison against their competitors, nor did it set out which competitors they had compared their prices against.

“In order to substantiate the claim we expected to see comparative evidence that Cruise Nation’s trips were available at a lower price than other travel providers.

“Cruise Nation said they carried out price checks against competitors which they stated were accurate at the time they were promoted or were booked.

“However, we received no evidence from them that the prices stated in the ads were cheaper than any other travel provider for comparable trips.

“We further noted that neither ad featured any information which made clear the basis of the comparison, including for example, when the comparison was made or which competitors they had compared their prices against.

“In the absence of information to clarify the basis of the claim and evidence that showed that Cruise Nation’s prices were lower than their competitor’s prices we concluded that the claim ‘lowest price guaranteed’ in ads was misleading.”

Cruise Nation told the ASA that the term ‘lowest price guaranteed’ referred to the lowest price that was available at the time of the offer being promoted or at the time of booking, as flights were booked through a live system.

The company said that its prices were compared with competitors and were “checked rigorously” by monitoring competitor websites, newspaper and magazine ads and marketing emails.

This information was stored manually, but was not date stamped.

The company said it would ensure screen grabs from websites would be obtained in future.

Cruise Nation added that it would investigate and refund the difference “in the event that a consumer had made a booking with them and provided evidence that the trip was cheaper through a competitor”.

The company provided a copy of an email subsequently sent to consumers which compared its prices against two rivals which it believed supported the claim ‘lowest price guaranteed’.

More: Cruise Nation drops ‘cruise jargon’ from website and TV ad