Discount Consumer Club scolded over ads

Discount Consumer Club ad problems.The Discount Consumer Club, a membership-based deal site, is under fire by the advertising industry's self-regulatory body for aggressively touting offers of "sale," "up to 50% off," and "lower rates" on its hotel booking service, while making it difficult for consumers to assess the actual value of the bargains.

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus alleges the savings claims for were inaccurate, did not apply to a significant number of rooms, or referred to price reductions that were too small to be considered a "sale."

NAD specifically criticized the discounter for making unqualified city-specific sale price claims without being able to demonstrate that at least 10% of the rooms offered in each city were indeed available at the lowest advertised price. It also reminded Consumer Club that the term "sale" may be used to attract potential customers only if there is a significant reduction from the hotels' usual room prices and if the reduction is for a limited period of time. If the sale exceeds 30 days, advertisers should be able to substantiate that the offering is a valid reduction and has not become their regular price, the regulator said.

Other misleading savings claims included "Up to 50% off," "Call 1-800-HOTELS-8 and get our lowest rates ever," and "Get a room at a great hotel with rates up to 50% lower than other travel websites."

The inquiry into Consumer Club's advertising tactics was prompted by a challenge by Expedia, a competing service for online travel bookings.

In response to the criticisms, the retailer has agreed to take greater care in monitoring fluctuating hotel room prices and to ensure its savings claims match actual published hotel rates on an ongoing basis. It has also voluntarily agreed to discontinue its "lower rates" claim.

Discount club marketers have gotten in trouble before for misrepresenting their offers. In September, Webloyalty, a major online reseller which partners with advertisers to offer memberships to consumers, agreed to refund $5.2 million to New Yorkers who were duped by its hidden fees. Last month, Consumer Ally also published a list of the lowest-rated sites that tempt consumers to spend money on discounted perfume and cosmetics.
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