Travelodge look cheap and nasty attacking Premier Inn
Ah, Travelodge. You probably thought you were been incredibly clever with your mailshot late on Friday, but you appear to have achieved quite the opposite - you've highlighted a competitor's special offer and made yourselves look like smug, petty fools.
In case you don't subscribe to the email newsletter from Travelodge, here's what you missed:
Premier Inn admits to website anomaly which may be overcharging thousands since June 2009
We know that Travelodge customers also use other hotel brands, so we were keen to let you know about some news which might affect you.
On Tuesday 24th November 09, following a complaint by Travelodge to the ASA, The Times reported that budget hotel operator Premier Inn has potentially been overcharging thousands of customers trying to book a Premier Offer £29 room since June 2009. Their television and newspaper advertising, featuring Lenny Henry, proudly claimed that the chain were offering 1,000,000 rooms for £29, but The Times reported that when customers arrived at the Premier Inn website those using the Quick Book on the homepage were not being offered £29 rooms when they were still available. Instead customers would only be able to find these advertised rooms by clicking on a different part of the website.
Independent price checking revealed that customers had a less then 1% chance of finding a £29 room if they used Quick Book compared with a 24% chance for those clicking on a Premier Offer banner.* This means thousands of customers may have been charged as much as double the price they should have paid. At no time did Premier Inn advise customers that lower prices were available in other parts of their website and encourage them to check for £29 rooms. There could be thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of customers affected.
Incredibly after being challenged by The Times, Premier Inn stated that "the anomaly of higher prices being offered through the quick bookings facility would disappear next week (1st December 2009)" but so far have not offered ANY refund to Premier Inn customers who were overcharged by this problem.
The purpose of this email is to build an online petition to encourage Premier Inn to offer a full refund to any customer who has booked a more expensive room when the same room was available on another part of their website for £29.
Think you might have been affected? Learn more about what action you can take or simply sign the petition here.
And look, they've created an online petition to hand over to Premier Inn to demand a refund for customers, at PremierOvercharging.com. Hooray for Travelodge, fighting for consumer rights! Almost. In fact, not at all. There are a few problems with the moral crusade Travelodge have undertaken:
- Customers may not have been overcharged, and in fact probably weren't overcharged at all; by their own figures, there was a less than one in four chance of bagging an offer anyway, but their email suggests everyone should sign their petition regardless
- Travelodge seem surprised there was more chance of finding a promotional offer by clicking on the promotional offer banner - isn't that how promotional offers work? Just to give you an example, here's the sort of banner Premier Inn features - is it so difficult to figure out you'll find the best deals by clicking on the image? Is this really worth spamming your own customers?
- The complaint to the ASA wasn't made by a customer, but by Travelodge themselves - they initiated the whole process in their own interests, but are now championing their cause in the name of the consumer
Now that doesn't mean Premier Inn aren't in the wrong - consumers should expect to see all prices when booking through other areas of the site. That said, despite what Travelodge are suggesting, customers probably weren't overcharged to begin with, and there's a bloody big banner that provides perhaps the simplest call-to-action since the STOP sign was invented - it's not as if the offers were hidden from view.
The reaction to Travelodge's email seems to have had the opposite effect to the one intended; several readers forwarded the email to us, with many commenting that it read more like a spiteful attempt to run a competitor down, that it was nothing more than sour grapes - one commenter over at MSE points out that Travelodge themselves used to run a very similar offer. In short, Travelodge have just informed their entire customer base how to find cheap hotels with Premier Inn, and are looking slightly dickish for doing so.