Holiday Inn Express ‘free breakfast’ commercials banned from UK TV

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK has ruled Holiday Inn Express advertising of ‘free breakfast’ is misleading in the InterContinental Hotels Group television commercials and the hotel brand’s website. IHG website and television advertising must remove the word ‘free’ according to the ASA ruling.

I know there is somewhat of a language barrier between US American English and UK British English, but we both speak English don’t we?

Free, complimentary, inclusive…they all mean the same thing in the context of hotel advertising, right?

Apparently not in the UK.

‘Free’ is the banned word in this case.

The case before the UK Advertising Standards Authority claimed Holiday Inn Express stating breakfast is ‘free’ at the hotel is misleading advertising.

HIX free breakfast-1

USA Holiday Inn Express website.

HIX UK free breakfast

UK Holiday Inn Express website.

UK Holiday Inn Express 2014 TV ad

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppCERRoHX4w&hl=en&hd=1]


IHG claimed the Holiday Inn Express breakfast is free since there is no additional hotel charge for guests to eat breakfast.

‘It is not possible for a guest to book a room that was exclusive of the breakfast. If a guest did not take breakfast, they would not obtain a reduction on their bill.’

The Advertising Standards Authority stated this meant breakfast is inclusive and not free. Since it is not possible to book a room exclusive of breakfast, then breakfast is ‘inclusive’ as a package rate and not free.

‘We do not consider the provision of breakfast to be an additional benefit that had recently been added to the hotel stay.

‘We considered that the hotel room rate was inclusive of the breakfast, regardless of whether guests chose to take the breakfast.

‘Therefore, we concluded that the claims “we give you a free breakfast” and “free breakfast” were misleading.’

The ads must not appear again in their current format and future ones must not describe breakfast as ‘free.’

UK Daily Mail June 18, 2014 – There’s no such thing as a free breakfast (if it’s already included in the room), watchdog rules as Holiday Inn TV commercial banned

Remember the next time you eat those little cheesy omelets with biscuits and gravy, the breakfast is ‘inclusive’ at Holiday Inn Express, not ‘free’.

Now it is time for me to watch again (‘rewatch’ apparently is not a real dictionary word) San Francisco KQED PBS Mystery episodes of Inspector Morse so I can brush up on my command of the UK English language.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

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About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. Their reasoning actually proves exactly the opposite point they’re trying to make. If breakfast is not specifically listed as a part of the rate, and if someone not taking breakfast does not get a rate reduction, then it is indeed FREE. If there is no rate reduction for removing the breakfast then the breakfast has a value of $0, which means if you eat breakfast you’ve paid $0 and it’s FREE.

    Now, if the details of the rate list breakfast, then it would indeed be a part of the rate, and one could argue it’s not free, but an included benefit of the rate. Whether the item is removable has no relevance to whether it’s free. The determination of whether it’s free is if it’s described as an explicit benefit of the rate paid, or if it’s available regardless of which rate you pay.

  2. I like what they did. I am so sick and tired of seeing the word “free” applied so loosely. If something is “free”, then it should not be contingent on the purchase of another item (in this case, a room). Something “free” should have no strings attached.

    But advertisers have started using the word “free” differently in the past decades, to mean “a non-typically included item added to the purchase”. If Holiday Inn *always* includes a breakfast, it is no longer “non-typical”.

  3. I suppose we will also never see ads in England that state: “Free TV, Free Towels, Free use of pillows!”


  4. That seems a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? If indeed the free breakfast were not exclusively offered to guests, HIE would no longer be a hotel/motel; they’d be a soup kitchen. One could use your basis of “non-typical” though to argue it is indeed a non-typical perk, and therefore FREE (even if only to guests). It’s non-typical when compared to many other hotels in the space who don’t offer breakfast to all guests or charge for it. Sure, there are others who also provide this perk, but it’s not standard across all chains, so it can hardly be considered expected or typical.

  5. I think the interpretation of free means you dont have to purchase the cost of the room in order to get the breakfast thus legally anyone off the street could come in and have breakfast because its free.

    similar in the states with various contests of “no purchase necessary”

    Im not a lawyer—but I stay at a holiday inn express….though not last night

  6. I think that takes the definition of “free” to an extreme. Free does not always mean “without strings” or without some other additional qualification. Free can reasonably mean you’re simply not paying additional for something. If I buy a product and the manufacturer adds in another product without additional charge, they can reasonably say the bonus item is free. Yes, I have to buy the first product, but the add-on didn’t cost me anything. If the hotel were to eliminate the breakfast altogether, but not reduced their room rate, that would be evidence they were not charging for the breakfast. One can argue that the food is probably baked (pun intended) into the rate, but the hotel could also argue that it’s not. Perhaps the monies for the breakfast are part of a marketing budget, as they clearly see the breakfast as a marketing tool.

    I’m just saying that the argument that people who don’t eat breakfast and don’t get their room rate reduced are evidence that it’s not free, are in fact quite the opposite. I think that strengthens the hotels case that the breakfast has nothing to do with the rate, and is in fact “free.”

    BTW…love the tie in to their ads. Haha!

  7. It’s interesting. I can’t find a good legal definition of “free” out there (only did a brief search however) so I suspect that “general usage” rules will apply. At one point in time, I suspect the use of “free” probably had a huge asterisk next to it and some tiny footnote that said “purchase of XYZ required”. No longer the case these days.

    I guess we all know that we are really paying for the free item because the seller is making so much profit on the base product. But, every day out there, a parent is explaining to their kid that “free” isn’t *really* “free”….sigh…

    Still pisses me off that “free” can be used in these ways. Need a new word out for “free but contingent”

  8. That’s why it always amuses me when people clamo(u)r for free internet with their hotel stays, it’s just as free as the shower in the morning and the bed they sleep in.

  9. About 20 yrs ago a pizza place in Danville, CA offered “free” delivery. But if you picked up your pizza, you got a $5 discount. Had to explain to my wife, “free” delivery wasn’t really “free”.

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