Thomas Cook has been criticised by the advertising watchdog for failing to ensure a holiday discount was genuine.

An advert for an all-inclusive package to Cuba was banned after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint from a consumer who had been monitoring the price for several months.

Upholding the complaint, the ASA ruled that the savings claim had not been substantiated and was misleading.

The ASA told Thomas Cook Retail “to ensure savings claims represented genuine, meaningful savings against prices that had actually been charged for the holidays in question”.

Thomas Cook told the ASA that it was willing to consider how it could make changes “so that the pricing basis of holidays would be clearer to consumers”.

The complainant questioned whether the original price of £2,736 for the 14-night holiday due to leave on May 13 this year was misleading and could be substantiated after a discount of £350 or 13% to £2,386 was advertised on the company’s website last November.

Thomas Cook Retail said the savings claim online was made in relation to the launch price of the holiday which went on sale 18 months before departure.

The original cost was calculated from the different components that made up the holiday package, plus other business costs and anticipated profit from the sale of the holiday.

Cook told the ASA that a number of factors then influenced the selling price of the holiday, such as promotional offers from suppliers, exchange rate variations and customer demand.

The selling price would then fluctuate after the initial launch in response to those factors through a process of manual and automated changes.

A launch price of £1,375 per person had been set across a range of combinations for the holiday for departures between December 13, 2016 and January 11, 2017.

No bookings were taken for the holiday at the launch price, which Thomas Cook believed was not unusual or surprising, given that the departure date was 17 months away at the time and a large number of other variables such as departure dates, room types and length of stay, were possible.

Thomas Cook believed that the absence of a booking at the launch price should not be interpreted to mean that the launch price was not a genuine, retail price.

The ASA noted that there was no explanation in the advert 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,” the watchdog said in a ruling published today.

The advert breached the advertising rules covering misleading advertising, substantiation and pricing, “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”.

The ASA ruled that the advert must not appear again in the form complained of.

It 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.”

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “We always try to be as clear as possible with our customers about our holiday prices, so we’re reviewing how we display the great offers and discounts that are available when you book with us.”