The owner of Alton Towers has been ordered not to claim free child places in advertising if that is not the case.

The advertising watchdog today ruled against Merlin Entertainments over a tweet promoting short breaks where ‘kids go free’.

The pre-Easter campaign promised “early access to selected rides and get your 2nd Day FREE in the Theme Park – all from just £55pp. Book before 15th April 2018″.

But a consumer, who understood that the cheapest hotel stay was priced at £80 per person, complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the claims made by the company were misleading.

The ASA upheld complaints over pricing and the free child place claim.

The authority said: “The ad must not appear again in its current form.

“We told Merlin Entertainments to ensure that a significant proportion of short breaks were available in a relatively even spread across the travel period in their future marketing.

“We also told them not to claim or imply that a child’s stay was free if that was not the case.”

Explaining its decision, the ASA said: “Whilst we considered that consumers would understand that not all tickets would be priced at £55 per person, they would expect to have a reasonable chance of purchasing a short break offer for travel throughout the Easter period at the stated price.

“We noted the availability data Alton Towers provided showed that resort room availability differed across the period because some had been sold through separate sales channels before the promotion.

“We noted that the proportion of rooms available at the lead price of £55 was at its highest before Good Friday, at which point the availability at that price dropped considerably to 6% of available rooms, dropping to 2% availability on Easter Monday.

“The proportion of available rooms at £55 was no higher than 8% until 7 April.

“We considered this period of eight days to include the most focal week of the Easter break period and we had not seen sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a significant proportion of stays were available to book for £55 in a relatively even spread across the travel period.”

The ASA added: “We considered that consumers would understand the claim ‘Don’t miss our cracking Easter short break offer – where Kids Go FREE!’ to mean that there was no charge connected with the entirety of a child’s stay when booked alongside an adult.

“We noted that further text stated ‘get your 2nd day FREE in the Theme Park’, and we understood that the ‘Kids Go FREE’ claim was intended to refer to that second day in the theme park.

“However, we considered it could have been seen as additional part of the offer, and was not sufficient to override the impression created by the ‘Kids Go Free’ claim.

“While we acknowledged that Alton Towers had provided one example of a short break booking including children which cost the same as one without, the terms and conditions made clear that the ‘free’ offer was only intended for one child aged under 12 to go free into the theme park when accompanying a full paying adult, and that there was usually a charge associated with a child’s hotel stay and breakfast. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.”

Merlin Entertainments admitted that the tweet could have made clearer that the element of the package that was free related to the theme park entry only and had removed the promotion.

Alton Towers also provided information which it believed showed that a reasonable proportion of stays were available at the lead price of £55 across the resort and off-site hotels during the travel period.