On June 2, 2016, the Competition Bureau (the “Bureau”) announced that Avis and Budget have agreed to pay a $3 million penalty for what the Bureau has concluded were false or misleading advertisements made to the public in respect of prices and discounts on car rentals and associated products. Avis and Budget also agreed to pay $250,000 towards the Bureau’s investigative costs. In its application to the Competition Tribunal, the Bureau had sought a penalty of $10 million, as well as restitution, from each of Avis and Budget and their parent.
From as early as 2009, Avis and Budget were alleged to have charged consumers non-optional fees over and above the prices that were initially advertised. As a result, the Bureau concluded that such fees may have had the effect of increasing the cost of a car rental by 5 to 20 percent, depending on the location of the rental and the type of vehicle that was rented. The Bureau further concluded that the advertisements created the general impression that consumers could rent cars and related products that were not, in fact, attainable.
In addition to the content of Avis’ and Budget’s advertisements, the Bureau took exception to the manner in which the advertisements were made. In that regard, the Bureau concluded that the words chosen by Avis and Budget to describe some of the non-optional fees, their placement, as well as how they were combined with actual taxes, created the general impression that they were taxes that governments and authorized agencies required rental car companies to collect from their customers, when in fact they were not.
This case reinforces the notion that the Bureau is serious about investigating cases of false and misleading advertising across all forms of media, be they in traditional print or broadcast form, or by the internet, mobile apps, or e-mail.