“Free” is more natural and impactful than “Complimentary,” but the terms are synonymous and can be used interchangeably. However, nothing should be described as “free” unless it truly is being offered without charge for the offered item. A similar consideration applies to words like “gift” or “bonus” or any other terms that suggest that something is available at no cost.
Several brands have approved the use of “free” and “complimentary” when describing their offerings. As a result, some commonly used ‘branded’ terms – such as Hilton Honors’ “Free Rooms” and “Free Breakfasts” – have been reviewed and pre-approved by Legal. Without pre-approval, you must contact Legal for approval of any copy where you use the words “free” or “complimentary” to describe an element of a hotel package or Hilton Honors program.
“Free” and “Complimentary” present a relatively low risk of legal action, but could potentially be problematic if we make misleading or inaccurate claims. Think carefully before using them, and consider a less risky alternative, such as “included.”
- Confirm what’s really free.
It’s crucial to confirm the exact conditions of any “free” service with hotel staff before publishing and to then disclose those exact conditions (see below).
- A reward is not always free.
Unless pre-approved by Legal, avoid describing Hilton Honors rewards as “free.” A room stay obtained with Hilton Honors points should be described as a “reward.” The member must use his/her points for the stay. In contrast, a buy-one-get-one bonus night is “free” because the consumer pays only for the first night and gets the second night at no additional cost.
- Avoid ambiguity.
Whenever applicable, include the caveat that services are free to guests, so as to avoid implying they’re free to non-paying customers.
- Consider a safe alternative.
The Legal department’s recommended safe alternative is the word “included”; i.e., “Fitness center access included.” While this doesn’t have the same impact as “free,” it’s less likely to be challenged.
- Full Disclosure.
The restrictions and limitation (material terms) of a “free” or “included” offer (such as a purchase requirement in a buy-one-get-one offer, or the fact that room taxes or other fees still apply) should be disclosed clearly and conspicuously in immediate conjunction with the word “free” (or other equivalent word) and not in an asterisk or footnote. Ideally, the terms should be in type at least 50% the size of the word “free.”
- Timeshare Considerations.
If you require a guest to attend a sales presentation for a timeshare package, you must not use the word “free” or imply that any gifts provided in exchange for attending the sales presentation are free.
- If in doubt, ask Legal.
If there’s any confusion surrounding the use of “free” and “complimentary” or any other descriptor, contact the legal department, who’ll advise on the best course of action.