ASA Adjudication on Southall Travel Ltd
Southall Travel Ltd t/a
20–22 High Street
2 November 2011
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
A website offering flights, visited in July and August, displayed search results for two different flights. On 16 July ad (a) stated "Hyderabad From £396 pp Extremely Limited ... Destination: London (LON) - Hyderabad (HYD); Departure Date: 31 Dec 2011; From: Hyderabad (HYD) - London (LON); Return Date 22 Jan 2012". On 2 August ad (b) stated "Newark From £499 pp Extremely Limited ... Destination: Manchester (MAN) - New York (NYC) Departure Date: 19 August 2011; From: New York (NYC) - Manchester (MAN); Return Date 30 November 2011".
1. One complainant, who had contacted the advertiser in response to ad (a), challenged whether the ad was misleading because he had been told that tickets were not available at the advertised price; and
2. One complainant, who had contacted the advertiser in response to ad (b), challenged whether the ad was misleading because she had been told that tickets were not available at the advertised price.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Southall Travel Ltd t/a Cheap Ticket (Southall Travel) explained that airlines created several classes of fare and that only a small proportion of tickets for each flight would be made available for the cheapest fare. They explained that, when all tickets available for the lowest fare were sold, the next proportion of tickets would be made available at the next lowest fare and so on until the flight was fully booked. They said the airlines monitored the popularity of their flights and issued additional tickets at the lower fares if demand for the flight was low, which meant the lowest available fare could regularly change. They stated that they and other agents were not notified by the airlines when a fare became unavailable and that it would only become apparent when they tried to reserve a ticket at a customer's request via the live global distribution system (GDS).
Southall Travel provided a screen shot from the GDS which showed that the fare advertised in ad (a) was valid on the day the complainant saw the ad but they stated that, because the GDS was a live system, it could not now show whether tickets were available for that fare on that date. They explained that the fare was a "published fare" available to all agents and that tickets could therefore become unavailable quickly, without them having bought any on behalf of their customers. They reiterated that the unavailability of a fare did not mean that it could not become available again, because that would be dictated by the popularity of the flight and the decisions made by the airline. They pointed out that they had stated the fare was "Extremely Limited" because they could not be sure that it would be available at all times while the ad appeared.
Southall Travel stated that they did not want to cause their customers unnecessary disappointment and that they had therefore decided to stop advertising flights from the airline operating the flight in ad (a), because they only ever provided published fares which were the most likely to sell out quickly.
2. Southall Travel provided the "Net fares programme" received from the airline that operated the flight referred to in ad (b), which was the hard copy notification they received of the current fare structure. They provided a screen shot from the GDS which was consistent with the "Net fares programme" and which showed that, on 2 August, the fare advertised in ad (b) was valid. They explained that because that was a "net fare" (or "negotiated fare") it was only available through those agents that had an agreement in place with the airline. They said that, although this increased the likelihood of the fare being available when a customer enquired, that could still not be guaranteed and they had therefore also labelled this fare as "Extremely Limited".
1. Not upheld
The ASA understood that the nature of the fare in ad (a) meant that it could become unavailable extremely quickly and we noted that it had not been available when the complainant enquired. However, we understood that the availability of fares varied as a result of decisions made by the airlines, which meant travel agents had very little control over the availability of fares for the flights they advertised. We considered travel agents had a responsibility in such circumstances to ensure the information they displayed was as up to date as possible and to make customers aware that availability was not guaranteed. Because the screen shot from the GDS showed that the advertised fare was valid on the day the complainant saw the ad, and because the ad had stated that availability was extremely limited, we considered the advertisers had taken reasonable steps to avoid disappointing customers and we concluded the ad was not misleading.
We investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.17 and 3.22 (Prices) but did not find it in breach.
2. We noted that the advertised fare had not been available when the complainant enquired. However, because the screen shot from the GDS showed that the advertised fare was valid on the day the complainant saw the ad, and because the ad had stated that availability was extremely limited, we considered the advertisers had taken reasonable steps to avoid disappointing customers and we concluded the ad was not misleading.
We investigated ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.17 and 3.22 (Prices) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.