ASA Adjudication on STA Travel Ltd
STA Travel Ltd
6 Wrights Lane
20 June 2012
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
An e-mail from STA Travel, sent on 9 March 2012, advertised air fares to Australia from £399.
Two complainants challenged the availability of the advertised fares.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
STA Travel said they had offered return fares to Australia for £599 from 24 February to 23 March 2012 and that the £399 fares had been offered as part of a "Flash Sale" on 9 March. They said they had a set number of fares available at £399 (to Sydney or Melbourne) and that the sale had resulted in a huge level of demand, with the available fares sold out within two hours of the sale launching, at which point the price reverted back to £599. They explained that they had funded the offer, taking their two cheapest airline fares for Melbourne and Sydney and applying the discount necessary in each case to bring it down to the £399 fare. They said, because they were funding the discount, they could guarantee that they were able to sell the advertised fares. They provided details of the fares from the airlines that they had discounted and screen grabs of their booking system that showed examples of the discount being applied during a customer booking.
They said the e-mail gave the headline message, start time of the sale and a message that stated "hurry, limited seats available" and that the campaign landing page provided consumers with more details about the offer, including a prominent message immediately below the price that there were "very limited seats available". They pointed out that the landing page listed the lead-in prices for each city so that it was clear to consumers that the £399 fare was only available for Sydney and Melbourne.
They said the website had been updated to show the £599 price along with a message that stated "flash sale sold out" as soon as the £399 fare became unavailable and that they had posted regular updates regarding availability on both Facebook and Twitter.
The ASA understood that the response to the "Flash Sale" meant that the £399 fare had become unavailable extremely quickly and we noted that the website had been updated to reflect the fact that the price had reverted to £599 soon after the discounted fares had sold out.
We understood that the availability of air fares usually varied as a result of pricing decisions made by the airlines, which meant travel agents had very little control over the availability of fares for the flights they advertised. We noted that the e-mail had alerted recipients to the fact that availability was limited (and that this was reiterated on the website landing page) and we considered that those qualifications would usually be sufficient, because consumers generally understood that fares advertised as "limited" were likely to only be available on specific flights within specific travel periods. However, we noted that the "Flash Sale" had been funded by STA Travel and that the availability of the £399 fares was therefore at their discretion. We considered that the number of fares available at £399 had been very limited and we therefore considered that this constituted material information that consumers needed to understand about the limitations of the offer.
Although we acknowledged that the advertised fare was valid on the day and time specified in the e-mail and although we appreciated that STA Travel had attempted to make consumers aware of the limitations on availability, because information regarding the specific number of fares available at £399 had been omitted, we considered that the e-mail exaggerated the likelihood of consumers being able to obtain the advertised fare and concluded that it was likely to mislead.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification), 3.17 and 3.22 (Prices) and 8.2, 8.10 and 8.17.1 (Sales promotions).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told STA to ensure they did not exaggerate the likelihood of consumers being able to take advantage of offers in future.