Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
The ASA receives a significant number of complaints about the availability of flights and other travel products, such as accommodation, at the prices quoted in marketing communications.
- Ensure adequate availability at “lead-in” and promotional prices
- Don’t mislead when prices are destination specific
- Take care when making “from” and “up to” price claims
- Ensure availability at prices stated for specific search criteria
- Make sure prompts and inducements are accurate and relevant
- Take care when working with third parties
Marketers should be able to demonstrate a significant proportion of availability of flights and other travel products at the lead-in price, and consumers should have a reasonable chance of obtaining the products at the advertised price. A complaint about an ad by Southall Travel which stated "Per Adult fr £443 ... Extremely Limited Subject to Availability" was upheld in 2017 because the ad did not make clear that the quoted price was indicative of the last price update, rather than the current available price, and because the ad did not state when that update had occurred (Southall Travel Ltd, 21 June 2017). Marketers must not exaggerate the availability of prices at the lead-in or promotional price, or mislead by including contradictory small print.
Marketers should make clear the destinations to which quoted prices relate and that a promotional price applies to selected flights on certain routes, if this is the case. In 2013, the ASA considered that the claim “Just pay taxes and charges on return flights” was misleading, because it implied every seat would be included in the promotion, when it applied to selected flights only (Flybe Ltd, 4 September 2013).
Similarly, the ASA ruled against the claim “Europe one way from £49*”, because they considered that it implied one could travel to any destination in Europe from the stated price, when this was not the case. Marketers are reminded that small print must not contradict claims (both explicit and implied) in the body copy, which was the case in this instance (Deutsche Lufthansa AG, 30 October 2013). The ASA also ruled against the claim "ANY WEEKEND ANYWHERE SALE, SAVE UP TO 33%", considering it an absolute claim, accompanied by contradictory small print which clarified that this only applied to UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa (Hilton International Hotels (UK) Ltd, 2 April 2014).
In the past the ASA has applied a rule of thumb that 10% of the products or services advertised should usually be available at the "from" price based on the 2010 BIS Pricing Practices Guide. In 2016 the CTSI published new Guidance For Traders on Pricing Practices. This new guidance states that, when using “from”, advertisers must ensure that a significant proportion of the product or service is available at the lead in fare.
Whilst the current guidance no longer uses the 10% rule, and instead states that a significant proportion should be available, it offers no further guidance on what is considered a significant proportion, and the ASA will investigate this on a case by case basis.
In the absence of “from” or “up to” in front of a price claim, consumers are likely to interpret the claim as meaning all products will be made available at the discounted price (De Vere Group Ltd, 2 July 2014).
The availability of a product at the “from” price should be spread evenly across the advertised travel period and marketers should make clear the specific travel period to which an offer relates. A complaint against an ad stating a ‘from’ price on room rates was upheld because the advertisers did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a reasonable number of rooms were available to book for £94 in a relatively even spread across the travel period (Village Hotels & Leisure Ltd, 14 August 2013). As an example, the claim “Holidays available from May to October” is unlikely to be acceptable if holidays are not available in each month from May to October.
In 2013, a complainant challenged whether an ad which stated the prices “£12 to £94 single” after they had selected their specific travel details was misleading, because there were not tickets available at the lowest price stated. As the consumer had selected their specific travel details, and the website had shown the ticket was available once they had input on their search criteria, the ASA considered that most consumers would expect that these prices would relate specifically to their needs. It ruled that the marketer should ensure that only prices which are available for journeys meeting the search criteria are served to the consumer (First Greater Western Ltd, 1 May 2013).
A complaint was upheld against an ad for package holidays with lastminute.com in 2017. The consumer, who booked a holiday an advertised price, was later told that the price stated in the ad was no longer available and that she would have to pay an additional £70.77. The ASA ruled that, despite the offer being subject to dynamic pricing, the advertiser should ensure that holiday packages were available at the prices for which they were advertised at the time they were seen by consumers (BravoNext SA t/a lastminute.com, 4 January 2017).
Marketers often encourage consumers to take advantage of a deal before it’s too late, but they should beware of crossing the line into misleading Pressure Selling tactics and must ensure that their ads do not place undue pressure on consumers to make a decision to purchase. The issue is covered by CAP Code Rules 3.31 and 3.32, which are linked to prohibited practices under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Approaches that could be problematic include: using a countdown clock to indicate that an offer will expire soon (dylanqueen.co.uk, 28 January 2015); highlighting a high level of interest from other consumers in a special offer (PUA Training Ltd, 4 September 2013); and guaranteeing best prices compared to other advertisers, unless this is underpinned by thorough market analysis (Flight Centre (UK) Ltd, 11 September 2013). In order to make any such claims the marketer would need to have an adequate body of evidence to support them.
In general, to avoid breaching the rules you should ensure that any claims intended to encourage consumers to take up a deal are both relevant to the offer in question and are supported by adequate evidence. (Top Shop/Top Man Ltd, 26 July 2017).
As the previous rulings may not correspond directly to the context of the travel industry, the ASA will continue to investigate complaints about these issues to establish clear precedent.
If you work with third parties, base your claims on prices provided by them and have no control over price availability, see Travel marketing: Working with third parties.