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.
In addition to any pricing legislation marketers should comply with rule 3.18 of the CAP Code which requires marketers who quote prices to include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT paybable. See Compulsory costs and charges: VAT.
In the case of flights, taxes and other costs (Swiss International Air Lines AG, 30 January 2013), such as Air Passenger Duty, fuel supplements, security charges (whether they are levied in the UK or abroad) and other charges paid at the point of purchase of the ticket, must be included in the price offered to consumers. Other compulsory charges, such as Security Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI) must also be included (Specialist Holiday Group Ltd, 13 October 2004). The ASA has ruled that, irrespective of how clear the qualification is, quoting a headline price that excludes compulsory taxes and duties that are payable when travellers buy their tickets, is unacceptable. If marketers want to state inclusive and exclusive prices, greater prominence should be given to the inclusive price.
Marketers should ensure they hold documentary evidence to show that flights are available at the quoted fare. A complaint about an ad which offered return flights from London to Sydney "from £594" was upheld because the prices quoted did not include other charges (Polani Travel Ltd, 4 April 2012).
Credit and debit card fees
The ASA has previously ruled that if flights could not be bought without consumers being charged a compulsory credit or debit card fee the minimum charge should be included in the headline price (British European, 4 February 2004). Similarly, in 2012, the ASA considered that an ad by Ryanair was misleading because nearly all consumers were likely to incur an additional fee. Only consumers who bought flights using a Ryanair “Cash Passport” for which there was a charge (albeit refundable), or a Mastercard Prepaid card, were able to immediately buy the flights at the advertised price (Ryanair Ltd, 19 September 2012). See Compulsory costs and charges: Credit and debit card fees
Taxes levied abroad
Marketers should state clearly whether any other taxes (or other charges) levied abroad but not paid at the point of purchase, are payable. They need not state the amount, however a prominent statement should be included in the ad, informing consumers that such charges exist.
If fares are subject to foreign-levied taxes or charges payable at the point of purchase, marketers should state the exact amount consumers will have to pay. If marketers are not prepared to absorb the profit or loss that might result from changes in the level of taxes, or changes in relevant exchange rates between the time of advertising and the time of purchase, marketers should clearly state (in a footnote) that taxes, and applicable exchange rates were correct as of a stated date, but may vary.
One marketer who advertised multiple departure points and multiple destinations, argued that it was impracticable to include all the taxes duties and supplements because they differed depending on the route chosen. However, the ASA ruled that the marketer should state the lowest inclusive price for which consumers could travel and pre-fix the claim with the word ‘from’ (BMIbaby.com, 5 November 2003).
Given the limited shelf-life of the product and the speed with which the market responds to changes in demand, seats on flights to the same destination usually differ in price. If all flights are not available at the quoted fare, marketing communications should state prominently that prices are “from £X”.
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 avaliable 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 event an advertised fare fluctuates or becomes unavailable, marketers should ensure that they make clear in their communications that the advertised fares are extremely limited or could be withdrawn at any time.
In one ruling, the ASA considered that, in the context of a flight search tool that returned fares which were not identified as "from" prices, consumers would expect all of the advertised flights to be available at the stated prices. The ASA understands that there will be times when an offer is not available but nevertheless expects marketers to give consumers a realistic indication of their prospects of being able to take up the offer (Travel Up Ltd 27 June 2012). See Travel Marketing: Availability.
“Free” flights and seats
Marketers (whether they are in the travel industry or not) wanting to offer ‘free’ flights can do so only if consumers do not pay for taxes or charges. CAP allowed an airline to describe a promotion as offering ‘free’ flights because the promoters were prepared to absorb the cost of the taxes. That is not common and marketing communications for ‘free’ flights will fall foul of the CAP Code if there are any costs to the consumer (The Freedom Travel Group Ltd, 18 August 2010 and British European, 14 April 2004).
In June 2004, the ASA upheld a complaint about the use of the word “giveaway” (considered to be synonymous with the word ‘free’) because consumers could not obtain the flights without paying taxes and charges (MGN Ltd and Ryanair Ltd, 23 June 2004). The ASA also upheld a complaint in relation to an ad which stated, “NO AER FARE" because it implied that flights were free, however consumers had to pay taxes and, other non-optional charges (Aer Lingus Ltd, 21 January 2009).
Similarly, using a weasel, such as “free seats” if taxes or duties have to be paid, is unacceptable. Claims such as “tax only”, “flights for the cost of the tax” or similar are likely to be acceptable, as are more subjective claims such as “cheap flights” and “bargain fares.”
More recently, the ASA ruled that an ad which stated, "Fly for Free - If we can't find you a cheaper airfare in the same cabin, you'll fly for free!" was not misleading because the marketer had awarded free flights where the terms of the "Fly For Free" promise had not been honoured, and that consumers would understand from the ad that flying for free would only occur where it had not been possible for the marketer to beat a quoted fare (Flight Centre (UK) Ltd, 11 September 2013).
See Help Note on Travel Marketing and other “Travel” entries.