The website www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk included price claims for dining experiences. Asterisks appeared next to the prices, which linked to text at the bottom of the page that stated "*Prices include return train travel. Drinks not included". A link, which was labelled with the large text "BOOK YOUR SEATS", was also included.
The linked booking page was headed "Book your Dining Experience Today!". Further text stated "Pre-booking is essential for all services and early booking is recommended. Check availability and select the experience you wish to book and follow the link*". Text below various links stated "Alternatively, you can book by calling us on [phone number] or visit our Information Office at [address]". Text that stated "*Please note that tickets that are purchased online are subject to a booking fee and postage charge. All fees are displayed in an open and transparent way before you confirm your booking. We use online booking to ensure that we can provide you with a 24-hours [sic] service that suits your needs. If you continue to use the online booking channel we'll assume that you are happy with the extra charges" appeared at the bottom of the page.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading, because it did not make sufficiently clear the additional booking and postage charges associated with online booking.
East Lancashire Light Railway Company Ltd (East Lancashire Railway) said they ensured consumers were informed of additional charges before they got to the booking page and that alternative booking channels were also offered. If consumers continued with an online booking, they were required to select the tickets they wished to purchase and the extra fees for booking and postage were clearly displayed with the amount payable. They provided a screen shot of the payment page and said that if consumers did not wish to proceed, the booking could be cancelled. They said consumers were made fully aware of every item charge as well as the ticket cost, and booking fees were at no point hidden or added without the consumer's consent.
They believed the original ad was very clear and not misleading, but said they had altered the text on the booking page so it more robustly outlined the charges related to booking. It now stated "Please note that tickets that are purchased online are subject to a mandatory booking fee and postage charge. The booking fee is charged at 10% of the face value of the ticket with a minimum booking fee of £1.25 and capped at £6.50 per ticket. Postage is charged at £2 to cover ticket print, postage and packaging. Ticket prices are stated exclusive of booking and postage fees but all extra charged are displayed in an open and transparent way before you confirm your booking. We use online booking to ensure that we can provide you with a 24-hours [sic] service that suits your needs. If you continue to use the online booking channel we'll assume that you are happy with the extra charges". East Lancashire Railway believed the ad now made abundantly clear that online purchases attracted a booking fee and postal charges. They believed it also made clear that if consumers chose to call them or visit their booking office they could purchase tickets without incurring additional costs. They said that to state prices inclusive of booking fees, alongside stating the postal charges, could lead to significantly more confusion, in particular given the range and diversity of products they sold online.
The ASA considered, in the context of a website with an online booking facility, which also invited consumers to "BOOK YOUR SEATS" and included a page headed "Book your Dining Experience Today!", the quoted prices would be understood to be targeted at consumers who were likely to buy online. We considered the price claims were likely to be understood to mean the tickets were available at the prices stated and without additional charges. While we acknowledged that the ad included text to explain the existence of booking and postage charges, which was provided after consumers were invited to "BOOK YOUR SEATS", we considered that contradicted the impression given by the price claims and would do so regardless of where it appeared. Similarly, we considered the amendments to that text, while now including details of the charges, also contradicted the impression that tickets could be obtained at the prices stated. We noted that was not the case and that mandatory booking and postage charges applied to online purchases.
We understood from the amendments to that text that the booking fee might vary for each ticket. However, our understanding was that it would be possible to calculate the fee, per ticket, in advance (i.e. it would be £1.25, 10% of the ticket price or £6.50, dependent on the ticket in question). We also understood the fee was likely to apply to all or most users of the website and therefore considered the quoted prices should have been inclusive of the non-optional booking fee relevant to the ticket in question. We considered the mandatory postage charge should also have been stated with equal prominence to each of the inclusive ticket prices. We also considered it would be acceptable, however, to explain next to the booking fee inclusive prices, that they included an online booking fee and to also give the booking fee exclusive price, provided it was not more prominent than the inclusive price and that it was clear that the exclusive price was applicable to those booking by phone or in person.
We considered the ad was misleading, because the quoted prices were not inclusive of a non-optional charge that applied to online buyers to whom it was targeted and because the postage charges were not stated. We therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. and 3.4.4 3.4.4 delivery charges (Misleading advertising) and 3.18 3.18 Quoted prices must 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 clearly 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 payable. and 3.20 3.20 Marketing communications that state prices must also state applicable delivery, freight or postal charges or, if those cannot reasonably be calculated in advance, state that such charges are payable. (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told East Lancashire Railway to ensure that in future, quoted prices included non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that applied to all or most buyers, as well as to ensure that postage charges were stated alongside those inclusive prices.