A poster ad and claims on the website www.icelandair.co.uk, a flight operator:
a. the poster included the text "GOLDEN CIRCLE SHORT BREAK FROM £299*". Further text below stated "Includes flights, 3 nights hotel and a full day tour to experience Iceland's most stunning scenery". Small print stated "Subject to availability. Terms and conditions apply".
b. the website advertised the same break and also an "Iceland Whale Watching City Break From £299".
The complainant challenged the availability of the trips at the advertised price of £299.
Iceland Tours said they always ensured that at least 10% of holidays were available at the "from" price during the advertised sales period. They said the Golden Circle short break could be booked from 25 February 2013 and the end date was subject to availability. The relevant dates for travel were from 5 April to 28 May, although that end date for travel had recently been extended. They said the travel dates were not included in the ad, however, only those dates were available in their booking engine at the time. They said the tour was one they wished to promote throughout the year and the travel period had again recently been extended, to the end of the year. They said advertising outside of their website, including ad (a), was due to appear from 25 February to 10 March however it appeared the publisher did not remove all of the posters.
Iceland Tours provided details of bookings they had received for the Golden Circle break as well as percentages of passengers who had achieved the advertised "from" price and those that had not. They explained that customers who had not achieved the advertised price might have wished to travel on dates on which that fare was not available or on flights on which the cheapest seats were no longer available. They said the nature of their booking system meant it was not possible to provide data that showed the availability of fares on dates that has passed, because packages were directly linked with live availability in that system. That meant that seat availability on their flights affected the availability of their packages, because customers who made a 'flight only' booking would reduce the number of seats available for passengers that might wish to book the advertised packages.
However, they also provided details of package bookings made in February and March, for which 25.6% of bookings were made at their 'lead' airfare for travel from 5 April to 28 May (the travel dates relevant for the Golden Circle package at the time ad (a) appeared). They said the 'lead' airfare was the one that packages, including the Golden Circle and whale watching tours, were based on, However, they were unable to provide data about the individual packages, because the data was pulled from the flight booking system. They also provided an availability report for flights between 9 April and 31 May, which was captured two weeks before the February deadline to supply the poster ad. They said it demonstrated that 22% of seats on their flights from the UK to Iceland were available to purchase as part of a package at the advertised 'lead' price at that time. They said availability was not linked to particular packages but when they sent out new offers they ensured 10 to 20% of total seats were made available on the booking class that related to the advertised price. They regularly monitored availability and if it became limited, they would make more seats available for booking or amend the advertised price accordingly.
Iceland Tours said the whale watching trip promoted in ad (b) could be booked from 7 November 2012 and, again, the end date was subject to availability. The "from" price was available for travel between 2 March and 12 May 2013 however that end date for travel had also recently been extended. They provided details of the specific departure dates available from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow airports and confirmed that while advertising outside of their website ended during December 2012, they continued to promote both offers online. Iceland Tours explained it was highly unlikely that the packages priced at £299 had ever sold out, because measures were put in place to extend the travel period when, in early April 2013, availability became more limited. They said both offers therefore continued to be available at £299 or less, as advertised on their website. Iceland Tours said the advertised price was subject to availability in their booking system and although they tried to promote as many dates as were available, only the booking engine could provide accurate information of the fares that were available at any given point. They believed it was possible the complainant had not been able to make a booking at the "from" price due to the available departure dates or flights available not being suitable.
The ASA noted the data Iceland Tours provided from their booking system, which we understood related to both seats 'sold' and to availability for packages generally (albeit the availability before the promotional packages could be booked). We noted that the Golden Circle and whale watching tours were promoted as separate packages, which each featured a "from" price of £299. We considered consumers would expect each package, along with other packages that were promoted separately at promotional prices, to be available to book at the advertised price.
We therefore considered advertisers should be in a position to demonstrate that at least 10% of seats (as a proportion of the total seats available) were available to book for each of the packages at £299 in a relatively even spread across the travel period. We noted the data Iceland Tours submitted related to packages generally, rather than separately to each of the two featured packages, and therefore considered they had not demonstrated sufficient availability. In addition, we noted that the data did not relate to the entire travel period for the whale watching tour (and also did not include every travel date for the Golden Circle tour). We were also concerned that the ads did not make clear the travel dates for which the advertised prices were available, or that the whale watching package was available on only selected departure dates from each relevant airport.
Because we had not seen evidence to demonstrate the availability of a minimum of 10% of bookable seats for each tour at the advertised "from" price, we concluded that the ads breached the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. and 3.22 3.22 Price claims such as "up to" and "from" must not exaggerate the availability or amount of benefits likely to be obtained by the consumer. (Prices).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Iceland Tours to ensure they held adequate evidence to demonstrate the availability of their holidays at advertised prices in future.