Claims on www.comefli.com, a travel website, visited on 23 January 2012, displayed a search result which offered return flights from London to Sydney "from £594". Small print stated "the data displayed in this website is NOT a display of AVAILABLE flights, but is a database of prices and should be used as a means of researching the best fares for a given journey on a date or range of dates. Once a suitable fare has been found, it will be necessary to contact the travel agent to check if seats are available on the date you wish to travel. When these have been sold, you may be offered a seat at a higher fare. However the price will NOT be removed from the fares database as the cheaper seats may still be available on other dates or subsequently become available again due to the airlines releasing more seats at the lowest fares due to fluctuations of supply and demand. Please note that airport taxes vary between airlines on exactly the same routes depending on airline policy and it is important to check these with the booking agent before making a commitment.
The complainant challenged the availability of the flights at the advertised price.
Polani Travel Ltd t/a Come Fli (Polani) said the airline fares and the availability of seats changed on an ongoing basis and the fares advertised online were always subject to availability, as they were special fares and could not be guaranteed. They said the website clearly indicated that such fares started "FROM xxx Price" and that consumers would need to call their travel experts to enquire about those offers. They also felt that it was self-explanatory that they did not have any hold on those fares.
They said there could be times when the fares quoted to passengers by telephone might not meet their level of expectation, as the telephone fares could be a little more expensive when compared to the website, because the booking agents could add their commission, administration charges, booking fee, ATOL or insurance charges on top of the total fare and, as a result, passengers might feel a discrepancy between the fares advertised on the website and the fare quoted to them by telephone. They said, however, that all such add-ons would also add up to the total fare available on the website and they felt that was made clear to consumers when they proceeded through the online booking and payment procedure.
They were unsure as to what had occurred in the complainant's case, as they said their records indicated that a fare of £594 for travel between London Heathrow to Sydney on 16 April 2012 with a return date of 16 September 2012 had not existed and was never advertised on their website and the most cost-efficient option was available for approximately £750 and above. They provided a screenshot from their website, which showed an advertised fare of £765.89 for the same destination and the dates of travel, but stated that the end price could be more expensive if compared to the online fare, for the reasons set out above.
The ASA noted that the complainant had provided a screenshot from the Come Fli website which stated that flights from London to Sydney, travelling on 16 April and returning on 16 September were available "from £594". Although we noted that the advertisers maintained they had no record of ever offering that fare, we considered that the ad showed that it had been advertised. We therefore considered that the advertisers should be able to show that the "from £594" fare had been available to consumers.
We noted that the small print on the website stated that "the data displayed in this website is NOT a display of AVAILABLE flights, but is a database of prices and should be used as a means of researching the best fares for a given journey on a date or range of dates" and also stated that consumers would have to contact the travel agent to check if seats were available. We did not consider that the website showed how limited the availability of the 'from price' was likely to be. In addition, we noted that the small print stated that the listed 'from' price would not be removed, even when that price had been sold out. We considered that that was also likely to mislead consumers, as it suggested that fares were still available at the listed price, when that was not the case.
We noted that the advertisers also stated that the advertised fare might not represent the end price that consumers would be charged. We considered, however, that the quoted fares should include all taxes and other compulsory charges, and should reflect the end price available to the consumer.
Because we considered that the website did not make the likely price available to consumers sufficiently clear and offered contradictory information in the small print and, because we had not seen evidence showing that the listed return flight from London to Sydney had been available "from £594", we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad 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) and 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. (Prices).
The claims must not appear again. We told the advertisers to ensure they held documentary evidence to show that flights were available at the quoted fare in future.