A page on the website www.swiss.com was headlined "Discounted fares to Switzerland - Exclusively for members of Ski Club of Great Britain". Text stated "Book your next flight to Switzerland with SWISS and enjoy the famous Swiss quality and service on board our flights. - 10% discount on the following direct routes: - Birmingham-Zurich - London City-Basel, Geneva and Zurich - London Heathrow-Geneva and Zurich - Manchester-Zurich". Text beneath stated "Discounts apply to net fares excluding taxes and surcharges".
The complainant, who had tried to book flights using the discount, challenged whether the claim "10% discount on the following direct routes" was misleading and could be substantiated.
Swiss International Air Lines AG, trading as SWISS (SWISS), responded to the complaint on behalf of both parties. They stated that the offer had been run by SWISS in partnership with the Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB), who had communicated the availability of the discount to its members in the UK. SWISS said the discounted fares had been available to SCGB members only, through a dedicated booking tool on a part of the website which was separate from the normal booking process. SWISS stated that the booking tool for the promotional SCGB offer was linked, however, to their standard booking engine and used the same data and fare information.
SWISS stated that the 10% discount was applied to the fare before the relevant taxes and surcharges had been added, and provided an example of the booking process for a return flight using both the promotional and standard booking tools.
SWISS noted that the SCGB booking tool had quoted the discounted price alongside the non-promotional fare for the flight, and acknowledged that in some cases it appeared that that non-promotional fare had not matched the price quoted at the same time for the same flight on the standard booking tool. They said that issue had occurred because of a systems error and they had since removed the fare comparison feature from the SCGB booking tool in order to prevent it happening again. SWISS stressed, however, that in all cases the 10% discount had been properly calculated and applied to flights booked by SCGB members, in accordance with the terms of the advertised offer.
The ASA understood that the advertised offer related to a 10% discount on certain flights for members of SCGB, and that that discount would be applied to the basic fare before taxes and surcharges had been added on. We noted that, because of this calculation method, the final price charged to a SCGB member once taxes and surcharges had been included would be more than 90% of the price charged to the public for the same flight. In the example given by SWISS, the basic fare for a SCGB member was reduced by 10% in comparison with the standard basic fare, but the same taxes and surcharges were then added on to both sets of flights. That resulted in the end price charged to the SCGB customers being approximately 95% of the standard fare.
Although we recognised that the ad included text stating that the discount would be applied to net fares, exclusive of taxes and surcharges, we also noted that those additional charges were non-optional charges which should be included within prices quoted for flights. On that basis, we considered that most consumers would understand that the claim "10% discount" would apply to the final price payable, inclusive of taxes and surcharges, but that that impression was contradicted by the qualification "Discounts apply to net fares excluding taxes and surcharges". We therefore found that the claim to offer a 10% discount was misleading.
We understood that the SCGB booking tool had been subject to a technical error which had led to the non-promotional fares quoted for comparison purposes being in some instances higher than the current fare available on the standard booking tool. We welcomed the action taken by SWISS to amend the SCGB booking tool in order to ensure that the error would not recur.
Because we considered that most readers would expect to receive a full 10% discount off the standard end price quoted for a flight, but noted that the level of discount available in comparison to that price was less than 10%, we concluded that the claim "10% discount on the following direct routes" was misleading.
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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration), 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) and 8.2 8.2 Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (Sales promotions).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told SWISS not to offer discounts on basic fares exclusive of VAT and surcharges and to ensure that their ads did not exaggerate the level of savings available.