The website for airline operator Air China, www.airchina.co.uk, seen on 24 November 2017. The home page provided facilities for consumers to search for and purchase flights. A banner behind the search facilities featured text that stated “24-27 November Black Friday Sale … Fly to Asia and Oceania … 20% off”.
The complainant, who understood the cost of some flights had not decreased by 20%, and that others had increased during the sale, challenged whether the “20% off” claim was misleading.
Air China Ltd stated that they ran promotional sales on many of their popular routes from time to time and passengers could enjoy those affordable fares that were not available at other times. They said, however, that seats were subject to availability, and they encouraged passengers to start searching early to find best possible fares.
Air China stated that the November Black Friday sale was for passengers who wished to travel to those available destinations before 31 May 2018 and the promotional period was between 24 November and 27 November 2018. Air China provided comments on the two journeys that the complainant had searched for during the promotion: return flights from London to Chengdu between 24 December 2017 and 11 January 2018; return flights from London and Guangzhou between 18 May 2018 and 3 June 2018.
In relation to the first return journey, Air China stated that there were some ‘blackout’ periods during which the 20% discount deal was not applicable. They provided a screenshot of a dedicated web page on their website for the Black Friday Sale, which set out the terms and conditions.
In relation to the second return journey, Air China said there were 12 sub-classes available in Economy Class, which had different fare levels. That meant ticket fares could be varied even if passengers purchased tickets on the same day. They said the economy class fare range for the London to Guangzhou route was between £10 and £2,185, plus taxes. They said that discount level was always subject to seat availability.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to expect from the claim “24-27 November Black Friday Sale … Fly to Asia and Oceania … 20% off” that all flights to destinations in Asia and Oceana purchased during the promotional period would be discounted by 20% and that they would achieve a genuine, meaningful saving against the prices of those flights prior to the promotion.
We understood that the complainant had compared the prices for return flights between London and Chengdu covering the period from 24 December 2017 to 11 January 2018, and between London and Guangzhou covering the period from 18 May 2018 to 3 June 2018 before and during the Black Friday Sale promotions. They noted that the London to Chengdu flights were approximately £50 more expensive during the Black Friday Sale; the London to Guangzhou flights were approximately £10 cheaper during the Sale.
We noted Air China’s comments that seats were subject to availability and in relation to the second return journey searched for by the complainant, there were different fare levels within Economy Class and the discount for each fare level that could be obtained would depend again on seat availability. However, we considered the claim “24-27 November Black Friday Sale … Fly to Asia and Oceania … 20% off” to be an absolute claim. Because of consumers’ likely interpretation of the claim as set out above, we would expect to see documentary evidence, such as pricing history for each of the flights, to demonstrate that consumers would achieve genuine and meaningful savings of 20% discount for all flight tickets to the destinations referred to in the claim during the Black Friday Sale. We had not been provided with such evidence.
In addition, we noted that the banner for the discount promotion did not indicate that terms and conditions were applicable. It was therefore unclear that clicking on the banner would direct users to the landing page for the promotion which set out the terms, including travel dates that were excluded from the offer and departure dates. We considered that those were significant conditions to the offer that were likely to influence a consumer’s decision or understanding about the discount promotion, which should be made clear before consumers input details of flights into the search facilities on the home page, but that had not been the case.
Because Air China had not provided evidence to demonstrate that consumers would achieve genuine and meaningful savings of 20% for all flights to Asia and Oceana purchased during the Black Friday Sale, and that significant conditions of the offer, such as excluded travel dates, had not been made sufficiently clear, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
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.
Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication.
All marketing communications or other material referring to promotions must communicate all applicable significant conditions or information where the omission of such conditions or information is likely to mislead. Significant conditions or information may, depending on the circumstances, include:
(Promotional marketing) and
How to participate
How to participate, including significant conditions and costs, and other major factors reasonably likely to influence consumers' decision or understanding about the promotion (Significant conditions for promotions.
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Air China that ads for similar discount promotions in the future must not misleadingly imply that all flights to destinations referred to would be discounted by a certain amount, if that was not the case, and that they must hold adequate evidence to demonstrate that consumers would be able to achieve genuine and meaningful savings. We also told them to ensure that significant conditions to similar discount promotions, such as excluded travel dates, were made sufficiently clear in the ads.