A website for train company Avanti West Coast, www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk, seen in August and November 2021, featured a page titled “Our Best Fare Finder” that stated “Can highlight the cheapest Avanti West Coast service for your journey and time … Can guarantee the best possible price …”. Text underneath that stated “Our Best Fare Finder booking engine can help book the cheapest train tickets … calculate the best possible ticket type and guarantee the best possible price …”.
The words “possible price” contained a hyperlink that led to a page titled “Our Price Promise” with the claims “Book today with Avanti West Coast for a price that can't be beaten. If you see a cheaper price for the same train journey, we’ll refund the difference”, “Our Price Promise Guarantee. Unbeatable prices and no booking fees. You can search high and low, but you’ll never find a cheaper Avanti West Coast ticket anywhere else”, and “If you’ve booked an Avanti West Coast ticket through avantiwestcoast.co.uk or on the Avanti West Coast tickets app, you can rest assured you’ve got the best ticket price. No need for shopping around or price comparisons”.
IssueTwo complainants, who had found cheaper tickets for Avanti West Coast journeys through third-party sales channels, challenged whether the claims “a price that can’t be beaten” and “Unbeatable prices” were misleading.
First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Ltd t/a Avanti West Coast said they had amended their “Our Best Fare Finder” page to include reference, and a link to, their “Price Promise” page where consumers could find the applicable terms and conditions. They said the claim “Unbeatable prices and no booking fees” was a statement of fact as their prices for any train ticket could not be beaten and they did not charge a booking fee. They explained that their train tickets were set at the same price as all retailers, in accordance with National Rail’s Ticketing & Settlement Agreement (TSA). As a result, when tickets were purchased through companies that charged a booking fee, that made them more expensive than booking the same tickets through Avanti West Coast directly.
Avanti West Coast explained that anyone who found the same journey at a cheaper rate would be price matched by them. As such it was not possible to make a ‘cheaper’ purchase and the claim was accurate.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the claim “Can guarantee the best possible price” on the “Best Fare Finder” page, which proceeded the claim “Can highlight the cheapest Avanti West Coast service for your journey and time”, to mean that by using the fare finder they could find the cheapest Avanti West Coast ticket, available through that sales channel, for their destination and time. We noted that Avanti West Coast had amended the page to include asterisks next to those claims that linked to the “Price Promise” page.
We considered consumers would understand the claims “a price that can’t be beaten”, and “Unbeatable prices” on the “Price Promise” page as referring to Avanti West Coast’s promise that if they found a cheaper ticket for the same train journey with the same parameters (class, origin and destination), through any sales channels, including third-party, Avanti West Coast would refund the difference. We also considered that consumers would interpret the further claims “You can search high and low, but you’ll never find a cheaper Avanti West Coast ticket anywhere else” and “No need for shopping around or price comparisons” on that page to mean it would never be possible to find a cheaper fare for their journey from other providers on the same route, or from third-party sales channels. We noted explanatory text on the “Price Promise” page explained that the promise only applied to tickets for the same date, time, origin, destination and ticket type, for a full journey on Avanti West Coast trains.
However, we understood that it had been possible for consumers to find cheaper tickets for what they considered to be the same journey (x to z) having searched with third-party split-ticketing providers. We understood that split-ticketing services operated by taking a complete journey input by the consumer and breaking it into two or more single tickets, often, but not always, involving a change of seat, train, or train operator. Notwithstanding any booking fees, the split journey presented was sometimes found to be cheaper than booking a direct journey through the rail company. We noted Avanti West Coast’s comments that part-journeys, (x to y and y to z), if searched for, could be found at the cheapest rate on the Avanti West Coast website. It was, therefore, possible that consumers could use a split-ticket service to ascertain the most cost-effective way to split their journey, then return to Avanti West Coast’s website to book the relevant tickets, without fees. However, consumers would only be able to avail of the “unbeatable” prices if they were aware of the definition of a ‘full journey’ and also that it may be possible to find a cheaper fare for their ‘complete’ journey through spreading their Avanti West Coast travel over several tickets.
While we acknowledged that the promise only related to complete journeys – those booked with only two end points – we noted that the claims “You can search high and low, but you’ll never find a cheaper Avanti West Coast ticket anywhere else” and “No need for shopping around or price comparisons” appeared before the explanatory text. Rather than clarifying the position, the explanatory text made the offering ambiguous. Consumers were likely to understand that their complete journey (x to z) could not be found at a cheaper fare through any means. As such, the claims discouraged consumers from searching elsewhere for cheaper tickets and, irrespective of the fact that Avanti would price match the tickets of any broken service undertaken on an Avanti train, exaggerated Avanti West Coast’s offering. The ad implied cheaper Avanti West Coast tickets could never be found, based on the information provided in the ad, when that was not the case. We concluded that the ad was ambiguous and the claims “the best possible price”, “a price that can’t be beaten”, and “Unbeatable prices” were misleading in that context.
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. (Misleading advertising), and 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).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Ltd t/a Avanti West Coast to ensure that their advertising did not claim, or imply, that their ticket prices could not be beaten, without adequate qualification. We also told them to ensure the terms of any price promise were sufficiently clear.