A website and a Facebook post for Megabus.com:
a. The home page of the website www.megabus.com, seen on 29 September 2017, featured a large split image of scenes from Aberystwyth and Birmingham with the caption “New Aberystwyth to Birmingham service” below. A yellow circle in the top right corner of the image featured text stating “From £1*”. A second web page, seen on 31 August 2017, titled “New coach travel to Yorkshire from 4 September 2017”, listed services from Leeds to new destinations in Yorkshire. The page featured text stating that Megabus.com were “offering a heap of new services from around the UK to many towns in Yorkshire. All journeys will be travelling with us on a megabus to Leeds Coach Station, where you’ll change and hop onto a local… service for the remainder of your journey”. Below the list of destinations the page stated “As always our fares are from £1*”.
b. The Facebook post by megabus.com, dated 8 September 2017, featured an image of Bath and London that included text stating “DAY TRIPS FROM £1* London to Bath”.
Two complainants, who searched for tickets and believed that fares were not available at the stated price, challenged whether the claim “fares are from £1*” was misleading and could be substantiated.
Megabus.com said that at the time the website claim relating to the Aberystwyth to Birmingham route was seen (29 September 2017), there was one fare for that route for 10 October 2017 priced at £1 available online. At the time the Facebook ad was published (8 September 2017), there was one fare for the London to Bath route for on 22 September 2017 priced at £1 available. They provided screenshots of the two fares priced at £1 from their internal reporting tool.
Megabus.com said that the number of fares available at £1 for any given route varied due to many factors, such as the number of intermediary stops and the number of tickets booked for the partial and full routes. For the Aberystwyth to Birmingham route, which had five intermediary stops, there were a maximum number of 147 tickets for each departure, and theoretically six of those tickets were available at £1. For the London to Bath route, which also had five intermediary stops, a maximum of 96 tickets could be sold for each departure, with three tickets theoretically available at £1, one of which was for the full journey from London to Bath.
Megabus.com added that fares at £1 were generally available only if the booking was made in advance of the departure date, typically more than four weeks in advance. However, that varied depending on the route in question and there were many examples of £1 fares being available at a date closer to the departure date. They also said they had recently introduced a "Farefinder" tool on their website, which made it possible for customers to search for services by price rather than destination and quickly identify when £1 fares were available. They said that many of their customers were willing to be flexible on the time or date of travel in order to purchase a ticket at a lower price.
With regard to the website claim relating to destinations in Yorkshire, Megabus.com said it related to new services from Leeds to various destinations in Yorkshire. They said the London to Leeds service was operated by Megabus.com, while the second leg of the journey was operated by another company, although Megabus.com sold tickets for the entire journey. Megabus.com said fares were available at £1 on every London to Leeds service, but there was an additional fare for the second leg of the journey, and therefore no fares for the Yorkshire destinations beyond Leeds were available at £1 only. They stated that their standard wording about £1 fares had been used in error on the web page relating to the new Yorkshire services, and that the reference to £1 fares to the Yorkshire destinations had since been removed.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims “From £1*”, and “As always our fares are from £1*” in the ads to mean that a significant proportion of coach tickets would be priced at £1 for the full distance of the advertised routes. We considered that consumers would understand that not all tickets would be priced at £1, but would expect to be able to find the “from” price in the ads for tickets across a range of dates if they booked in advance.
Megabus.com had provided evidence to show that there was one fare available at the “from” price of £1 on both the Aberystwyth to Birmingham route and London to Bath route at the time the ads were seen. However, we noted they had not provided evidence supporting their estimated figures of the proportion of fares available at £1 on each departure for the two routes, as it stood at the time the ads were seen by the complainants. Notwithstanding that, based on the numbers of £1 fares Megabus.com said were available on each route, we understood that only 4% of fares for departures on the Aberystwyth to Birmingham route were available at £1, and 3% were available for departures on the London to Bath route. We considered that those figures did not represent a significant proportion of seats being available at the advertised “from” price for those routes. We noted in particular that only one of the £1 fares on the London to Bath route was for the full length of the route.
We therefore concluded that the “From £1” claims relating to the Aberystwyth to Birmingham and London to Bath routes on the website and in the Facebook ad were misleading because the availability of £1 fares was not what consumers would have expected based on the claim in the ad. Megabus.com had not provided sufficient substantiation which showed that a significant proportion of tickets were available at the “from” price of £1 for the advertised routes at the time of the ads.
We further understood that it was not possible to purchase tickets at £1 from various locations around the UK to the new destinations in Yorkshire as stated in the ad, because there was an extra fare for the second leg of the journey from Leeds. Because there were no fares available at the advertised “from” price of £1 for the new destinations in Yorkshire, we concluded the website was also misleading on that basis.
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) 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. 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 Megabus.com to ensure in future that when using ”from £1" price claims a significant proportion of the advertised fares were available at £1, so that consumers would have a reasonable chance of obtaining the products at the advertised “from” price.