An online listing for a business class flight from Manchester to Bangkok at 17:50 on 4 December 2017 on www.worldairfares.co.uk, seen on 21 May 2017, stated that the price of the flight was £1449.64. Below the listed price, the ad stated that there were 6 seats available.
The complainant, who understood that the stated price was not available because they unsuccessfully attempted to book the advertised flight, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Moresand Ltd t/a World Airfares stated that flight price availability was dynamic and that they relied on information from third parties. To ensure that their prices were up-to-date, World Airfares stated that they had a team who monitored changes in price and availability. They stated that occasionally they may miss a change in price availability and, in this case, that is what happened.
World Airfares stated that, in order to ensure this did not happen in the future, the company implemented two layers of confirmation in which the customer confirmed the order at a pending stage and then again at a confirmed booking stage. They stated that at the pending stage, the company used agents who monitored the reservations that may no longer be available at the quoted fare. The agent would then contact the customer to let him or her know whether the flight was available at the price advertised before the customer made a payment.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the ad that they would be able to purchase the flight for £1,449.64 and, in the absence of any information to the contrary, that the price was accurate and that the flight was available for purchase. The price was not presented as a “from” price in the ad and there was no indication from the ad that the price was subject to change. We also considered that the statement “6 available seats” further added to the impression that the price advertised on World Airfares’ website was a price that customers could achieve. The complainant understood the price was no longer available because an employee of World Airfares told them that was the case. However, the complainant stated that the price remained on World Airfares’ website several days after having been told it was not available.
We were not provided with any evidence to show that the quoted price was based on a genuine price. We understood that flight prices available through third parties were liable to be unpredictable and advertisers were unlikely to be able to monitor real-time availability so the flights might not be available at the advertised price by the time consumers attempted to make a purchase. However, we considered that the ad was presented in a way which suggested World Airfares would be able to supply the flight at the price advertised. We considered that World Airfares should have taken reasonable steps to make consumers aware that the advertised price might have changed and clarify what steps consumers needed to take to find the most up-to-date price.
We considered that if prices were subject to change and had limited availability, they should be described as “from” prices and there should have been a prominent statement indicating that the prices were subject to change. Because the ad did not present the price as a “from” price and stated specifically that there were “6 seats available”, we considered consumers to expect that the price and stated availability were accurate.
The ads neither stated that the prices were indicative of the last time the prices on the website were updated nor when that update had occurred. We also were not provided with any explanation or documentary evidence to show if and how often World Airfares updated the flight prices on their website. The CAP Code required marketers monitored stocks and stated that the marketer should withdraw or amend marketing communications when a product became unavailable. In this case it appeared that even though World Airfares were aware that a price was not available, the company continued to display an incorrect price and availability.
Because the ad did not present the price as a “from” price, or make clear that the quoted price was subject to change, and because it did not clearly present when the price was last updated, or make clear how consumers would be able to find the most up-to-date prices, we therefore concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition12) 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), 3.17 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), 3.28 3.28 Marketing communications that quote a price for a featured product must state any reasonable grounds the marketer has for believing that it might not be able to supply the advertised (or an equivalent) product at the advertised price within a reasonable period and in reasonable quantities. In particular: and 3.29 3.29 Marketers must monitor stocks. If a product becomes unavailable, marketers must, whenever possible, withdraw or amend marketing communications that feature that product. (Availability).
The advertising must not appear again in its current form. We told World Airfares to ensure that they held adequate substantiation to show that their quoted prices were based on genuine prices available. We also told them to describe prices that were subject to change as “from” and clearly present that these were subject to limited availability if that was the case, and to state when prices were last updated, when those prices were subject to change and to have processes in place to make sure prices were updated frequently, and when they were no longer available to promptly withdraw or amend their advertising.