A website for TravelHouseUK, www.travelhouseuk.co.uk, seen on 20 June, included a flight listing which stated “Price £355.67pp AAL JNB Departure 30 Oct 2017 Class Economy Return 13 Nov 2017 Travellor Adult”.
The complainant, who did not believe the flight was available for the advertised price, challenged whether the price claim was misleading and could be substantiated.
Moresand Ltd t/a TravelHouseUK said when a customer visited their website the search results were retrieved from two Global Distribution Systems (GDS). They said when a query was made to the website, the availability of the flight at the time of search were the rates available in the reservation system. They said the system searched was linked with an Application Programming Interface (API) and whatever was available on the GDS (seat wise) was a result and reflected on their website. They said the price shown at the time searched would be valid and could be booked by completing a contact form on the website or calling the TravelhouseUK team telephone number as advertised.
They said it was not possible to keep documentary evidence of the validity of the listing as availability changed with the large number of users and travellers to a particular destination. They said these listings continually changed based on what was available at a particular time. They said that what was available at the time of search on the GDS was the valid rate.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the ad to mean that they would be able to purchase the flight for £355.67 per person, that, in the absence of any indication of the contrary, the price was accurate when it appeared and that the holiday was available for purchase. The complainant believed the price was no longer available when the ad appeared because upon checking the relevant airline’s own website, it was discovered that the price for that exact flight was significantly higher. We noted the ad did not contain contextual information that explained the prices were results retrieved from a shared GDS and that all that was set out was a price represented as an absolute value. We therefore expected an advertiser to be able to demonstrate that the price was genuine when it appeared with adequate substantiation.
We noted TravelhouseUK believed they were unable to retain the substantiation data necessary to demonstrate the price was genuine at the time it appeared. We also noted that TravelhouseUK believed whatever was available on the GDS was a genuine result and was reflected on their website, so the price shown at the time searched would be valid. While we understood flight prices available through shared online distribution systems, particularly in such a fast moving sector, were liable to be unpredictable and advertisers were unlikely to be able to monitor real time availability of flights, we considered the fact that TravelhouseUK used a GDS did not amount to adequate substantiation on its own. We therefore considered that TravelhouseUK had not been able to produce adequate evidence that the quoted price was based on a genuinely available price.
Irrespective of the fact that TravelhouseUK had not demonstrated the price in question was based on a genuine price, we considered that if the prices they presented through the API were subject to change and had limited availability, the prices should be described as “from” prices and a prominent statement indicating that prices were subject to change and had limited availability should be included. However, the ad was not presented as a “from” price and did not specify that the prices were either subject to change or subject to limited availability in any way. We therefore considered that, as the price did not appear to be up–to-date and accurate when it was viewed by the complainant, TravelhouseUK should have withdrawn or amended advertising. Furthermore, TravelhouseUK should have taken reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of consumers being misled by making them aware that: (a) the advertised price was merely a result retrieved from a shared GDS; (b) the price might have changed; (c) when the price was last updated; and (d) set out what steps needed to be taken to find the most up–to-date price.
We concluded that because the advertiser had not demonstrated that the price was genuine and because the ads did not make sufficiently clear that the prices were retrieved from a shared GDS thus subject to change or that the ads referred to the price at the last update with indication of when that update took place or how consumers could find the most up-to-date price, the ad 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), 3.17 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 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: (Availability).
The advertising must not appear again in its current form. We told TravelhouseUK 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 as “from” and clearly present that they 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.