Two results pages on www.southalltravel.co.uk for flights to Mumbai:
a. The first page, seen on 1 November, stated "Per Adult fr £443 ... Extremely Limited Subject to Availability".
b. The second page, seen on 16 December 2016, stated "Per Adult fr £346 ... Extremely Limited Subject to Availability".
Two complainants, who were both told that flights were not available at the advertised price, challenged whether the price claims were misleading and could be substantiated.
Southall Travel Ltd explained that airlines constantly altered prices and they made every effort to ensure that advertised prices were kept up to date through their own IT systems and uploads direct from the relevant airlines. They said the prices for the Mumbai flights had been uploaded on to their system by the airlines involved at a lower price than the price quoted in the ads and therefore they believed that the advertised price was achievable. They provided the ASA with screenshots of the airline uploads and invoices for flights booked at less than the advertised prices for dates near to those the complainants had attempted to book. Southall Travel said the ads had stated that the flights were ‘from’ the quoted price and were subject to availability and extremely limited.
The ASA acknowledged that the ads stated that flights to Mumbai were ‘from’ the quoted prices and were subject to availability and also very limited. However, we considered that consumers would nonetheless expect that they would have a reasonable chance of obtaining those flights at the advertised price.
We understood that 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. Consequently, flights might not be available at the advertised price by the time consumers attempted to make a purchase. Nonetheless, we considered that Southall Travel should have taken reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of consumers being misled and to make them aware that the advertised price might have changed and what steps they needed to take to find the most up-to-date price.
Although the ads stated “from” and “Extremely Limited Subject to Availability”, they did not make clear that the quoted price was indicative of the last price update or when that update had occurred. In addition, although the ads stated “Call Now”, it was unclear that by calling the number, consumers would be given the most up-to-date price for the flights, rather than being able to book at the advertised price. We also saw no evidence to show how often Southall Travel updated the flight prices on their website or the processes they had in place to ensure that they were updated frequently.
The invoices Southall Travel provided showed flights had been sold for dates similar to those the complainants wanted to book, but the prices paid did not match those quoted in the ads. Furthermore, they referred to bookings made between seven and three months before and between six to nine weeks after the ads appeared and therefore did not relate to the price and availability of the flights at the time the complainants saw the ads. It was also unclear from the screenshots of the flight prices uploaded on to Southall Travel's systems by the airlines when that update took place.
We considered that Southall Travel had not been able to demonstrate that the quoted prices were based on a genuine price available when the prices were last updated or how frequently they were updated. We concluded that, because the ads did not make sufficiently clear that the quoted prices were subject to change and that they referred to the price at the last update, when that update took place or how consumers could find the most up-to-date price, the ads were misleading.
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), 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) 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: 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 Southall Travel Ltd to ensure that their advertising made clear that quoted prices were accurate at the time of the last update, the date of which should be stated, and that prices were subject to change. We also told them to ensure that they held suitable substantiation to show that the quoted price was based on a genuine price available when the price was last updated and to have processes in place to make sure prices were updated frequently.