A national press ad for Mercury Holidays, seen on 18 November 2017, promoted a holiday deal. Text stated "A week 4* All-Inclusive - from £299*". The ad featured a table which showed that prices from £299 were applicable to dates in April for a duration of one week. Small text at the bottom of the page stated "*From prices applies to departures 16-26/04/18…Please note availability may be limited…#Subject to availability. Prices were costed on 15/11/17 and are subject to change since going into print".
The complainant, who was unable to find a holiday at the advertised “from” price, challenged whether the ad was misleading and could be substantiated.
Sunspot Tours t/a Mercury Holidays said that their prices were based on a live flight system which used low cost airlines. They said that they printed approximately 50 ads a week and that it was impossible to tell how many seats were left at a specific price. They explained that if an airline changed their prices, it would impact Mercury Holidays' prices and therefore they tried to communicate that as much as possible to consumers through their terms and conditions. They provided a screenshot of a search which showed availability for the advertised holiday for two adults at £299.32. They said that they followed that procedure for every ad to ensure that it was obtainable on the day the ad was published.
Mercury Holidays provided an inventory report for the advertised hotel. They said that the report showed that they had over 90% room allocation available for the months advertised which demonstrated that they had sufficient availability. They also confirmed that a total of 14 customers booked the advertised holidays and that four of those customers had booked at the "from" price.
The ASA noted that the ad stated "from" prices applied to specific departure dates and that smaller text at the bottom of the ad stated that availability may be limited. We considered that consumers would interpret the claim to mean that a reasonable quantity of holidays during that period would be available at £299.
We noted that Mercury Holidays had provided an inventory report for the advertised hotel which showed room availability for the advertised dates. They also confirmed that four out of 14 customers were able to obtain holidays at the “from” price of £299. However, we considered that this information only showed availability for customers that had booked the holiday and did not demonstrate the overall availability of the "from" price at the time the ad appeared. We acknowledged that holidays available through third parties could be subject to change and advertisers were unlikely to be able to monitor real-time availability. However, we considered that advertisers should be in a position to provide evidence to demonstrate that the price in question was available to consumers at the time the ad appeared and in reasonable quantities. Furthermore, we noted that the qualification, "Please note availability may be limited … are subject to change going to print" was placed at the bottom of the ad in small text.We considered that the information was not prominent and was likely to have been overlooked by consumers.
Because we had not seen evidence to demonstrate that a reasonable quantity of holidays were available at the advertised "from" price at the time the ad appeared and because the ad did not make sufficiently clear that the “from” price was subject to change and had limited availability we concluded that 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) 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 in their current form. We told Mercury Holidays to ensure that they held adequate evidence to demonstrate that “from” prices were available to consumers in reasonable quantities. We also told them to clearly present that “from” prices were subject to limited availability if that was the case.