Website found to have breached advertising rulesComplainant could not book a flight at the stated prices
An online travel agent was found to have breached the advertising code after a customer complained to the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) after they couldn’t book a flight at the prices shown on its website.
The website, www.ethiopiansairliness.co.uk (which does not represent Ethiopian Airlines), advertised on 13 August 2016 “FLIGHT TO HARARE (ZIMBABWE) … Economy Class: London To Harare £505 Per Person”.
An additional flight was priced at “£515 Per Person”. The customer challenged whether flights were available at the prices shown.
The company responds
Tickets House Ltd t/a Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise explained that airlines categorised each type of service into multiple sub-classes which had differing prices. They said when the cheapest sub-class was sold out on a specific flight, the next applicable, more expensive price, would apply.
Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise said a customer would be provided with the fare quoted on their website if it was available. If that fare was not available they said they would ask the customer if they could be flexible with their travelling dates and they would then provide another quote.
Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise said that at the bottom of each of their web pages, text clearly stated “Our website should not be considered a representation of the airline, it is to provide options for flights and promote sales worldwide. Fares are Subject To Availability”.
They provided invoices which they said showed that they had sold tickets at the quoted fares at the time the ad was seen.
ASA Assessment, use ‘from £X’
The ASA understood that as Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise is an online travel agent it had less control over flight prices than if a flight was booked directly with the authorised airline.
However, the ASA considered the claims “FLIGHT TO HARARE … £505 Per Person” and “£515 Per Person” were likely to be understood by consumers to mean that, at the time the ad was seen, they could book a flight to Harare for the stated price(s) and that there would be no additional costs associated with those fights, unless they were for optional extras.
The ASA considered that if that was not the case, given the dynamic nature of flight prices, the possibility of fare changes, and information about limitations on availability, should have been made clear in a prominent statement, and by ensuring prices were described as “from £X”.
The ad also did not make clear that fares were indicative of the last updated price and also did not provide information on how consumers could find the most up to date price.
No updated prices
In addition, the ad did not state when the most recent update was and Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise had not provided information to demonstrate that prices were updated frequently, or that the quoted prices were based on genuine fares which were available when they were last updated.
The ASA considered that the invoices provided were not sufficient evidence that the quoted prices were genuine, particularly because they all post-dated the time the ad was seen.
The ASA noted Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise’s assertion that their website stated that “Fares are Subject To Availability”. However, because “Fares are Subject To Availability” was in small print at the end of each web page, the ASA did not consider that the text was sufficiently prominent and was likely to be overlooked by consumers.
The ASA noted that it was not clear from the ad whether the quoted prices included non-optional taxes, duties, fees or charges that applied to all or most buyers, as required by the CAP Code.
Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise did not provide information to demonstrate that was the case, including in the invoices they provided.
The ASA concluded the ad was misleading, and breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.17 and 3.18 (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise was told to ensure in future that their prices were updated regularly, that they held evidence to demonstrate that advertised flight prices were based on genuine fares available at the time prices were last updated, that it should be made clear to consumers when that was and whether prices were subject to change.
Also, to ensure that prices which are subject to change are described as ‘from’ fares. Finally, the online travel agent must ensure that prices included all non-optional charges that applied to all or most buyers.