The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) recognise that many travel marketers do not have fixed arrangements with third parties and elements of travel packages are often made available through shared systems. This can result in unpredictability around the prices available through shared online distribution systems, particularly in a fast moving sector. Advertisers are unlikely, therefore, to be able to monitor real time availability of flights or accommodation, meaning fares or rates may not be available at the stated price by the time consumers attempt to make a purchase. While we acknowledge that this presents a challenge for marketers, they should ensure they take reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of consumers being misled.
Pricing on marketers’ own websites
Given the dynamic nature of prices for some package elements and consumers’ expectations when they visit websites directly, it may be considered acceptable for marketers to promote a price on their own website without retaining evidence of the quantities available at that price, provided the following conditions are met.
- Prices are updated frequently.
- The marketing communication makes clear the date of the most recent update.
- The marketer is able to demonstrate that the price in question was based on a genuine price, available when prices were last updated.
- Prices that may change are described as “from £ X” and the ad makes clear that availability is indicative of the last price update and when this was. “Prices are accurate as of X and are subject to change”, for example, is likely to be considered acceptable. Marketing communications should make clear what consumers need to do to find the most up to date price.
Third party media
When promoting a product in third party space and encouraging consumers to seek further information, you should:
- Hold evidence to prove that the price in question was available to consumers at the time the ad appeared, and in reasonable quantities.
- Ensure you take publication lead times into account; if the relevant price is very difficult to achieve very soon after publication, the marketing communication is likely to be considered misleading.
- Make clear the date on which the “from” prices are accurate, if this isn’t clear from the ad’s publication date.
- Describe prices that are subject to change and have limited availability as “from £ X” and include a prominent statement to make this clear. Clarifying text such as “subject to change” and “limited [or extremely limited] availability” should be included, where necessary.
- Amend or withdraw the ad if you become aware that a price is no longer available.
What constitutes “reasonable quantity”?
Given the varying factors and dynamic nature of the industry, the interpretation of “reasonable quantity” will be case dependant and assessment will take place on a case by cases basis. Holding evidence of pre-arranged prices agreed with service providers, which demonstrates a reasonable degree of availability of the package price at the time the ad appeared, may be considered acceptable. In the case of targeted banners (or similar), showing that an advertised price was based on frequently updated searches, and therefore indicative of genuine availability at the time it appeared, may be considered acceptable.
An ad for Mercury Holidays which quoted a “from” price for a holiday, was considered misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Whilst the ASA acknowledged that, because they were working with third party content, they would be unlikely to be able to monitor real time availability of flights, they considered that the advertisers should nonetheless have been able to demonstrate that a quoted price was available at the time the ad appeared, and in reasonable quantities. Because The ASA 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, they concluded that the ad was misleading (Mercury Holidays 03 July 2019).
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA.
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