It’s well understood that some advertisers such as travel agents have limited control over the price availability of elements of a holiday, such as third party flights and accommodation. In these cases, the ASA has simply required advertisers to make clear the limited availability of the offer in the ad, and to hold evidence in the form of sales data to confirm that flights sold by travel agents, for example, have been sold at the advertised price.
The industry is developing rapidly; many advertisers no longer have fixed arrangements with third party providers of flights or accommodation. In many cases, elements of travel packages are made available through shared systems which are open to a general pool of companies who use the fares and rates they find as the basis for advertised prices. It’s clear from information received from ABTA, the trade body for travel agents, and travel companies themselves that prices made available through online shared distribution systems can be subject to change at short notice. In a fast moving and dynamic market there is no guarantee that fares or rates will still be available at the advertised price when consumers enquire about them.
Whilst there is a growing general awareness about the dynamic nature of flight and accommodation pricing, consumers are concerned nonetheless to have clarity around price availability and confidence in how regularly advertised prices are updated.
Taking these insights into account, we’ve now updated our guidance on Travel Marketing: Availability to help ensure that prices that are actively promoted on websites and in other media don’t mislead.
Companies’ own websites
Given the dynamic nature of prices for some third party flights, accommodation and other holiday elements, and consumers’ likely expectations when they choose to visit websites directly, it could be acceptable to promote a price without retaining evidence of the quantities available at that price, provided that:
- Proof was available that the price was based on a genuine price that was available when prices were last updated. Prices should be updated frequently and it should be made clear when a price was last updated.
- Prices which are subject to change should be described as “from £ X”. A claim like “prices are accurate as of X and are subject to change” would be sufficient. It should be clear from the ad what consumers need to do to find the most up to date price.
Third party media
If prices are promoted in third party media (e.g. newspapers or online banner advertising), which encourage consumers to visit a website or telephone direct to secure a booking, marketers should:
- Hold evidence to prove that a price can be achieved by consumers at the time the ad appeared, and in reasonable quantities. What is considered a “reasonable quantity” will depend on the circumstances of the case.
- Provide evidence of pre-arranged prices agreed with service providers; demonstrating a reasonable degree of availability of the package price at the time the ad appeared or, in the case of targeted banners (or similar), showing that an advertised price was based on frequently updated searches and was therefore indicative of genuine availability at the time it appeared, could be acceptable.
- Take publication lead times into account as it may be considered misleading if the price is very difficult to achieve very soon after publication.
- 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. Where necessary clarifying text like, “subject to change” “limited [or extremely limited] availability” should be included.
- Amend or withdraw the ad if you become aware that a price is no longer available.
We recognise that some marketers will need a period of grace to ensure this guidance can be complied with, so be sure to do this by the 8 August 2016.
Source: CAP. Author: Avghi Theocharous, Compliance Executive.
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