Who: Travelzoo (Europe) Limited, Advertising Standards Authority
Where: United Kingdom, Ibiza (briefly)
When: 20 November 2013
Law stated as at: 12 January 2014
A consumer’s concerns with the accuracy of the description of a three night holiday in Ibiza advertised on travel deals website Travelzoo were the subject of this referral to the ASA’s adjudication process.
The consumer in question had noticed that Travelzoo were advertising a three night holiday in Ibiza. The promotion was announced with the following wording:
“… Escape to Ibiza before the summer crowds arrive for less than £100 – this 3 night Balearic break from Bargain Late Holidays is up to £135 cheaper than we’ve found elsewhere. For £99 per person you get flights from London Gatwick, Luton or Stansted and three nights at the Tropical Hotel in San Antonio (pictured) on a bed-and-breakfast basis…”.
However, the consumer, having reviewed the promotion, found that the only flights available at the time he wished to book would have meant he arrived in Ibiza at 1.35am on the first night, and would have needed to catch a flight out of Ibiza at 1.45am on the morning of day 4. The basis of the consumer’s subsequent complaint to the ASA was therefore that the promotion did not in fact consist of “three nights”, as only one full night’s sleep would be enjoyed in the Tropical Hotel.
So what went wrong?
Travelzoo features the following message from its CEO on its website regarding its offers:
“[…] 1. We never recommend a deal that we wouldn’t book ourselves. 2. We have our Test Booking Centre™ research every Travelzoo Top 20® deal before we publish it […]”
Travelzoo explained to the ASA that they had carried out test bookings for the offer, but that this particular offer had not been flagged as an issue as the scope of their Test Bookers’ research did not extend to logging flight times for offers – although this was something they were now looking to address.
Having contacted the supplier of the promotion, Travelzoo had been provided with one example where this offer would have been available with a combination of flights that enabled a full three night stay, with flights arriving in Ibiza at 4.15pm on day 1 and leaving Ibiza at 5.55pm on day 4. However, perhaps unhelpfully to their case, Travelzoo were unable to provide a full schedule of available flight times in respect of the offer, as the offer was “based on a variety of different airlines and availability at the time”, to quote the ASA case report. Travelzoo had not pre-booked seats in advance for the offer, but instead had been promoting a combination of hotel and flights based on the flights that were available at that time.
What did the ASA rule?
The ASA upheld the complaint, finding that the advertisement was in breach of two of the general provisions of the CAP code: rule 3.1 (misleading advertising) and rule 3.7 (substantiation). Travelzoo were told not to show the ad again and ensure that future ads did not mislead consumers about the length of holidays.
Why does this matter:
Although the outcome of this adjudication is perhaps unsurprising, it raises a few interesting points.
Full disclosure should be given when advertising holiday packages featuring overnight flights at either end that cut into one of the “nights” included in the promotion. While the ASA did not offer guidance on how long a holidaymaker would have to be able to sleep for the night to count, in this case, a 1.45 am departure on day 4 would not leave much time for sleep (or sampling Ibiza’s nightlife) in the evening of day 3. Whether this means the ASA would take a similar view on more marginal cases (for example, were a flight to depart at 4.00 am on day 4) is unclear.
The second point is that problems can arise when advertising holiday packages in which one or more element is out of the control of the promoter. If flights without pre-allocated seats are part of a promotion, ideally (although this may be a challenge) the offer should be monitored and action taken appropriately if the only remaining possible combination of flights is one which calls the description of the offer into question.