When challenged to substantiate their “from £x” package price quote, Expedia couldn’t come up with a single case where the starting price had been charged.
Who: The Advertising Standards Authority and Expedia.com Limited
When: December 2002
A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority over an Expedia regional press ad for flights and hotel accommodation. The ad promoted Expedia's summer sale and featured weekend deals including "Madrid 3 star from £207, Brussels 3 star from £125 and Amsterdam 3 star from £121". The complainant had tried to book these breaks through the Expedia website but found none of these was actually available.
In its defence to the complaint, Expedia provided a very lengthy and detailed explanation as to why, for numerous reasons, they could not in fact guarantee that any of the deals mentioned in the advertisement would be available at the price quoted. Accordingly, the ASA held the advertisement to be misleading and the compliant was upheld, with Expedia being advised to consult the Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice Team when advertising similar offers in future. They were also asked to ensure that if deals like this were advertised in future, there should at least be some guaranteed availability at the advertised price for a period of 6 weeks after the ad first appears.
Why this matters:
In the flights and package holidays sectors there can be no doubt that historically, by far the largest category of "complaint upheld" finding by the ASA relate to "from £x" claims. Although "misleading" findings by the ASA do not come with any financial penalty, this decision was publicised and, like all other ASA decisions, appeared on its website. In addition, being required to take advice from the CAP Copy Advice Committee wherever similar ads are contemplated is not ideal.
The moral of this story has to be, therefore, that before advertising flights or deals of this kind with a "from" price, particular care should be taken that the price quoted is real.