The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints about "misleading prices" in adverts from Ryanair and lastminute.com, with the ruling on the latter potentially having implications for any OTA including dynamic real-time pricing in their digital marketing campaigns.
The independent body received a complaint - just the one - from someone who saw an advert on lastminute.com for a £569 New York flight + hotel deal. But when the person went to book the deal the price had gone up by around £70.
It ruled that "because the package was not available at the price quoted in the ad...the price statement was misleading." It requested that the advert "must not appear in the form complained about..."
Lastminute's official response was that its product offers are dynamic and that availability of seats and rooms was subject to change at any time. It insisted that if the components of the package did change by the time the customer got to the booking page, it would always try to find an alternative at the same price. Customers could also decide to not book at the higher price.
The ASA's role is to make sure that adverts comply with the UK Code of Advertising. The Committee of Advertising Practice produces guidelines and has one specifically for non-broadcast travel marketing, which includes advice on how to include prices in marketing materials.
However, this document does not appear to have been updated since 2010 and quite a few things have changed in the past six years.
Advertising technology businesses such as Adara, Criteo and Sojern have emerged, raised funds and become more sophisticated; Facebook and Google have morphed into standalone marketing channels with dedicated travel products; IATA talks about dynamic pricing as one of the benefits of NDC; the science behind yield and revenue management has matured.
The issue is that prices of travel products are subject to change on an almost constant basis, meaning that any online ad which includes a specific cost for a specific product could end up complained about and investigated by the ASA when the price changes.
Unless the ASA wants to have a very repetitive workload over the next decade, the specifics around dynamic pricing need to be addressed.
The ASA does have a range of sanctions which it can apply to errant advertisers, but arguably the biggest threat to a company is the negative publicity. Many UK tabloids and broadsheets are reporting that Ryanair and lastminute have been misleading customers on price, reinforcing the mainstream narrative that low-cost airlines and OTAs cannot be trusted.
NB Image by Kitkana/BigStock.