Flight comparison website Cheapflights.co.uk has been found guilty of misleading consumers.
The advertising watchdog found that lead-in fares advertised on Cheapflights.co.uk in September last year were extremely limited and sometimes not even available by the time they were advertised.
The company was investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following a complaint by a customer who was told that flights from London to Colombia, advertised at prices from £474 to £626, were not available at those prices when he wanted to book.
In its defence, Cheapflights said most advertised flights had departure date restrictions and it was therefore possible the complainant had misunderstood the date restrictions stated for each flight. It said its website also clearly stated that the flights were subject to availability.
Cheapflights pointed out that it is not a travel agency dealing directly with customers, it is an online media company and advertising platform. It searches over one million flights a day and publishes the best deals sent by airlines, online travel agents and smaller specialist high street agencies.
It said it followed up any consumer concerns to ensure stated prices were correct or that any mistakes were removed, because advertisers were responsible for posting valid fares. The advertisers received warnings in relation to any such errors, it said, and it operates a 'three strikes' policy for advertisers that continue to cause justified complaints.
However, the ASA said Cheapflights and its partners must make it clear to customers when fares are extremely limited. It said it was insufficient for Cheapflights to tell customers they needed to 'check with the advertiser at the time of booking'.
By Linsey McNeill
Wednesday, January 4, 2012