Unhappy consumers win cases against travel industry

2015-09-08 10:46
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Lyse Comins (File)

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CONSUMERS disappointed by misleading adverts recently won cases against Mango Airlines and MSC Cruises after filing complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority.

The ASA ordered Mango Airlines to withdraw a misleading advert in which it claimed it was “South Africa’s most on-time domestic airline on average” and it ordered MSC Cruises to withdraw a misleading advert about cruise price specials.

George Capetanakis said in his complaint that after checking airline departure statistics on the Airports Company of South Africa’s (ACSA) website, he found these contradicted a claim the airline made in a 702 Radio advert in June.

Capetanakis said according to ACSA, Mango was the sixth most on-time airline for departures from O.R. Tambo, sixth from Cape Town, and fifth from Durban at the time of his complaint.

According to the ASA’s ruling, apart from sending a copy of the advert, Mango had not responded, and the authority consulted the ACSA website to test the claim. “It would appear there is no apparent basis for making the claim. As reflected in the statistics over the year to date, Mango appears to rank sixth at O.R. Tambo, fourth at Cape Town, and third at King Shaka,” the ASA said in its ruling recently.

Mango spokesperson Hein Kaiser told Witness Crusaders that the airline has removed the claim from its advertising. “However, Mango was recently grouped among the top airlines globally in terms of on-time arrivals,” said Kaiser.

In the second case, Norman Landman responded to an advert for an MSC Cruises SA special to Portuguese Island but was shocked when he was quoted almost triple the advertised price.

Landman said an e-mailed brochure highlighted “Standard fares from” and “Best price fares from” with an “ocean view cabin” priced from R10 900 under standard fares and from R5 450 under best-price fares.

However, he was quoted R14 700 per adult for a December 21 cruise and complained that the advert was “unacceptable” and “false”.

MSC Cruises SA responded saying its summer 2015/16 brochure released in October 2014 clearly indicated that there was a discount for early bookings, implying Landman, who booked eight months before the cruise, had booked late. MSC said he was quoted R2 800 less than the standard R17 500 fare advertised as “what you can expect to pay if you leave it to the last minute to book your cruise.”

MSC said terms and conditions indicated that rates were based on low-season departures and Landman had inquired about high-season availability five months after the brochure was released, when no early booking rate tickets were left. He had also required multiple cabins that attracted a surcharge.

But the ASA disagreed, saying it was “not quite convinced” that a booking eight months ahead of travel is an unreasonable delay. It added that the advert did not draw a distinction between high and low season and there was no way for consumers to know December 21 bookings were considered high season.

“The booking confirmation (e-mailed to the consumer) indicates the price description as ‘best price,’ which begs the question why the ‘best price’ he was quoted is R9 250 more than the ‘best price’ fare advertised,” the ASA said.

Even considering port, service and insurance charges of R1 160 there is still a R8 090 difference, the ASA said.

MSC did not submit evidence that the “best price” fare was sold out and the ASA did not know how many consumers benefitted from it.

According to the advertising code, prices described as starting “from” may not be advertised if they only apply to an “insignificant proportion” of goods or services advertised, the ASA said.

“If an advertiser is aware that a very small minority of its customers might benefit from a low price, while the rest will all pay substantially more, an advertiser should not advertise the lower price, even with the prefix ‘from’,” the ASA said.

However, the ASA said that while it did not factor this into its decision, it disagreed that by booking in March, Landman was leaving it to the last minute. “The advertising creates an impression that early bookings may well start at R5 450. Even the ‘standard fare’ quoted as starting from R10 900 is still substantially less than the R14 700 the complainant was quoted,” the ASA said.

This is an interesting case, especially if one considers that the travel industry has often come under fire from regulators internationally for not disclosing hidden costs or misusing the “starting from” pricing tactic.

• Send your consumer complaints to consumer@3i.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  consumer

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