Eurostar ad banned by ASA for misleading on prices

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Pricey EU rail operator eurostar has had one of its advertising campaigns banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for misleading the public over its ticket prices.

Misleading £39 seats eurostar ad

Members of the public complained to the ASA about a promotional email from Eurostar International, received on 15 July 2023, included the subject line “Soak up every second of summer”.

In the body of the email large text stated “TREAT YOURSELF TO A EUROPEAN GETAWAY … FROM JUST £39 EACH WAY*”.

Underneath that, further text stated “Make the most of the long days and sunny rays with a summer getaway in August or September. Book now to grab a bargain to Paris, Brussels or Lille.” A link underneath that text was labelled “LOW FARE FINDER”.

One complainant, who was only able to find one ticket from London to Paris at the advertised price, challenged whether the claim in the ad was misleading.

Eurostar International Ltd said that a total of 39,000 seats had been available at the advertised “from” price across the advertised routes.

It believed that was a significant number of seats, and that consumers would therefore have had a reasonable chance of obtaining a seat at the advertised “from” price.

It said that the terms and conditions of the promotion were prominently displayed directly underneath the main copy of the ad, including the numbers of seats which had been available at the advertised “from” price.

Eurostar believed that meant the availability of seats at the advertised “from” price had not been exaggerated.

It also said that the ad had only been sent to consumers once, which it thought reduced the risk of exaggerating the availability of tickets available at the advertised “from” price.

However, following its own investigation, the ASA upheld the complaint saying that: “The complainant had been unable to purchase tickets from London to Paris at the advertised price of £39, so we first assessed the availability of the “from” priced tickets for the return journey on that route.

“The terms and conditions of the promotion stated that, as of 12 July 2023, there had been 9,500 standard class seats available on both the outward and return journey at the stated “from” price, for travel between 16 August 2023 and 13 December 2023.

“Data provided by Eurostar in their response showed that the £39 fares had made up a very small percentage of available tickets for travel between London and Paris, and Paris and London.

“We therefore considered that Eurostar had not demonstrated that a significant proportion of tickets between London to Paris and Paris to London had been available “from” £39 during the promotional period.We then reviewed the number of seats available on the two other routes included in the promotion.

“The terms and conditions stated that as of 12 July 2023 there had been 6,500 seats available from London to Brussels and Lille, and 13,500 seats available from Brussels and Lille to London.

“Data provided by Eurostar again showed that the £39 fares had made up a very small percentage of the total number of seats available for standard class travel for those routes in the identified timeframe.

“We therefore considered that Eurostar had also not demonstrated that a significant proportion of tickets for the London to Brussels and Lille routes had been available “from” £39 during the promotional period.

“We acknowledged that the terms and conditions of the promotion had stated the number of seats available, and that they were subject to availability.

“However, because we considered that a significant proportion of tickets had not been available at the “from” price, we concluded that the claim “TREAT YOURSELF TO A EUROPEAN GETAWAY FROM JUST £39 EACH WAY […] with a summer getaway in August or September” was therefore misleading.

The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claim “TREAT YOURSELF TO A EUROPEAN GETAWAY FROM JUST £39 EACH WAY […] with a summer getaway in August or September” to mean that a significant proportion of fares to the advertised locations of Paris, Brussels or Lille would be available to purchase at £39 throughout August and September 2023.

The ASA also considered that consumers would expect to find the tickets available at the “from” price across a range of dates and times within that period, and that they would have a reasonable chance of obtaining a seat at the advertised price.

Eurostar’s ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), and 3.17 and 3.22 (Prices).

“We told Eurostar International Ltd to ensure that when using “from”” price claims in future, a significant proportion of the advertised fares were available at the advertised price”, the ASA said in its ruling.

Eurostar has steadily increased its ticket prices to eye-watering levels in recent years, as part of its stated objective of targeting only premium travellers to its services.

The move came just as the world was being told it needs to fly less to cut CO2 emissions. Trains are far less polluting than planes, however, Eurostar operates a monopoly service as the only rail firm providing trains between London and the Continent, so there is little incentive to keep prices at affordable levels.