Two rail firms have hit the buffers with watchdogs, having adverts banned for making “misleading” claims about fares and journey times.
Thameslink was told to remove posters advertising its Gatwick Express service with the claims “non-stop to Victoria station in half an hour” and “in just 30 minutes”.
And a Eurostar ad on its website was found to be “misleading” because a significant portion of the advertised fares weren’t available at the “from £29 one way” price.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated the Gatwick Express advert after two complaints that the time claims could not be substantiated.
Govia Thameslink said that it ran train services from 5am through to 10pm with a scheduled 30-minute direct journey from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport.
The firm said that a new timetable was introduced on May 20th, and that they were currently updating all third-party media sites to reflect the new timetable and would remove the claims in question.
Gatwick Express provided data which showed that between April 30th last year and May 26th this year, a total of 79.1 per cent of scheduled trains between Victoria and Gatwick Airport arrived to their final destination on time.
But an ASA spokesman said: “We considered that consumers would interpret the claims to mean that the journey time between London Victoria and Gatwick airport on the Gatwick Express was 30 minutes.
“While we acknowledged that consumers would appreciate that train services were occasionally subject to unforeseeable delays, we nevertheless considered that consumers would expect that the Gatwick Express achieved the stated journey time barring exceptional or unforeseeable circumstances outside of their control.
“We noted that of the 20.1 per cent delayed services, the majority were delayed due to reasons such as staff sickness and technical/signalling faults.
“Furthermore, of the services did not have a reason assigned to the delay or were classified as an uninvestigated delay.
“Whilst we acknowledged that a proportion of services were delayed due to exceptional or unforeseeable circumstances outside of Gatwick Express’ control, such as track faults, fatalities and power supply failures, we considered that a significant proportion of services were delayed for reasons that were within Gatwick Express’ control.
“As such, we concluded that the claims ‘non-stop to Victoria station in half an hour’ and ‘in just 30 minutes’ had not been substantiated and were misleading.”
The poster was found to breach rules regarding substantiation and misleading advertising.
The ASA spokesman said: “The ads must not appear again in the form complained of.
“We told Gatwick Express to remove the claims ‘non-stop to Victoria station in half an hour” and ‘in just 30 minutes’ unless they could achieve that journey time in most cases, save for exceptional and unforeseeable circumstances outside of Gatwick Express’ control.”
The Eurostar website offering trains to Francet stated “With Eurostar tickets from as little as £29” one way and “train to Lille from £29 one way”.
But a customer complained to the ASA that they were unable to find tickets from London to Paris at the price advertised.
Eurostar said that the availability of £29 fares was reviewed weekly by the Revenue Management team, who loaded additional capacity into the booking system for the targeted booking horizon, which was the period six to 18 weeks in advance of travel.
The firm considered that customers would not expect to find the lead-in £29 fare available for departures within the immediate six weeks, and would instead expect this fare to be available for bookings made further in advance.
Eurostar said that on the date the ad was seen, 5,070 fares from London to Paris priced at £29 were available for travel dates between March 6th and June 8th.
The firm also provided a sample of sales records showing the percentage of £29 fares sold per day, which they believed indicated that the fare was readily available and there was a reasonable opportunity for customers to obtain it.
Eurostar said they accepted that the availability period for £29 tickets – six to 18 weeks in advance – could have been more clearly communicated to customers.
The firm said it had updated the web page to include small print stating “(At least) 10,000 seats available between London and Paris and (at least) 5,000 seats available between London and Lille, for travel dates comprised between six and 18 weeks from date of booking, subject to availability and black-out dates”.
But an ASA spokesman said: “We considered that consumers would understand the claim ‘with Eurostar tickets from as little as £29’ – in the context of the page – to mean that a significant proportion of one-way tickets from London to Paris, Paris to London, London to Lille and Lille to London would be available to purchase at £29.
In the absence of qualification to the contrary, we considered that consumers would understand the claim to mean that fares were available at £29 from the date of booking onward.
“We 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.
“The £29 fares made up a very small percentage of one-way tickets from London to Paris in both directions within the relevant booking horizon.
“We therefore did not consider that a significant proportion of tickets was available at the ‘from’ price and because of that the claim was likely to mislead.
“In addition to the proportion of tickets available at the ‘from’ price we also considered that to avoid misleading consumers, the availability of a product at the ‘from’ price should be spread reasonably evenly across the advertised travel period, unless the ad made clear that was not the case, and marketers should make clear the specific travel period to which an offer related.
“Tickets at the lead-in price were only available for dates at least six weeks ahead of the date of booking.
“However, we considered the availability of tickets at an advertised fare should also be spread reasonably evenly across the travel period. If that was not the case, that should be made clear to consumers.
The ASA found the ad to be in breach of rules regarding price, misleading advertising and substantiation.
The ASA spokesman added: “We told Eurostar to ensure in future that when using ‘from’ price claims that a significant proportion of the advertised fares were available at the lead-in price, unless the specified quantity of tickets was stated.
“In addition, we told them to ensure they made clear the dates when the fares were available and that if lead-in fares were not reasonably evenly distributed throughout the travel period, that this was stated.
“We also told them to ensure that qualifications were sufficiently prominent.”