ASA ruling on BA plc

20th July 2020 by Vincent Gumera

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The advertisement complained about was a website and a radio ad for the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card, seen and heard in December 2019:

  1. The website www.britishairways.com, featured text which stated “Get 2-for-1 travel with a Companion Voucher when you spend £10,000 each membership year on the Card, which you can use to take a companion with you in the same flight and cabin when you redeem Avios for a British Airways reward flight. Taxes, fees and carrier charges apply”.
  2. The radio ad stated “Ah, what’s better than being at one with nature? How about being at two with nature? Get a 2-for-1 Companion Voucher valid for two years when you spend £10,000 each year on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card…Annual fee applies…Terms, taxes, fees and carrier charges apply”.

The complainant, who believed that the Companion Voucher did not offer two flight tickets for the price of one, challenged whether the claim “2-for-1” in both ads was misleading.

British Airways plc and American Express Services Europe Ltd t/a Amex submitted a joint response. They said that the Companion Voucher provided a second flight ticket on British Airways flight booking when that booking was made using the Avios reward scheme. They said that the flight price did not have to be paid for the second ticket but carrier charges, taxes and fees were applicable for both passengers.

British Airways and Amex said that the ads provided qualifying information as to the nature of the benefit and prominently outlined the presence of significant cost exclusions by stating that “Terms, taxes, fees and carrier charges apply”. They stated that the website informed customers that they had to redeem Avios points to purchase a reward flight, and provided a link to key terms and conditions of the Companion Voucher. They said they would amend their messaging from “Taxes, fees and charges apply” to “Taxes, fees and charges apply per person”.

Radiocentre endorsed the response provided by British Airways and Amex and provided the information given to them by the advertisers, which explained how the card and Companion Voucher worked and detailled the terms and conditions which applied.

The complaint was upheld. The ASA noted the words “Get 2-for-1 travel with a Companion Voucher when you spend £10,000 each membership year on the Card, which you can use to take a companion with you in the same flight and cabin when you redeem Avios for a British Airways reward flight” in ad (a).

Similarly, ad (b) stated “Get a 2-for-1 Companion Voucher valid for two years when you spend £10,000 each year on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card”, before the voiceover stated “what’s better than being at one with nature? How about being at two with nature?” The ASA considered that the voiceover in ad (b) posed as a British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card customer on holiday, and described in a satisfied and relaxed tone that they had made use of a Companion Voucher in order to travel to their desired destination. In that context, the ASA considered that consumers would understand the claim “2-for-1” in both ads to mean that if they were to spend £10,000 on the card over a 12-month period, they would qualify for a Companion Voucher which allowed two people to travel to their chosen destination via two British Airways reward flight tickets for the price of one ticket. However, the ASA understood that the “2-for-1” claim related only to the fare cost and not any added taxes, fees or carrier charges. It was therefore not possible for consumers to obtain two tickets for the amount it would cost them for one ticket.

While the ASA noted the words “Taxes, fees and carrier charges apply” in both ads, the ASA did not consider that to override the impression that customers were able purchase two tickets and
travel to their chosen destination for the price of one. The ASA welcomed the advertisers’ willingness to make changes to explain that those additional charges applied per person, but did not consider those changes would significantly alter how consumers would interpret the “2-for-1” claim. Consequently, because the ASA considered consumers would understand the claim “2-for-1” in both ads to mean that if they were to spend £10,000 on the card over a 12-month period, they would qualify for a Companion Voucher which allowed two people to travel to their chosen destination via two British Airways reward flight tickets for the price of one, and that was not the case, the ASA concluded that the claim was misleading.

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