Airline web sites use misleading price indications

16. October 2007

As part of his involvement in the EU Consumer Protection Cooperation network (CPC), the Danish Consumer Ombudsman recently swept a number of online airline sites in a joint action with his European colleagues. Approximately half the websites failed to comply with the law on central counts such as accurate price indications or terms of contract.

Ads promising cheap flights are a common sight everywhere – who wouldn’t want to go to Rome for € 40 one way? However, before the customer finalizes the booking process, the ticket is likely to have turned more expensive than expected due to taxes, fees and other surcharges added to the advertised price. But that is a no go; the price advertised must be the full price, that is, the price including all taxes and charges.

The aim of the sweep, in which several European consumer authorities participated, was to check up on whether airlines comply with the rules on price indications. The investigation of the websites took its point of departure in a booking to see if the fare price changes during the booking process.

The investigation included websites whose marketing activities were targeted to Danish consumers by use of the Danish language or by quoting prices in DKK, the Danish currency. Most of the airlines investigated are located in the EU, but a few national airlines were included in the sweep as well.

The results of the sweep

A total of 62 websites were visited by Danish Consumer Ombudsman staff. Nearly half the websites, 29 in all, contain minor or major offences of the Danish Marketing Practices Act on price indications.

The offences were primarily related to:

- Misleading price indications, especially in relation to the concept of “total price”
The Consumer Ombudsman holds the opinion that the first price introduced to the consumer in the booking process should be total price including all charges and taxes. Several airlines did not show the full or total price until later in the process.

-Unfair terms of contract
Some sites feature pre-ticked travel insurances which the consumer encounters in the booking process. Tacit agreement, which it is called, is considered an unfair term of contract in that the consumer has to actively opt out of receiving the service as he or she has otherwise accepted the offer.

Some websites also contain pre-ticked newsletter and offer boxes.

‘The results of the sweep are unfortunately not that surprising’, says the Consumer Ombudsman, Henrik Øe.

‘I know that my European colleagues have similar problems with airline companies. But the new supervision framework in the EU concerning consumer legislation has paved the way for better enforcement’, Henrik Øe concludes.

The Consumer Ombudsman is currently assessing the need for further investigation and enforcement actions, nationally as well as via the network in the EU.

For many years the Consumer Ombudsman has worked to enhance consumer protection in the EU as well as internationally.

CPC (Consumer Protection Cooperation) is the practical ramification of the EU Regulation, which establishes formal and binding cooperation procedures between the European enforcement authorities. The Consumer Ombudsman monitors compliance with a number of directives underlying European consumer legislation.  

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