The advertising watchdog has blasted Ryanair for misleading customers with an advert for cheap flights that many would not qualify for. It rapped the airline for not including charges for debit and credit cards in the price, because any effort to avoid the charges could force them to miss out on the deal.
So why was the Advertising Standards Agency so unimpressed, and will it persuade Ryanair to change its ways?
MisleadingThe major problem is that after much wrangling, discount flight operators now have to include the cost of all unavoidable charges and fees in the headline prices when they advertise. It means things like taxes, fuel surcharges, charges for using the seats, breathing charges and anything else the airline sees fit to invent, have to be included in the price.
A ruling by the Office of Fair Trading, forced all 12 budget airlines, including Ryanair, to include debit card charges in headline prices where they were unavoidable. Ryanair responded by introducing a Ryanair payment card - which consumers have to pay for.
This advert therefore omitted the charge for debit cards, on the grounds that they could be avoided. In its defence Ryanair pointed out that although the Ryanair Cash Passport cost £6 up-front, it could be redeemed immediately against the cost of any flight, and that so far every single person who had taken up the card had used the £6 voucher within the six month deadline (after which it expires).
RulingHowever, the ASA took issue with this on two fronts. First, you can't just go online, get a Cash Passport, and book a flight all in one go, you need to wait until the card is delivered to you. The deal being advertised was due to run out at midnight three days after the ad was printed. The ASA said: "We were therefore concerned that that delay may result in consumers being unable to obtain the advertised price."
The second problem as far as the ASA is concerned is that if you get a Cash Passport, you have to immediately load £150 onto it in order to use it - and there are charges. It said: "We considered such details to be material information which the consumer needed in order to make an informed decision about the advertised price."
Will Ryanair change?The advert was therefore banned. The question is whether it will make the slightest bit of difference to the way Ryanair does business.
Ryanair is no stranger to the ASA. Over the past five years it has had more than 25 adverts banned.
It has been hauled over the coals for all sorts of things. In addition to a host of complaints about all sorts of fees not included in the headline price, there are also a number of odder adverts that the watchdog has not been impressed with.
In February this year it had an advert of a woman in bra and pants claiming 'Red hot fares and crew' banned for being offensive. The following month it was rapped for running adverts which suggested Thomas Cook was on the brink of administration. Last year it was in trouble for running an advert calling people to 'Book to the sun now' when none of the destinations were terribly warm at the time when the flights were available.
So will this advert change Ryanair's approach?
The good news is that in future, in order to get around more grief from the ASA it is likely to put these extra things in the small print. However, given that this is Ryanair, and given that Michael O'Leary branded the ASA as a "bunch of complete idiots" after it was rapped for being offensive to women, you can guarantee this won't be the last run-in between the airline and the watchdog.