Holiday promises

Travel Web sites from around the world are misleading customers by advertising special offers that do not exist and quoting prices way lower than are actually available, according to the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) in the UK.

The research, part of the fifth 'global internet sweep' on travel sites, identified well over 1,000 problem sites throughout the world.

"The Internet is a valuable resource for consumers. Online shoppers must have the same protection afforded by the high street and, if traders breach fair trading law, OFT will pursue them," said OFT chairman John Vickers.

Some of the claims being investigated under the Control of Misleading Adverts regulations include:

-- an advertisement stating 'Australia £599' when the cheapest price available was £891.60; -- an offer of seven nights in Austria in March for £99 when the cheapest price was £259; -- a hotel offer of £64 per night when the true cost was nearer £130.

But Abta (the Association of British Travel Agents) puts this problem down to the simple fact that special offers sell so quickly that companies simply don't have time to constantly update their sites.

"We do regular spot-checks on the websites of all of our members. When we come across [these problems] we generally discover that the offer pricing was correct but had simply been sold earlier that day. In most cases there is no intent to mislead," said Abta's spokesman.

Under Abta's code of conduct any member who intentionally misleads customers can be reprimanded or indeed fined -- and there is no limit on the amount of this penalty payment.

Local Trading Standards offices in the UK are investigating all of "the potentially deceptive, misleading or false claims" made by UK companies.

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Wendy Brewer

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