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Expedia Australia penalised for misleading ‘puffery’

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The ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal recently ruled in favour of a consumer who had booked holiday accommodation via Expedia-owned travel website Wotif.

The consumer booked and paid for accommodation in Hawaii for his family, but when they arrived, they found the building was generally of a poor standard and the facilities were not what they were led to believe they would receive. Further, rather than the beach view they were expecting, their allocated room was in the basement.

They then approached Wotif for a refund due to the fact the accommodation was not as advertised on their website. Wotif sought a refund from the accommodation provider to no avail, and as a result, refused to refund the money in full themselves.

The consumer cancelled the booking and went elsewhere.Expedia Australia argued to the tribunal that they were not responsible for the accuracy of the advertisements on their Wotif website.

They maintained statements on their website claiming they were an online travel company with heaps of local knowledge that they used to track down fantastic travel deals, and that consumers could book with confidence, was puffery and therefore not to be relied on by consumers. They further claimed that statements in their terms of use negated those promotional statements.

The tribunal found “the applicant (consumer) was induced by the statements contained in the Wotif website to enter into the contract for accommodation with the accommodation provider” and “the respondents (Expedia Australia) engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and that the statements on its website caused the applicant to form an erroneous view and he was led into error. As a result of this he has suffered damage by the loss of the $628.34 paid… for accommodation that did not correspond to the description on the website”.

The tribunal ordered Expedia Australia Pty Ltd and Expedia Inc pay an amount of $709.34, which included damages of $628.34, and related fees of $81.00.

So what is puffery?

Puffery is wildly exaggerated, fanciful or vague claims that no reasonable person could possibly treat seriously or find misleading. For example, a
claim by a café owner that they make the best coffee in the world, or that all your dreams will come true if you use a certain product. 

Why can’t businesses rely on fine print?

Businesses cannot rely on disclaimers, disclosures or clarifications buried in fine print as an excuse for making misleading representations or engaging in deceptive conduct. Information in the fine print must not contradict the overall message of any advertising.

We recommend businesses prominently display all disclaimers, and any terms and conditions that apply to an offer, in close proximity to the headline statement and in equal prominence, to reduce the risk of the conduct being considered misleading or deceptive.

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