Sunday 2 November 2008

Full disclosure in travel ads came too late for me

From yesterday onwards, travel agencies are required by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore to disclose the full cost of travel in their advertisements.

And not a moment soon, but about a week too late because I had already booked my first family vacation last Sunday – under great duress.

You see, I have a sister studying in Seoul. So I thought, hey, why not take the kids to visit their aunt in Korea this school holiday?

So I searched the newspapers for the best travel deal. My budget was $1K per person for my family of four – that was how naive I was.

I saw this huge ad for a Chan Brothers event at Suntec City, offering a number of Korea tour packages for under $900, right within my budget.

Except the price of the tour I was interested in was listed as “from $868”, which meant the actual price would be more. How much more? Who knew?

But I figured I had enough wriggle room in my budget to cover the difference.

My one concern was that the price in the ad was crossed out. What the hell did that mean?

But if the purpose of the ad was to get people to attend the event, it worked. Because that was exactly what I did – along with thousands of others.

Recession? What recession?

Because of the crowd, my first instinct was to say forget it and go do some shopping at the Suntec City Mall with the inflation-beating Snip & Save coupons from this very paper you’re reading.

But then I rationalised that since I was already there, I might as well just wait for my turn to speak to an agent. Besides, I had a mission to accomplish and I couldn’t let the family down.

It took almost exactly an hour before I was able to sit in front of an agent and wearily ask how much the $868 tour package would cost for two adults and two children.

The agent looked up some figures, did some sums and showed me the total price on her calculator: $5,328.

Oh. My. God.

I just wanted to curl up in a foetal position and cry mummy.

The amount was way beyond my budget and then some. It was nowhere near $868 per person.

I should’ve just gone shopping.

But I had already wasted an hour waiting. I was tired, worn down and now reeling from the biggest sticker shock of my life.

I simply didn’t have the strength to say no.

Why couldn’t my sister have just gone to study in JB?

- Published in The New Paper, 2 Novoember 2008

WE REFER to SM Ong's column, 'Full disclosure in travel ads came too late for me' (The New Paper on Sunday, 2Nov).

Mr Ong made a purchase with us totalling $5,328 for two adults and two children for the '6-day Fun-filled Korea Package Tour'.

His total price should be broken down into the following:
- $1,088 per adult x two adults
- $908 per child with bed
- $848 per child without bed

Airport taxes, airline fuel and insurance surcharges $349 per person x four persons.

Mr Ong's adult price varied from the advertised price of $868 (slashed due to a further $20 discount) due to the shoulder season surcharges for both airfare and land components amounting to $240 per person.

However, had he chosen the earlier available departure date of 9Nov, he would have obtained the lower than advertised price of $848 per adult, excluding airport taxes, airlines fuel and insurance surcharges.

Had Mr Ong requested for travel during the peak season, the peak season surcharges would have been even higher than the shoulder season surcharges that he paid.

We need to highlight at this juncture that these surcharges are not imposed or determined by us, the travel agents who play the middleman role, but by the principal suppliers such as airlines and hotels.

As travel packages are a combination of air and land components, there is no one-price-fits-all as flights/accommodations have varying charges for different departure dates.

The 'from $XXX' is an indication of the best possible deal a customer could obtain should their travel arrangements fit the relevant promotional requirements, being the departure date of 9 Nov in the above case.

Additionally, airport taxes and airlines surcharges are subject to constant fluctuations depending on exchange rates and oil prices.

These costs are adjusted by the airlines as and when necessary and can be as frequent as thrice a week, hence we are unable to fix a flat fee for these components and factor them into our tour prices.

With so many price components and variables inflicted by the principal suppliers, and so many possible combinations in flight and land arrangements for a single travel package, the 'from $XXX' is really only an indicative lowest price of the package tour.

The most accurate price can only be ascertained when the traveller conveys his full travel requirements to us.

As much as we would like to display more price information in our advertisements, we are constrained by the high advertising costs.

However, we offer various channels through which a customer may obtain further information, for example, our website, our hotlines or our sales offices.

For customers who find fighting the value-hunting crowd at our travel fairs too daunting, we always encourage them to head to our sales offices prior to make enquiries or bookings.

That said, we do appreciate hearing from our valued customers as their interest is our topmost priority.

Complying with the Advertising and Standards Authority of Singapore's new guidelines, we will be including airport taxes, airlines fuel and insurance charges in our subsequent advertisements, although these prices are but still only indicative prices at best.

We sincerely thank Mr Ong for his patience and continued support.

Jane Chang,
Marketing Communications,
Chan Brothers Pte Ltd