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The ads appeared on Stuff in error (Image: Archi Banal)
The ads appeared on Stuff in error (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyJanuary 19, 2024

Stuff blocks airline ads promoting $79 flights to Rio de Janeiro

The ads appeared on Stuff in error (Image: Archi Banal)
The ads appeared on Stuff in error (Image: Archi Banal)

The adverts for Latam Airlines appeared in error, the news website says. So how much would it actually cost you to travel to South America? 

News website Stuff has blocked adverts appearing on its homepage that purported to show flights could be purchased to South America for as low as $79. 

The Latam Airlines ads were visible on Thursday this week, but disappeared after inquiries from The Spinoff. 

The ads, which ran just below the top section of Stuff’s front page, appeared to show that tickets to Rio de Janeiro on the Chilean airline were available for an unbelievably reasonable $79. If you were feeling spendy, a ticket to Buenos Aires or Mendoza would set you back a mere $144. 

A screenshot of the ad on Stuff

It seemed like a deal too good to be true, given a quick search on Flight Centre suggested a one-way ticket to Rio from Auckland would typically cost upwards of $1,500. 

And perhaps unsurprisingly, it was. Upon clicking on the Latam ads, potential customers hoping to score a once-in-a-lifetime deal were informed that in reality it would cost over US$700 – or close to NZ$1,200 – for a one-way ticket to Rio if you were departing Auckland. 

A Stuff spokesperson told The Spinoff they were aware of the adverts. They had appeared on the site as a “programmatic ad buy” and were not a “direct booking” with Latam Airlines, the news outlet said.

“We believe it is an error with either the overseas agency or client incorrectly adding New Zealand as a part of an Australian regional buy,” the spokesperson said.

“We’ve blocked the ad and are endeavouring to contact the advertiser to let them know their targeting is off.”

But while the ad was unfortunately not accurate, it prompted the question: could you still claim the vastly discounted price advertised? It’s a common belief that retailers have to honour pricing errors.

Nobody from Latam Airlines responded to The Spinoff’s request for comment, but Consumer NZ’s communications and campaigns adviser Abby Damen said the airline was responsible for ensuring its adverts were accurate and did not mislead people. 

“It’s important that advertising is honest and accurate because this builds and upholds trust,” Damen told The Spinoff. 

“If you come across misleading advertisements – whether in print or online – we recommend complaining to The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).”

Unfortunately, retailers are not bound to honour pricing errors unless the transaction has already gone through. As advice on the Consumer Protection website states, “if a price is advertised or displayed incorrectly at a substantially lower price, the trader doesn’t have to sell at that price”. However, if you have been undercharged, you can’t be forced to pay the extra amount after the sale is completed (with some minor exceptions).

But if a retailer displays incorrect prices repeatedly or for a long time, there could be a breach of the Fair Trading Act. In August last year, the Commerce Commission was asked to investigate reports of “dodgy” supermarket pricing which Consumer believed could be a breach of the Fair Trading Act.

If you were hoping to head on a holiday for a mere $79, here are some more realistic suggestions. Air New Zealand’s Grabaseat has limited tickets to Wellington or Christchurch for within the budgeted price on selected dates. Regional options available for $79 or less also include New Plymouth, Napier and Palmerston North (which has often been labelled the Rio de Janeiro of New Zealand). 

If you wanted a more leisurely trip, $79 would just about fill up my 2007 Honda Fit. On a full tank of gas, you can comfortably make it as far south as the metropolis of Foxton. 

One place you couldn’t travel: Rio de Janeiro.

Keep going!