Sunwing Vacations contest winner challenges fine print on 'all-inclusive' prize
Tribunal rejects claim for compensation over $820 in fees attached to package prize
When Alan Bramley got a call from Sunwing Vacations telling him he'd won a trip to Mexico, he thought it was a scam.
The Surrey man went to the company's office, where he says an employee told him he really was a winner, and that — yes — there would be "no additional costs."
Much to Bramley's surprise, when he went to book his trip months later, he found out the tally of the associated fees and tax would be $820 — nearly 40 per cent of the vacation's actual value. In the end, he chose not to go.
Nearly two years and one losing legal battle later, Bramley says he still believes that when it comes to contests and prizes, 'free' really should mean free.
"Congratulations, you've won something for free: Cough up this cash," Bramley says.
"What's free about that?"
Not advertised as being 'free'
Bramley says he's considering appealing a decision from B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal last week dismissing his claim for the cash equivalent of his "all-inclusive" vacation prize and the associated taxes and fees he refused to pay.
In a statement, Sunwing Vacations says the prize was not advertised as being "free" and that terms and conditions — including associated costs — were available to entrants at the time of entry.
The company says it offered to absorb half Bramley's airline taxes and surcharges as a "goodwill gesture."
"We regret that the prize winner was disappointed and felt that the terms and conditions were not clear," the company says.
"However we are confident that proper care was taken to illustrate the terms and conditions at the time of entry."
Terms and conditions
In his tribunal claim, Bramley argued that Sunwing should be held to the mistaken claim of its employee.
He entered the draw in August 2016 at the company's SellOffVacations.com's Abbotsford Airshow booth — where the company claimed a complete set of rules were kept near to the entry box.
The entry form itself also referred entrants to the company's website for terms and conditions.
But Bramley claimed it was impossible for him to know that "because the only place that the website is shown is on the entry form that went into the ... contest box."
In the first part of her decision, tribunal chair Shelley Lopez found "nothing prevented" Bramley from asking about the rules. As such, she said that by choosing to enter he accepted the contest's conditions — taxes and fees included.
That left the mistaken advice.
A 'common mistake'
According to the tribunal decision, Sunwing agreed that "its agent mistakenly told the applicant that the vacation prize won was inclusive of any taxes." The ruling says the company later sent him a letter apologizing for the error.
But Lopez said none of that amounted to an enforceable new contract.
She also found the situation fell into a range of circumstances known as "the law of mistake" in contract law. She said both Bramley and the agent were working on misconceptions — something known as a "common mistake."
"I recognize the applicant was concerned about added expenses, and that is why he made the inquiries he did," Lopez wrote.
"However, the parties' later common mistake about 'no additional costs' does not entitle (him) to the vacation's value."
Bramley said he still feels disappointed.
"I'm just flabbergasted at the decision. I think it's a crazy decision to come up with," he says.
"If someone tells you it's free and they're the agent for the company, then how is that a mistake? It's not a mistake, they've given you wrong information. They should stand by it."
Sunwing says the prize remains open to Bramley "should he still decide to take it up in the coming months."