Does Italian law mean you can book a cheap BA ticket from Milan but get on in London?

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We cover ex-EU flights deals (cheap flights which start in a European country, not the UK) now and again on Head for Points, although they are not for everyone.  There are two types of ex-EU deal if you live in the UK:

saving money (not on BA) by starting your trip outside the UK, which is usually cheaper because you avoid long-haul UK Air Passenger Duty (up to £160) and because other markets generally have fewer corporate travellers willing to pay full fare

saving money on BA flights by starting your trip outside the UK, which involves flying back to London and then onwards to your final destination.  This is cheaper because you avoid long-haul APD and because BA has to price these indirect trips cheaply to compete with direct flights from the same cities. 

As a random example of the latter, take a look at this article we ran last week showing £1,150 British Airways Club World return flights to Cape Town, as long as you start in Amsterdam.

Of course, flying to your European starting point costs time and money.  I did a few trips like this when I was single, because I was happy to trade the time for the money saved and the extra Avios and tier points earned.  There is no way, however, that I would drag my wife and children around Europe on a similar route.

You MUST, MUST, MUST take the first leg of your flight.  If you book Amsterdam – Heathrow – Cape Town and just turn up at Heathrow, you’re stuffed.  Your entire itinerary will have been cancelled when you failed to board the flight in Amsterdam.

But has Italian law thrown all this into disarray?

Take a look at this article.

In June 2017, British Airways and Etihad were each fined a whopping €1 million for not telling customers that they would NOT lose their entire booking if they missed the first leg when flying from Italy.

It appears that Italian law does not allow airlines to cancel the rest of your journey if you fail to take the first flight.  The article makes it clear that this applies both to multi-leg outward trips and return trips.

Italian law does not give you, the passenger, carte blanche however.  You must notify the airline of your intention to fly the subsequent parts of your ticket within 24 hours of the original departure time (two hours for a round trip same-day ticket).

If you do this, and your ticket was sold in Italy, the airline is obliged to let you continue your trip.

Here is an example in practice

Take a look at this page of the Qatar Airways website.

It tells passengers who have bought tickets in Italy that they can ring a specific number, or email a specific inbox, within 24 hours of their original flight and have the rest of the ticket reinstated.

What does this mean?

I am not a European aviation lawyer.  Let’s get that clear from the start.

However, the implication here is that you could potentially book a cheap Milan – London – XXXXXX business class ticket on British Airways, and not bother to take the first flight.

All you would have to do is call BA after the departure of the first leg and insist they reinstate the remaining flights.  You could then turn up at Heathrow and jump on as usual, having made a substantial saving.

One potential risk is the definition of “a ticket sold in Italy”.  Flights booked on from Italy will probably be ticketed locally but can you be certain of this? Is there a way of knowing where the “sale” took place?  You could, of course, use an Italian travel agent or Italian website to make your booking which would ensure it was “sold” in Italy.

Let’s be very clear ….

I am NOT recommending you go out and try this.  I am simply highlighting the fact that Italian law seems to imply that it should be possible.  However, I am NOT going to be taking a risk here and I don’t recommend that you do either, unless you are brave (or on a fully flexible ticket!).  I’m sure at some point we will find out one or the other whether it is possible.

Thanks to Ben for the Qatar link.

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  1. FlightDoctor says:

    I’ve used ex-EU flights over the last 3 years to fly in J on family holidays to the US and Middle East. The cost has often been no more than Y direct from London for the same flights! The savings have easily covered the cost of the extra positioning flights to a European city, one or two nights in a hotel and all the sightseeing costs, meaning that my kids have experienced such diverse cities as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Dublin and Paris. In addition all family members have earned 360 TPs and a ton of Avios, and all of my family members have attained Bronze status as a result, as well as helping me to keep my Gold status.
    The only pain to be frank is the return leg, when you arrive at LHR tired off a long haul flight and, instead of driving home, have to hang around and take another flight back to the original European city. On three occasions we have then collected our bags and immediately checked them back in again for the final flight back to LHR – this proved VERY tiring and this year we elected instead to stay a night at an airport hotel before flying back.
    It does mean 6 flights in total but I feel the family have really benefited from the additional “city breaks” and only once did a checked bag not make it bag (it arrived 3 days later!)

    • Not sure I understand. You arrive at Heathrow, and carry on to your original departure point ? Why not collect your bags and drive straight home ?

      • because in general your bags are tagged through to the final destination. BA generally won’t short check and it can be a palaver to get your bags back. Other airlines have different policies but there does seem to be a reluctance to short check.

        At AMS and CDG respectively KL and AF do have it in their terms and conditions that they will charge something like €250 per bag to retrieve bags that have been tagged through to final destination.

        Also if you want / need the tier points then you need to fly.

        But there are ways to avoid having to to the final 2 flights immediately after a long haul

        • Yes, i know that, but he said on three occasions checked bags back in. Should have routed Gatwick back.

      • Collect your bags at final destination.

    • You don’t have to do the final leg immediately. Schedule it for a few weeks or months later which is what I recently did when I did an ex-EU to JFK in July and ‘completed’ my trip last week with a long weekend in AMS using the return leg of my initial positioning flight and the last leg of the ex-eu trip.

      It did increase the cost slightly of the ex-EU trip but it was worth it not to do extra flights when all I wanted was my bed.

  2. I’m another one who’s happy to spend a day faffing round to get a cheaper trip, no issues at all as long as it fits my schedule.

    BA is already wise to this Italian thing though and is working to change Point of Sale to Point of Commencement precisely because of it. It’ll take time to make the IT changes but what it’ll mean in practice is that your contract will be for carriage from a particular country.

    • Isn’t that still illegal to cancel the next flight though? Ie a layman’s interpretation of the law is that if they contract the point of commencement as binding that in itself is breach of Italian law.
      Would be an interesting case to take.

  3. Phil Gollings says:

    It is worth flying to any European destination not to fly BA.
    Every other business class product i have been on is far superior (American, delta, Qatar, Emirates, Cathay) and much cheaper. Some also have staff that want to provide you some service too, not just sleep all night

  4. On the vaguely related subject of law and airlines…

    I think media organisations will simply have to buy a share for each reporter, and O’Leary will have to let them attend the AGM.

    So this is just messing people around.

  5. It would be extremely brave for BA not to honour this.
    A successful challenge in court for denied boarding for a family holiday could easily see them held liable for very substantial costs, potentially full cost of holiday voided plus cost of buying back another x days holiday in order to reschedule to another time. Easily tens of thousands just for one family.

  6. Richard M says:

    Presumably when you contact BA to reinstate the flights, they would legally be within their rights to levy the additional Air Passenger Duty for a London departure?

  7. Does the itinerary have to start in Italy as well as have been sold there ?

    You can use a VPN to appear to be in Italy when you buy.

  8. Shoestring says:

    You could always claim back the cost of the inbound flight if you miss the outward and the whole ticket gets cancelled

  9. I have been doing these ex- flights for a while now with wife and son in tow. For example this Xmas we have flights from Copenhagen-LHR-Florida and Florida-LHR-CPH for £260pp Economy. Leaving from London was £800pp.

    Apart from just leaving plane in LHR if you have hand luggage, make sure your stopover in LHR is over 6 hours (say you are going sightseeing) so bags will be checked to LHR then its your responsibility to re-check. Another thing to note is you can sometimes add a free 24 hour stopover in LHR and then totally miss last leg.

  10. tempted to try this with flights from Milan to Hong Kong via London on Virgin – first leg is a BA flight though, so unsure who to contact to cancel the first leg.

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