What if you could take advantage of Italian law to beat airlines at their own game? The possibilities are fascinating.
In theory, you can book a multi-city airline ticket “in” Italy on any airline, then skip whatever segments you want without ramifications. Practically, you can do this for a number of airlines including Alitalia, Emirates, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways.
For simplicity, let’s focus on Lufthansa here. As noted by God Save the Points, in 2017 the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) held that customers were not properly informed of the penalties for missing a flight segment. While legacy carriers will cancel the remainder of your flight segments after missing one, budget carriers like Ryanair allow you to skip a segment and fly the remainder of the itinerary.
This created consumer confusion and Italian authorities determined that airlines like Lufthansa did not clearly reveal to customers the penalties for missing a flight. Rather than just simply require clearer disclosure, the AGCM mandated that airlines allow passengers to skip segments at no cost, as long as they notify the airline in a timely manner.
Thus, Lufthansa now explicitly offers this possibility:
Passengers holding a Lufthansa ticket issued in Italy (via LH.com/IT, LH ticket counter, LH call center or at a travel agency) may use the original booked return flight, out of sequence without recalculation and extra payment, even if the outbound section has not been used. In this case, please call the Lufthansa Customer Relations team latest 24 hours after the planned first ticketed flight segment.
Although Lufthansa tries to couch its policy in “outbound” and “return” language, the Italian regulation actually prescribes that if you skip one segment, further segments cannot be cancelled. That opens up some interesting possibilities.
How This Works In Practice
Airline pricing is rarely correlated to distance flown. A Lufthansa flight from Milan to Frankfurt to New York is often cheaper than a ticket from Frankfurt to New York alone. In some cases, a round-trip ticket from Europe to the United States is cheaper than a one-way ticket from U.S. to Europe.
So think of the possibilities. Say you’re in Frankfurt and want to travel to New York nonstop. Tickets can be pricey during the summer months:
But when you start in Milan, where Lufthansa will offer a far lower price if you are willing to connect in Frankfurt:
Note the flights between Frankfurt and New York above are the same flights and on the same dates in both itineraries. Under Italian law, you can book the second ticket on Lufthansa’s Italian website, skip the Milan to Frankfurt segment, call Lufthansa to let them know, and fly from Frankfurt to New York at a fraction of the cost.
In theory. I just have to add that warning. So often, we see rules and regulations on the book only to see them ignored or openly flouted. Although the AGCM has determined that airlines operating in Europe must abide by these rules, if Lufthansa decides not to abide by them it will be up to consumers to fight back. Most may not consider it worth the effort. I have not tried this “loophole” personally.
I focus on Lufthansa because the German airline made a fool of itself (in my assessment) by suing a passenger in Berlin for essentially do the same thing. Lufthansa lost on procedural grounds, but the idea that airlines can punish consumers for taking advantage of pricing loopholes is a waning legal theory.
My example above is draconian, but there are even more draconian examples available. Technically, the ticket does not even have to touch Italy for these rules to apply. Instead, it must simply be booked through an Italian booking channel. Thus, my example above could have been London to Frankfurt to New York or Oslo to Frankfurt to New York.
I strongly doubt this is what the Italian authorities were intending to protect. The AGCM probably thought it was just protecting passengers who only wanted to use the return portion of their one-way ticket. But for better or for worse (and I say better, since only airlines get away with charging more for A than A + B), there are all sorts of arbitrage opportunities with this Italian rule.
Which Airlines Abide By AGCM Ruling
While theoretically this applies to all airlines operating within Italy, American Airlines and British Airways have chosen not to respect the authority’s decree. These carriers risk fine for their actions, but have taken the position that the risk of fine is a better alternative than rolling over to passenger manipulation.
But the following carriers have explicitly said you can skip a segment and call to protect the remainder of the itinerary:
I am not necessarily encouraging you to take advantage of this Italian regulation in such an egregious way as my example above. You must consider the risks of doing so. But I do like pointing out these opportunities since airlines, generally speaking, use every trick in the book to punish passengers with strict rules and harsh fees. This just evens the playing field a little bit.