The airline is selling two different products that share a common component.

Question: It seems that British Airways is overcharging UK passengers while giving non-UK passengers tickets at a lower price. I'm looking to get to Sydney in a few weeks, flying in business class on BA.

I've found that if I begin my journey in Malta, rather than Heathrow, I can save in the region of £1 000 (about R18 000).

My question on this is twofold. What happens if I ignore the first leg from Malta and check in at Heathrow? And if the rules do not allow option, then I should book an Air Malta from Heathrow to Malta to comply with BA rules?

Steve T, Twickenham


Answer: You're right about the fare discrepancy. The BA Club World fare for early August flying on BA's daily one-stop link from Heathrow to Sydney is £3 987 return. Book from Malta, and that falls by £1 100 - a cut of 28 percent - even though an extra flight from and to Malta is added.

It is certainly the case that BA is “giving non-UK passengers tickets at a lower price” but I don't agree that “BA is overcharging UK passengers”.

The airline is selling two different products that share a common component: a comfortable flight covering 10 600 miles between Heathrow and Sydney. But the total trip from Malta is significantly different to that from London, which is a smooth, direct service on a premium airline.

From Malta, the deal involves a complicated journey, including transferring from Gatwick to Heathrow at your own expense.

What's going on here? Well, in BA's perfect world the airline would sell out its Club World cabin every day to passengers who are starting or ending their journey at Heathrow and are prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege. But, like other network airlines, it knows the market will not sustain this optimum outcome. So BA sells off some seats to Sydney that would otherwise go empty by cutting the price to travellers from many European airports who are prepared to tolerate inconvenience.

From Malta, BA is in competition with Emirates, which offers a smooth one-stop connection to Sydney via Dubai. The business-class fare is £4 000-plus, much higher than BA's £2 880. The same technique is employed by many other carriers. If you care to check the price of an Air France Paris-New York trip, I bet that adding on a Heathrow-Paris leg at the start and end of the journey will cut the fare.

So what happens if you buy the Malta-Sydney ticket? Well, if you then “ignore the first leg from Malta and check in at Heathrow”, you won't be allowed on board. In accordance with BA terms, if you fail to show up for one leg, the rest of the trip is cancelled.

You could certainly book a separate Air Malta trip out to the island, and if you want to spend some time in this fascinating destinations then that seems an excellent plan. But to fly out from Heathrow to Malta simply in order to come back to Gatwick and endure an expensive bus trip around the M25 looks like going to extreme lengths for the pleasure of flying on British Airways to Sydney. Even for avid collectors of Avios - BA's frequent-flyer currency - might baulk at the prospect.

You might prefer to go for business class on a simple one-stop from Heathrow on a less-recognised airline, such as Air China, Philippine Airlines or Vietnam Airlines. Depending on the exact dates, you could find something for as little as £2 000 - barely half the BA price.