Michael O’Leary scores victory in Ryanair’s battle with ‘pirate’ travel agent eDreams

Michael O'Leary has fought to block what it calls 'pirate' agents
Michael O'Leary has fought to block what it calls 'pirate' agents - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Ryanair has won a victory in a long-running battle with online travel agent eDreams, whose bid to force it to open up ticket sales was blocked by competition authorities.

Italian regulator AGCM has refused eDreams’ request for an injunction against Ryanair, which would have forced the Irish carrier to let eDreams sell tickets to its flights.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief, said the watchdog had seen through eDreams’s “false claims” that the airline’s policy of selling flights direct to customers posed a danger to competition.

The Irish company has fought for years to block what it calls “pirate” agents from selling tickets on its flights at what it contends are vastly inflated prices. Ryanair claims platforms have duped customers who could book cheaper tickets through its own website. It claims online agents have added hidden markups on fares, baggage and seats.

eDreams has in the past said it is “fundamentally incorrect to make like-for-like comparisons” between ticket prices charged by airlines and online travel agents. It has defended its prices, saying it offers “a gateway to the entire global travel market, granting customers access to a significantly broader range of options and price points”.

Ryanair has signed distribution pacts with five online firms plus tour operator TUI since the start of 2024. The Irish company claimed the spate of deals came after a boycott of its flights by agents at the end of last year ended up hurting them more.

The agreements mean agents can charge a fee but must make Ryanair’s prices fully visible. In turn, customers will no longer need to navigate a verification process and will have direct access to their booking and updates, rather than having to go through the agent.

eDreams, Booking.com and Opodo are the last major holdouts against Ryanair.

The AGCM ruling is part of a broader examination of Ryanair’s ticketing policy in Italy. It came after the Milan Court of Appeal ruled in January that the airline’s direct sales policy helps keep down costs and lower fares.

Having dismissed the injunction, Mr O’Leary said the regulator should now take action to protect Italian consumers against overcharging by remaining agents.

Ryanair is keen to expand in Italy, which was once largely closed to competition as Rome sought to protect failed national carrier Alitalia. It may get a chance to do so: Alitalia’s successor ITA is preparing to give up airport slots in the country as the EU’s price for allowing investment from Germany’s Lufthansa.