As travel restrictions lift, many UK residents are looking to travel abroad — but the cost and reliability of COVID-19 testing in the country have been called into question.
The UK is the second most expensive country for PCR tests, with travelers paying an average of 92 pounds ($127) according to research from Admiral travel insurance. For the tests required before and after traveling to red and amber list countries, this means an average additional cost for your holiday of 184 pounds ($255) per person — 552 pounds ($764) for a family of four.
More than 100 of the providers on the government’s list of those which meet minimum standards are charging 200 pounds ($277) or more for testing.
“Our research shows prices for PCR tests vary significantly between countries and UK residents seem to be forking out a lot more in comparison to people living overseas,” says Cosmin Sabru, head of travel insurance at Admiral.
Madeleine, a student traveling home from the Netherlands paid nearly 400 pounds ($554) for tests.
“It was outrageous because I wasn’t on holiday, I was returning back to the UK from studying,” she says. “I felt like I was being punished for something out of my control.”
Other UK travelers told Euronews that some government-approved testers were using "bait and switch" tactics to charge more. In one case, they found that available tests were five times the price of cheaper tests they were unable to book.
Conservative MP Henry Smith, who chairs the Future of Aviation All-Party Parliamentary Group has called for a 40 pounds ($55) cap on the cost of testing. He says that UK holidaymakers are having to “pay through the nose for a battery of tests that on average still cost around 100 pounds ($139) per traveler”.
“The real risk is that air travel becomes the preserve only of the wealthy, for whom adding 400 pounds ($554) to the cost of a family week in Spain is no big deal,” Smith wrote in The Telegraph.
Last week, UK health secretary Sajid Javid wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) about issues with the price and quality of service from test providers.
“I know that for too many people the cost of PCR testing can act as a barrier, especially for families who want to travel together,” he wrote.
“We have all experienced enormous disruption to our lives over this pandemic but it is not right if some families experience yet further disruption unnecessarily because of potentially unfair practices in the market for private travel tests.”
CMA chief executive, Andrea Coscelli said the watchdog is “aware of concerns” about price, quality of service and what happens when things go wrong with COVID
-19 tests for international travelers.
Despite promises to probe issues with pricing and quality, it could be bad news for those looking to travel this summer. The CMA chief said that they “recognize this is a very live issue, impacting consumers now,” but are looking to “respond within the next month”.
How can you avoid paying more for PCR testing in UK?
Before you travel, it is best to check the testing requirements for your destination and make sure you have the correct paperwork before jetting off. Sabru advises that you should book PCR tests as soon as possible to get the best price.
“To make savings, compare the prices between approved UK providers to check you’re paying the standard rate and not being overcharged for the service,” he says.
“Selecting a bundle package that includes all the travel tests required to go abroad will also help to reduce the additional costs, and shopping around is one of the best ways to find a good deal whether that’s with your holiday provider or airline”
He adds that to avoid being caught out and scammed, travelers should always check that a provider is properly regulated before booking any tests with them.