Holidaymakers are being misled by a government travel website where Covid tests are advertised for as little as £25 that in reality cost more than double that.
Companies that are listed on the official portal try to draw in tourists by claiming to offer the cheapest prices for tests, but fail to include shipping and other costs in the advertised price.
It means that a family of four hoping to pay a total of £100 for four tests is likely to pay a minimum of £172.
The average cost of tests listed on the government portal is £173, meaning a total cost for four people of £692, according to analysis for The Telegraph.
Robert Boyle, former chief strategist for British Airways, who carried out the research, said the Government’s travel site created the “illusion of choice and competition”, even though the 396 suppliers listed on the site all use just a handful of private laboratories to process the tests.
Anyone travelling to a green list country, such as Iceland, Malta or Singapore, must take a test in the three days before they return home, and then take another test within two days of arriving back in the UK.
From Monday, the same rules will apply to tourists visiting amber list countries – such as France, Spain and Italy – as long as they have been double vaccinated, though they will still have to abide by whatever local rules are imposed by the country they are visiting.
Steps you need to take to travel
With a minimum of two Covid tests per person required for anyone travelling to a green or amber list country, tourists are desperate to find the lowest possible prices for tests in order to keep their holidays affordable.
However, prices advertised by some of the test providers listed on the site can be misleading at best and deliberately deceptive at worst, Mr Boyle’s research shows.
Many of the providers advertise “prices from” a certain amount, which are not the eventual price most customers will pay.
To get the lowest prices, holidaymakers have to travel to a testing site, which is likely to be impractical for many tourists and will mean incurring travel costs to get there.
Some tests which are advertised for £25 under the “at home” testing section actually cost £55 for a single test when postage and other costs are included in the final price.
One firm, 123tests.co.uk, offers an “at home” test for £26, but the price only applies if users pick up the test themselves from a site in East Sussex. Anyone who wants to get the test delivered to their home will have to pay £75.
The cheapest “real world” price for an at-home test is £36, from Expert Medicals, though once again, the advertised price of £28 does not include postage at £8.
Another firm offers a single at-home PCR test for £30, with the caveat that shipping is “calculated at checkout”. The cheapest shipping option is £35.45, meaning the actual cost of the test is £65.45.
Mr Boyle said: “For the most part, the only competition that is going on is for which reseller can conjure up the cleverest way to present a low headline price and get themselves to the top of the ‘low price’ ranking on the government site.
“Customers are not initially shown what the actual cost of the test will be by the time they’ve completed their purchase.”
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has quoted figures from the government website when challenged about the high cost of testing, saying prices “are no longer the hundreds of pounds quoted in the spring”.
He even told Parliament that “I think the cheapest I saw was £4.95”, but no such deals exist on the government website.
The average price of tests listed on the government website is £173, with the most expensive firms advertising “prices from £399” for a single test.
Firms often charge more than double the cost of a single test for a package that includes a day 2 and day 8 test (which are currently required for return from amber list countries, though the day 8 test will be dropped from Monday) suggesting they are keeping the prices of single tests artificially low by adding a greater mark-up for a second test.
Travel countries on the red, green and amber list
Despite the huge variation in prices and almost 400 suppliers, the tests are almost all processed by fewer than 20 laboratories, all of which are certified by the government and some of which sell directly to the public.
Oncologica, based in Cambridge, is used by more than 100 resellers, while Randox, which claims to be the UK’s biggest Covid testing supplier, is used by more than 80.
Home testing packages bought directly from Randox cost £48, though they are often available at £43 using discount codes supplied by airlines and tour operators.
While Oncologica is not listed as a direct-to-customer supplier on the government website, they sell testing kits via their own website for £55.
During the last week of June, 245,513 arrival PCR tests were conducted in England. At a typical price of £43 per test it equates to a cost to travellers of £10.6m per week.