The season of coughs and sniffles is upon us, and deciding which cold and flu products to buy can add to the headache. We’ve investigated the prices of popular cold and flu medicines across different shops to help you cut costs.
Our snapshot pricing research shows that it pays to shop around for your cold and flu medicine:
- Branded cold and flu medicines like Lemsip and Sudafed can cost almost three times as much as own-brand products.
- Prices also vary significantly between own-brand products from pharmacies and supermarkets.
- You’ll make the biggest savings at Asda. Its own-brand cold and flu products were cheapest across the board, and it was cheapest for the branded versions too.
- Special offers don’t always add up to better value, as you may still be able to get the product cheaper elsewhere.
We checked the price of a 16-pack of standard and max-strength cold and flu tablets over the past month across major pharmacies, supermarkets and discount stores, including special offers.
We also checked prices for branded products from Sudafed and Lemsip, and for cold and flu sachets.
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Where to buy cheap cold and flu tablets
Most standard cold and flu tablets contain 25mg caffeine, 300mg paracetamol, and 5mg phenylephrine hydrochloride. The combination is meant to combat drowsiness, pain and congestion (phenylephrine is used as a decongestant).
Asda was the cheapest at 60p for 16 capsules, and Superdrug was the most expensive at £1.39 for its own-brand capsules.
Overall, cold and flu tablets tended to be cheaper from a supermarket or discount store rather than the pharmacy – although Boots’ own-brand capsules were as cheap as Poundland’s.
It’s worth looking out for special offers – but, as always, check you’re actually getting a good deal. According to our data, Superdrug had 66% of its cold and flu products on offer in October – more than any other store we looked at. But the average reduction was only 5%.
Morrisons had 55% of its cold and flu products on promotion with a more significant average discount of 25%, and Asda had 42% of its cold and flu range on offer, with a 20% average discount.
Branded vs own-brand cold and flu medicine
Unsurprisingly, branded cold and flu products such as Lemsip and Sudafed will set you back a lot more than own-brand or generic products.
Lemsip and Sudafed tablets only come in max strength formulations, so we compared them to max strength own-brand products.
Sudafed Congestion and Headache Relief capsules (£4.35) cost on average almost three times as much as a 16-pack of Asda Max Strength capsules (£1.50).
Asda was also the cheapest place to get both Lemsip and Sudafed capsules. The Sudafed capsules were as cheap at Sainsbury’s, and the Lemsip capsules were as cheap at Superdrug and Morrisons, as they were on offer.
How much more do you have to pay for max strength capsules?
Max strength cold and flu medicines commonly contain the same dose of caffeine as the standard version (25mg), and more of the other two ingredients: 500mg of paracetamol, and 6.1mg of phenylephrine.
This extra boost can really add to the cost. The biggest price hike was the Boots own-brand version (£2.99) which cost £2 more than its regular capsules (99p).
Morrisons Max Strength capsules cost the least for an upgrade – at £1.60 they are 60p more than the regular ones. But Asda’s were still the cheapest overall, costing £1.50 – 90p more than Asda’s regular capsules.
Cheapest cold and flu sachets
Cold and flu sachets are much more expensive per unit than capsules but are often stronger, and many people like having a soothing hot drink while they’re feeling ill, rather than having to take tablets. They don’t tend to contain caffeine either.
The cheapest sachets, from Asda, cost 15p per sachet (£1.50 for a pack of 10). Boots cold and flu sachets were the priciest, costing 30p per sachet (£2.99 for a pack of 10).
More money-saving advice – cheapest places to buy popular medicines
Do you really need combination cold and flu medicine?
Combination products such as cold and flu remedies are usually more expensive than buying the individual medicines. You pay for the convenience of only having to take one tablet rather than several.
Be aware that you probably won’t need all these ingredients for the duration of a common cold. If you aren’t feeling congested, for example, you can always switch to a painkiller and cup of coffee instead.
Same product, different price
Watch out for brands packaging up the same medicine in different boxes geared towards specific symptoms – this is common with pain relief, throat sweets and cough or cold medicines.
Brands say they do this to help you quickly find a medicine that suits the problem you have, but you can end up paying more for exactly the same product.
Look out for the active ingredients on the front of the box to see if there’s a similar version that will work for you and costs less.
Take care with combination cold and flu remedies
While combination cold and flu medications can be convenient, they can make it easy to lose track of how much paracetamol you’re taking.
Be careful about taking any other paracetamol products in conjunction with combination tablets, as it can be easy to accidentally take more than the recommended dose.
Similarly, cold and flu sachets can have a high sodium content and are generally not suitable for people on a low sodium diet.
How to choose a painkiller – we compare paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen
Getting the winter flu jab
If you’re interested in getting vaccinated against flu this winter, you can pay for vaccination at a number of pharmacies including those at some supermarkets.
The cost of a private flu vaccination generally ranges from around £7 to £20.
Some people – including over 65s, those with certain chronic health conditions, and pregnant women – are entitled to the flu vaccination for free on the NHS. This can be done either via your GP or at a pharmacy.
The list of entitlements is long, so check with your pharmacist or GP – or take a look at the NHS flu vaccine guide – to see if you’re eligible.