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Tui has announced that it is offering customers a Covid-19 testing package from as little as £20 this summer.
The government’s new traffic light system still involves testing even for the safest ‘green list’ countries, so this could make travel more affordable for many people.
It’s not permitted to use NHS tests for travel, except for freight drivers in certain circumstances. Private tests can cost £120 on the high street or over £200 at some clinics.
But airlines, airports and holiday companies are starting to offer much cheaper tests to customers.
Airlines and holiday companies cut testing costs
Tui is offering a lateral flow, also known as an antigen test, that you can take before your trip and a PCR test you’ll take a couple of days after your return, including delivery, for just £20.
Some countries will still require a pre-departure PCR test but even that only brings the total package for ‘green list’ countries up to £60 – much cheaper than we’ve seen elsewhere. Test packages for ‘amber list’ countries, where more tests are needed, will be more expensive.
As holiday travel beckons again, prices of tests are falling. When we looked in early March, we found London Gatwick Airport’s drive-through test centre offered the cheapest PCR tests from £60 per passenger. The most expensive test we found in London, with a standard 48-hour turnaround, was £214 – that’s a difference of £616 for a family of four. Tui’s offer, with test provider Chronomics, offers a substantial saving.
What type of test do I need, PCR or lateral flow?
Before paying for a test, it’s crucial to first check if you will be allowed into the country you are travelling. Many countries, like France and Spain, are still only allowing entry to nationals or residents, with certain other exemptions. The majority of travel from the UK is still currently prohibited. You cannot take a holiday until 17 May at the earliest – and even then most countries will be off limits.
For travel to many countries, including Spain and the Canary Islands, Greece and Cyprus you’ll need to take a PCR (polymerise chain reaction) swab test. These are more expensive than antigen or LAMP tests and it takes longer to get the results because they have to be sent to a lab for analysis.
Are all PCR tests accepted?
Nearly all countries that require a Covid test will accept a PCR test. However, some stipulate that the tests should be carried out with a swab inserted in the nose and the throat.
This may mean that, for some destinations, it’s not a good idea to choose the new PCR saliva tests that require you to just spit in a tube and send the sample to a laboratory.
You can see more information about the rules regarding PCR saliva tests here.
While some destinations including Spain, the Canaries, Greece and Cyprus accept PCR tests performed at home and posted to a lab, others including Dubai stipulate that the test is taken at a registered test facility, some say it must be performed by a clinician.
This usually costs a bit more, but you’re less likely to get an inconclusive result and you’ll probably get your results quicker so it’s the safer option for everyone. You’ll need to check that the clinic is on the government’s approved list, which means it’s going through the accreditation process run by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS).
You also need to make sure that the test will be accepted by your destination and that you’ll get a ‘fit to fly’ certificate if your result is negative – some charge extra for this.
Some countries, including Hong Kong, will accept a LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) or antigen test, which cost from around £40 and can give results within 90 minutes. There remain questions over the sensitivity of private tests, and the differing reliability of results.
Where are the cheapest PCR tests?
The cheapest way to get a test is if your airline or holiday provider offers a discount to its customers. Some airlines and holiday companies include links to Covid test providers on their websites, with many offering discounts to their customers.
British Airways COVID tests
British Airways links to five PCR test providers that provide Fit to fly certificates for departure from UK, both for in-clinic tests and home testing. The cheapest is Randox, which costs £60 after a BA discount.
It also links to a company, Halo, that offers a PCR saliva test – meaning you spit into a pot rather than using uncomfortable swabs. This costs £75 but, as previously mentioned, it’s important to make sure that the test is accepted by your destination.
EasyJet COVID tests
EasyJet also offers discounts for tests from Randox Health, with home tests available for £60 instead of £120. It’s important to make sure that your destination accepts home tests.
Jet2 COVID tests
Jet2 COVID tests Jet2 has a deal with Living Care Group, which offers tests for passengers for £75.
Ryanair COVID tests
Ryanair customers can get a discount when taking tests at City Doc’s London clinic – they’ll cost £125 instead of £175.
Tui COVID tests
Tui offers a test package for £60 to ‘green list’ countries that require a PCR test, which includes the lateral flow test to return to the UK. For countries that only require a cheaper, lateral flow test the package is £20.
For countries on the amber list, tests will be £50 if they only require a lateral flow test and £90 if they require a PCR test. Test packages include the cost of delivery. Customers can order their tests an hour after booking.
Virgin Atlantic COVID tests
Virgin Atlantic also offers a 50% discount on tests through Randox – meaning they’re £60 instead of £120. It also links to other providers.
Cheap covid tests at the airport
Testing centres at airports are often cheaper than those on the High Street, especially if you’re planning to fly from there.
Gatwick charges £60 if you’re flying from the airport, or £99 with up to 30% off for multiple tests. Drive-through centres at Birmingham, Edinburgh and Heathrow airports charge passengers £80 and the general public £99.
Test results should be available the next day but you’re advised to schedule an appointment at least 48 hours before you travel. However, it’s important you don’t take the test too soon – most countries including Spain and the Canary Islands, Greece and Cyprus will only accept tests taken no more than 72 hours before you arrive.
How much will I pay on the high street and Boots for a private PCR test?
Boots is the cheapest place on the high street for COVID-19 tests. It recently reduced its charge from £120 to £99 and has test facilities at stores throughout the country.
Results arrive within 48 hours and if the test is inconclusive your fee will be refunded and you’ll be given the option of paying to repeat the test. All negative tests come with a ‘fit to fly’ certificate.
Where else can I get a discounted coronavirus test?
Some countries including Dubai and Italy offer free testing on arrival, either at the airport or at city centre clinics, but you’ll have to quarantine until you get your result and if it’s positive you’ll have to remain in isolation for much or all of your holiday. Currently travel to both destinations is banned.
Sofitel hotel at London Heathrow is offering free self-test PCR kits to overnight guests with certified results the next day. It offers one free test per room, which cost from £179 a night. Additional tests cost £69 each.
What if my Covid-19 test doesn’t come back in time?
Where can I get a cheap day 2 and day 8 test?
If you’re returning from a country that’s not on the government’s green list you’ll need to take a test on day 2 and day 8 after you come home. You can see the government’s list of approved providers here.
Currently the cheapest test package is that offered by Testing For All – at £99. Some companies offering cheap tests have been overwhelmed by demand and failed to get results back on time, so they may not be the best option. But Testing For All has told us that it restricted tests to 8,000 a week initially, with capacity expected to increase to 20,000 a week by the end of the month.
The cheapest tests are likely to sell out fast but don’t be tempted to choose the first cheap test you see. It’s worth checking social media, the press and review sites to see if the company is receiving large numbers of complaints.