THE cost of PCR tests have been branded a “rip-off” after it was found they can be more than five times the price of a return holiday flight.
Families can be forced to stump up hundreds of pounds extra so they can go abroad this summer.
Ministers are under pressure to put a cap on the price travellers have to pay for PCR tests as well as scrapping the VAT on them so holidaymakers are not priced out of a trip abroad as Covid travel restrictions slowly ease.
A study by MPs examined the cost of trips to popular European holiday destinations later this month and then compared them with the average cost for a single PCR swab when travellers were back in the UK.
Budget airline Ryanair was found to be offering return flights from East Midland airport to Barcelona and Exeter to Alicante for just £18 between August 24 and 27.
TYPICAL COST OF PCR TEST IS £93
The typical charge for a post-return PCR test from Government-approved providers is £93 – more than five times as expensive.
Compared to a flight from London Stanstead to Madrid the cost is almost four times as much.
For flights to places such as Berlin, Budapest and Portugal’s Faro, the test is more than double the cost of a plane ticket.
The research only looked at the cost of a single post-return test, which all double-jabbed travellers have to take by day two having returned from a green or amber-listed country.
It doesn’t include the cost of the pre-return swab all passengers have to take before boarding a plane heading to the UK, indicating the total bill for testing as a proportion of the flight cost can be even higher.
The cost for non-fully vaccinated holidaymakers would likely be much higher still as they have to take two post-return PCR swabs on days two and eight.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, which conducted the study, said: “These figures demonstrate that testing for international travel has become little more than a tax on travel, adding a huge disincentive to travel.
“When the cost of testing can be more than the price of a ticket, it is clear that the current system is not fit for purpose and needs urgent reform to stop the rip-off fees we are currently seeing.”
He said travellers should be able to take the much cheaper rapid lateral flow test on return and only have to take the “gold standard” PCR test if this was positive.
Smith added: “Alongside this, ministers must urgently consider a cap on the total cost of testing. It is high time that the Government got to grips with this issue.”
Chairman of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady MP, said: “The number of tests required and their exorbitant prices in the UK risk making foreign holidays the preserve of the well off.
“This is plainly unfair to families on average incomes and risks destroying our very successful travel industry. This problem should be tackled as a matter of urgency.”
The study also revealed a post-return PCR test can cost more than a return flight to places such as Nice, in the south of France, Malta, Gibraltar and the Balearic island of Menorca, doubling the cost of the trip, even if the traveller has been double jabbed.
Easyjet is currently offering return flights to Mahon in Menorca for £61 later this month, making the average cost of a test nearly 50 per cent more than the flights.
Similarly, British Airways is charging £100 for a return flight from Heathrow to Paris, making the typical post-return testing bill almost as expensive as the flights.
Ministers say arrivals must take the pricier PCR test as they are considered more accurate and can be “sequenced” for Covid variants.
Figures though from Test and Trace show just 5 per cent of swabs are being sequenced.
Both Greece and Italy have set a cap for the price of PCR tests, while in France they are free for citizens.
Some European countries have axed VAT on testing kits.
The Government has said it is working with the travel industry and testing providers to “further reduce the cost of travel for the public”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has asked the Competition and Markets Authority watchdog to investigate whether travellers are being ripped off by testing firms.
But Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: “While the rest of Europe is enjoying a relatively normal summer on the beach, for many British families the cost of the tests and the confusing and chaotic traffic light system is putting the dream of a foreign holiday out of reach.”
A Government spokesman said: “We are clear that all private providers must meet a set of required standards and each provider is held to account by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service, with companies that fail to meet high standards being removed from the list of approved suppliers.”
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