PCR test rip-off continues

‘Alphabet hacking’ still used to rip off travellers

original report on the rip-off
Blog: July 17 this year

Having travelled quite a lot recently, and speaking to others that have come to Madeira from the UK, I thought most visitors from the UK were aware of the rip-off being allowed (some would say positively encouraged) on a UK Government website listing Covid test suppliers. Indeed, the blog ran a feature on the subject in July of this year, link opposite.

Despite the publicity, the practice continues and the Telegraph today continues to report on the methods being used by some companies to promote their valuable positions on the official government list of Covid test suppliers.

The newspaper reports that private PCR test firms are deploying “alphabet hacking” to get to the top of the government website before charging travellers up to four times the advertised prices, an investigation has found.

Some companies are promoting themselves to the top of the Government’s official list of test providers by using punctuation in their names to “hack” the system, according to Robert Boyle, a former senior BA executive who now heads Gridpoint Consulting. 

By using exclamation marks, they can game the filter and rise to the top of the site to be ostensibly the first choice for customers. One in eight (13 per cent) of the firms now on the government site have names that begin with punctuation or a digit.

However, their advertised prices of as little as £15 for a PCR test often turn out to be a rip-off three or four times higher when prospective travellers click through to the company websites, an anomaly that has been previously criticised by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The tactics are not illegal but come despite a promise by ministers and the CMA to crackdown on rip-offs from which there is no escape. All arrivals in the UK are now required to pay for PCR tests which average £80 per person, adding more than £300 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four.

PCR test rip-off continues 1

Gridpoint found the top five listed suppliers were !!! 0-100 Travel 19, !! + + 0 0 44 Tests, ! Covid Testing Direct.com, ! Nomad and !247 Travel Tests.

When checked by The Telegraph on Sunday, three suppliers sorted by price offered day two home test kits for £15, including the top-placed alphabetic company !!! 0-100 Travel 19. However, upon clicking through, they are actually called Travel 19 and offer day two tests at £64.99, more than four times the advertised price.

247HomeTesting, which advertised at £15, cost £64.99 while the third £15 supplier, Ag Testing, charged £59.99 although there was also a £10 shipping fee, giving a “true” total of £69.99.

Another of the cheapest, ABG COVIC, offered kits from £22 but this was for click and collect which required travelling to East Kilbride in Scotland. The home delivery kit was £75.

Ministers have been repeatedly urged to crackdown on problems with PCR tests advertised on the Government website.

Analysis by the Telegraph has previously revealed misleading and rip-off pricing by some companies, with tests were being promoted at £1 but could only be obtained by travelling to locations such as Blackburn or East Kilbride.

In reality, the swabs to be used at home could cost up to 100 times their advertised price, with one promoted at £1 on the Government website but which cost £109.99 for a test delivery kit. Another which offered cheaper on-site swabs had no appointments before February.

After PCR tests were reintroduced for travellers entering the UK, Lord Andrew Tyrie, the former chair of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), said the Government had failed to “sort out” the problems with private providers The average UK price for PCR tests is around £80 compared with under £15 for Italy and Cyprus, and under £40 for France, Germany and Belgium.

The UK Health Security Agency and companies have been contacted by the Telegraph for comment.

COVID-19 in Madeira: daily updates can be found in an earlier post

Travel latest: requirements for entering and leaving Madeira: is kept up-to-date on a previous post

New restrictions: a detailed updated explanation of the latest regulations can be found here

11 thoughts on “PCR test rip-off continues”

  1. I did my 2 day test after returning from Madeira at a cost of £50 but paid an extra £10 each to get the results 12 hours later, totalling £120, the tests were sent off on the 08/12/2021, it is now 27/12/2021 and We still have had no results. Despite getting in touch with the Company testngo.co.uk 27 times, I still have not had any results

  2. When we holidayed on the island back in October we had to pre-book day2 pcr tests. As above, numerous test providers advertised tests at prices such as £19.99 but when you went to their sites the cheap test were always “out if stock, check back tomorrow”. No matter how quickly you got on the sites the so-called cheap test were always out of stock but the same tests at £64 or whatever were always available. Total rip-off with government support.

  3. I’ve always felt that these tests have been at best a “stealth tax” on the travelling public or at worst a Government sponsored “scam” (as the recent Randox – MP Owen Patterson lobbying scandal highlighted) designed to put people off flying abroad and raise billions for the Treasury, after all a very low percentage of tests ever went for genome sequencing and no new variants of concern including omicron were detected at UK borders.

    Despite going against WHO advice pointing out travel restrictions would be ineffective in stopping the spread of omicron and the South African scientists information that the omicron strain was mild, the UK Government imposed immediate changes to the travel testing system just in time to persuade would be travellers to cancel their Christmas abroad travel plans.
    Now that that the Government scientists have agreed with their South African colleagues, the ONS has stated that there are possibly 1.5 million cases of the omicron variant currently in the UK leading to some countries banning arrivals from the UK, and a recent medical study suggesting that 50% of people who think they have common cold symptoms possibly have the omicron strain of Covid !
    At least the pre-departure LFT gives you some peace of mind knowing that all fellow passengers on your flight home have also tested negative but what purpose does this expensive day 2 PCR test really serve under present circumstances?
    Not only has “the omicron horse bolted before the stable door was shut” but the stables have burned down !!

    On the rip off part of this post – I’ve used the airlines discounted recommended providers on two occasions – Randox who’s preferred drop box system of dispatching your test wasn’t overly convenient but follow up and results were efficient and speedy – cost £40 pp and recently Chronomics who made hard work of upgrading from LFT to PCR as the changes happened whilst still in Madeira the follow up info wasn’t bad and the results were received 48 hours after posting the tests – cost £42.50 total after upgrade ( special offer supposedly )

  4. A bit of nonse required – individual responsibility is also important. I have been travelling a lot recently and always book through the airlines recommended testers, usually they also give a good discount if you use their supplied discount codes. As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch, if it looks too good to be true etc.,

  5. My partner and I paid £95 each for two PCR tests in November.
    We were due to come back in January for two weeks but we’ve just cancelled due to the cost of the tests.
    In the UK, the costs are limited, it’s a shame Madeira does not do the same as it is losing their tourists.

  6. The cynic (or realist?) in me wonders how many of the companies on the Govt. website are run and/or owned by Tory donors and/or friends of Ministers/Tory MPs.

  7. We visited Madeira in October and came again on Dec13th. In October we booked PCR tests for return to UK via the Jet2 recommendations with Randox £43.00 each. Results back in less than 24hours. We have done same for this trip returning on 3rd Jan. Same price.
    I do think that individuals should take responsibility for themselves. The Govt lis is a guideline.

  8. Consider yourselves extremely lucky, even if you think you have been ripped off. A good friend of ours went to help out at another friend near Seattle (USA). She had a flight booked back to the Netherlands on December 26. As per the latest rules for the Netherlands, she needed to be tested within 48 hours before commencing her voyage. She was charged a whopping $520 for her compulsory PCR test. A cheaper one was possible ($350) but did not guarantee the on-time arrival of the results. There was no way of getting a cheaper test with a timely result. To say she was not amused would be the understatement of 2021.


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