Book a flight from a UK airport and money flows into the Treasury’s coffers in the form of Air Passenger Duty (APD). Starting your long-haul flight in Europe could get around this – but does it leave us any better off?
As of November, it can cost £340 (up from £220) for a family of four travelling economy class on a long-haul flight.
The British travel industry – airlines, airports and tour operators alike – has been lobbying the government against the charges saying they have a negative economic impact and is one of the highest in Europe.
In this week’s budget, the government announced a freeze on APD for a year, so the current rate will remain for at least 12 months. Still, the Chancellor failed to bow to industry pressure to replace APD with a per plane tax, saying this was illegal under international law. But he did promise to launch a consultation, where a new banding system would be explored.
Should we fly from Europe?
Some people suggest that the high cost of APD could tempt British travellers to start their main long-haul flight from a European hub airport like Paris or Amsterdam. That way, a traveller could pay just the lowest rate of £12 per person (for the initial UK to Europe flight), or no APD at all if they reach that hub by rail or other means.
But would we be better off by hopping over the channel first? Which? Travel investigated this earlier in the year, gathering online quotes for return flights to far-flung places such as Johannesburg and Sydney, and comparing the costs to each of these from London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid and Paris.
The good news is that the fares from London were usually cheaper than those from most other airports. Our snapshot indicates that, in spite of the APD, we aren’t paying over the odds for our flights from the UK. Prices from London are competitive, partly because London airports tend to offer a greater choice of carriers on many long-haul routes compared with other European hubs.
We also found that there’s no real financial incentive for people near regional airports like Edinburgh and Manchester to fly first to a European hub rather than London to change to their main long-haul flight.
The hassle of transfers
There are four price bands of APD – what you pay depends on the distance to the capital city of your destination. To qualify for the lowest band, I’d have to make separate bookings for the two flight sectors, which would be a hassle. And then if I missed the second flight because the first was delayed or cancelled, I wouldn’t be entitled to a refund or free later flight with the onward carrier. I’d also need to check in my luggage for the second flight as well.
Would you bother booking separate flights to avoid APD? What I care about is finding the cheapest overall flight price, regardless of how much of that fare comes from government or airport charges. So unless I fancy adding on a couple of days’ holiday in the European city first, I’ll probably stick with flights from London next time I fly long-haul.