Beware Of This New Year Travel Trick!
Going on holiday in 2009? Read on, or you may not be able to fly.
It's not a good time to be thinking about overseas travel at the moment. With the pound hitting fresh lows against the euro this week and the credit crunch taking a toll on all our finances, being wined and dined in Paris or splashing that cash in the Big Apple will undoubtedly cost more in '09 than it did in '08.
And, as Britain's economy continues to weaken, my guess is it will be a long time before we see the currency highs of this summer again.
Darling's pre-budget report has already put a sting in the tail for long haul travellers next year, and from 1st November 2009, the current two bands for air passenger duty will instead be split into four new distant-dependent bands.
So, from November, economy passengers travelling over 6,000 miles will pay £55 in air passenger duty instead of the current £40, rising to £85 in 2010. To see how this could affect you, HMRC has listed the bands countries fall into in this document.
But alongside this currency turmoil and air passenger rises, two other changes happening in the new year could affect your travels, some of which you need to know, or you won't be able to fly.
New year, new rules
The first applies if you're travelling to America next year and are eligible to travel under the US Visa Waiver Programme. From 12th January, you will have to apply online for permission to enter the United States.
The Visa Waiver Program consists of 34 countries including the UK, and enables qualifying citizens with a machine readable passport to visit the US for up to 90 days without applying for a visa.
But the US is doing away with those fiddly green forms you fill in while hunched over on the plane, replacing them with ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), a compulsory online travel permit.
From mid-January, all visa waiver travellers must pre-register online at least 72 hours prior to travel to obtain an authorisation. Once obtained, visa waivers are valid for two years, or until your passport expires. Fail to do this, and you will not be allowed into the country. Period.
A word of warning
The official ESTA website is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, and all visa waiver applicants should submit their information through this site alone.
However the American Embassy is warning travellers about rogue websites which have popped up alongside the official one, which offer assistance with ESTA for a fee.
Authentic looking sites such as www.esta.us, www.esta.co.uk and www.travelauthorization.org charge unsuspecting visitors to the states as much as $249.95 (£165) for their application.
These sites have no affiliation with the US government and should be avoided at all costs. Unlike visas, where you may attend an interview and pay a statutory fee, visa waivers are completely free, and you shouldn't have to fork out any money to obtain one.
Secondly - and on a much lighter note, it's good to know that travellers arriving in Britain can now benefit from a more generous and flexible duty free allowance - the first time the rates have changed in 15 years.
From 1st December, the allowance on gifts and souvenirs bought outside the EU more than doubled from £145 to £300, and from the beginning of January will go up to £340.
Other new allowances are as follows:
- 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco.
- Four litres of still table wine
- One litre of spirits or strong liqueurs over 22% volume, or two litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine or other liqueurs
- 16 litres of beer
In addition, you can now 'mix and match' items in both the alcohol and tobacco categories, provided you do not exceed your total allowance.
So, instead of the previous rigid allowances of 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, you could now bring in 100 cigarettes and 25 cigars instead (50% of your cigarette allowance and 50% of your cigar allowance).
And, for the first time restrictions on the amount of perfume and after-shave have also been scrapped - though the value of any fragrances must be within the `other gifts' limit outlined above.
There is, however, a strange twist to these new allowances. The only travellers denied these higher limits are those who arrive into the UK by private jet, yacht or other private pleasure boat. The total shopping allowance for someone in this category is currently £210, but will rise to £240 on January 1.
I'm sure those millionaires won't be spending the precious £30 rise all at once.