Increase in U.K. Air Passenger Duty Hits Caribbean Cruises

November 5, 2010
Air-Passenger-Duty-Increase-Caribbean-Cruises Travel organisations in the U.K. are up in arms this week about the much-publicised hike in Air Passenger Duty (APD) that went into effect November 1.

The British government has been increasing APD annually for more than a decade, but the 2010 price rise is particularly large, with passengers in economy class paying an additional £25 -- up from £50 to £75 -- for a long-haul flight to the Caribbean, or an additional £50 per person in premium classes, up from £100 to £150.

The Caribbean has come off especially badly in the latest increases, which could impact cruise passengers.

Essentially, different parts of the world fall into different charging bands for APD. The Caribbean, incongruously, is included in a higher band than the United States, which means there is significantly more tax to pay on a flight from London to Barbados than there is on one from London to Los Angeles, even though the distance to L.A. is far greater.

According to a recent report in the Daily Telegraph, which has launched an online petition to scrap APD, the number of British visitors to the Caribbean has fallen by 12 percent, and to some islands by a quarter since the last round of increases a year ago.

There are ways around APD, but it's complicated. You could charter a private aircraft, as those who can afford this are exempt from the tax, but that seems more than a little topsy-turvy.

More realistically, if you're joining a Caribbean cruise in, say, St. Maarten, it's possible to dodge the tax on the longest-flight sector by flying via a European hub such as Paris Charles de Gaulle or Amsterdam Schiphol. You would have to book non-connecting flights, which would mean paying the APD on the London-Europe sector (£12, up from £11) -- but no tax on the long-haul sector, as it would not originate from the U.K.

The downside of this is that luggage has to be collected and rechecked at the European hub, and the passenger has no protection if the first, shorter flight is late and the connection is missed.

So is it worth it? Iglu Cruise managing director Simone Clarke, a leading specialist cruise agent, is doubtful. "We haven't really seen a big change in buying habits at all. I think this is because of the superb offers that are in the market at the moment," she says, indicating enticements such as free-flight deals. "We have had nobody ask to fly via a European hub yet and we're not promoting it to customer. . . . Generally cruisers want as little hassle as possible on the flights."

-- by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor