By Daniel Hunter
There is only one month to go before millions of UK travellers who applied for a free two-year permit to travel to the United States of America, in the weeks prior to its Government enforcing fees on UK citizens for the permission-privilege, see their authorisation expire.
Consumer website TopCashBack is warning travellers about the unnecessary costs they could face if they don’t check their eligibility to travel across the Atlantic. Those who ignore advice could be refused permission to travel — without any refunds for costs already paid.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), which assesses a person’s eligibility to enter the USA under the rules of its Visa Waiver Program (VWP), was introduced on a voluntary basis in August 2008 as a further layer of security measures implemented since the 11 September 2001 terror attacks. It became compulsory for non-visa-issued travellers from the UK, and other qualifying countries, in January 2009.
Although initially free, a charge was introduced on 8 September 2010 causing hoards of people to rush to register in the weeks prior to its enforcement to beat the cost. Demand was so great it even caused the Department for Homeland Security’s website to crash.
As ESTA approval lasts a maximum of two years, it’s predicted that millions are due to expire within the next few weeks. Travellers who were savvy enough to beat the cost two years ago can’t escape it again, but they must now remember to get a new ESTA approval before they intend to visit America.
Consumer Affairs Editor, Natasha-Rachel Smith, is reminding those who applied for their ESTA two years ago, or those who don’t have one at all, to get a new ESTA approval if they plan to travel to the States. She says an early ESTA application prior to booking flights, accommodation and making other financial commitments can help save money and avoid the holiday becoming a disaster.
“Being unprepared can be economically dangerous for those travelling this year as the associated costs can be high and in the worst cases, you could lose out on your holiday altogether," she said.
"Many people can overlook simple procedures such as the ESTA, particularly those who haven’t travelled to America for several years — or even at all - and are unaware of its requirement. Airlines are instructed to refuse passengers boarding without valid ESTA, and you have no grounds for compensation.
“The US authorities are strict. Those who don’t have the right documents, and it’s a particularly shady area for those with criminal records, won’t be allowed through. If you decide to go on holiday to the US, make applying for ESTA for the entire group of travellers top of the list, especially before booking flights to ensure all are eligible to travel under the VWP.
"One refusal may mean applying in person at the US Embassy in London for a visa, which is very costly, time consuming and not guaranteed to be successful, or result in the group cancelling the trip altogether; which would be a financial devastation if non-refundable flights and accommodation have already been paid for.”
ESTA approval doesn’t guarantee entry into the US, but authorises travel to the country. It costs $14 (£9), which includes a $4 administration fee and a $10 acceptance charge. Rejection still costs the $4 administration fee. Applications can only be made online and paid with a credit card. However people are warned not to fall for copycat sites that charge more than $14 to process an application.
“One website charges $49 per person. That’s $196 (£126) for a family of four, which is $140 (£90) more than necessary for no-more-of-a-chance of acceptance," Natasha-Rachel added.
“Forgetting to apply for the first time or get new ESTA approval isn’t the only thing that could result in unnecessarily high prices. Those who don’t put adequate thought into other costs such as insurance, hotels and flights will end up paying enormously more than necessary. Savvy searchers can save large amounts of money by shopping around to seek out low prices that can be further sweetened with cashback and voucher codes. Sites such as TopCashBack can lessen the burden of holiday costs by providing sun-seekers and city-explorers with attractive offers.”
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