Five myths about Brexit for U.S. travelers

In the wake of the Brexit vote that paved the way for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on June 23, there’s a lot of confusion about what this means for American heading to Britain this summer and in the future.  Here are five current myths about Brexit and travel to the UK.

1. Brexit is really an issue between Great Britain and the European Union and has nothing to do with Americans.

While it’s true that Brexit is about Britain leaving its 40+-year EU membership in the dust, it’s also about currency, and that’s something that directly impacts U.S. travelers. On the morning of Friday, June 24, when the vote to leave the EU was announced, the pound-to-dollar exchange dropped 7.44% to $1.3766, the lowest level in decades. At one point, the pound sank to $1.32, the lowest exchange rate since 1985. In simple terms this means that for American travelers, Great Britain is on sale.

“The immediate effect, says George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog, is that “American visitors will pay less for travel to and within Europe and Britain. If the British pound continues to stay low or fall even more, your trip to England will be cheaper.” That means that hotels, meals, shopping and other purchases will be “at least 10% cheaper than recently.”

With the less-favorable exchange rates, “fewer Europeans and Brits will visit the U.S.,” says Hobica. “So expect airfares from the U.S. to Europe and Britain to go even lower. The day after the Brexit vote, we saw airfares to London on Virgin Atlantic and other airlines for fall travel reduced to $500 round-trip.”

Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content at Skift, agrees with the notion that “for the short term this is about exchange rates and how they impact travel.” But Clampet also takes a longer view of the issue, noting that it could “affect airline routes, new development of hotel products, the cost of restaurants and transit, the cost of shopping, or even the upkeep and maintenance of tourist attractions.”

2. I’m planning a trip to the UK later this year, and I’ve booked my airfare and hotels, so it won’t affect me.

“That’s true when it comes to the airfare or if you prepaid for your non-refundable hotel room or bought a package,” says Clampet of Skift. “But you can otherwise take advantage of the better exchange rate, and the possibility of UK businesses discounting goods because they are hurting. While that 150 pounds per night rate may stay the same, the Brexit exchange rate swing put $15 in your pocket between last month and today. Expect small savings like that in every transaction you make.”

For anyone who booked a trip before the recent vote, Hobica suggests reaching out to hotels, tours and other agencies to see whether you can re-book at a better price, “now that exchange rates have been hammered.”

3. I guess I can just hope that British pound stays low until I get there.

Or you can be proactive. It’s a great time to take advantage of the exchange rate for as long as it lasts. If you’re heading to the UK even later this year, “it’s a good time to buy pounds for an upcoming trip,” says Hobica, now that they are at dramatically lower levels.

That said, Clampet of Skift urges caution, saying that “Unless you’re George Soros, it’s best not to respond to this by playing currency trader. The pound could continue to drop or it could go up — even the experts don’t know. If you’re worried about wide fluctuations in money and want to have protection, look into a trip insurance product that allows wide latitude for cancellations.”

4. This won’t really affect me when I go to England, it will just be the same passport check that I’ve always had when I fly to London.

“Sure, it won’t affect you — if you’re carrying a British passport,” says Clampet. Yes, there will still be passport control. But in the future, you can expect to wait in much longer lines.

“For travelers arriving in the UK, those passport control lines that once split passengers by passport from the EU and then everyone else will soon be for passengers from the UK and then everyone else, Clampet says. “If nothing else expect to hear Germans, Italians and Spaniards complain about being in line with you unlike the good old days when they had preferred status.”

Then, unfortunately, it’s likely to get even worse for American travelers. Once the UK and EU split is complete, “London’s international airports will need to radically rethink baggage claim and passport control, two of the biggest pain points in travel,” Clampet says “ For passengers transiting to Europe via London or other gateway cities, you’ll need to claim your baggage and take it through customs because, remember, you’re not in Europe anymore.”

5. It’s really just England that’s changing.

Actually, this is much bigger than England. The Brexit vote is for the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Therein lie some potential future problems.

“If Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, becomes a separate country, you’ll need to go through border controls and show a passport between London and Edinburgh,” says Hobica. Because Ireland is part of Europe but Northern Ireland is leaving the EU as a result of Brexit, “travel between, say, Dublin and Belfast (would) also require going through passport control.”

Clampet adds that “we are also seeing talk of nationalist parties in France, theNetherlands and elsewhere pushing their own exit. In five years will we be back to the days of border checks and multiple currencies as you move from country to country? Think of all the math you’ll be doing.”

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