Ever wondered why you always have to show your boarding card when you buy something at an airport? Ever thought it was completely pointless? Well, you were right. It is - for you. Not for the shop though.
The Independent's Simon Calder has discovered the real reason you have to show your boarding card: not for reasons of security; not for reasons of safety; it's because shops can then avoid paying VAT on purchases made by people travelling to non-EU countries. However, they then pocket this saving rather than pass it back to the customer.
Calder explained to BBC Radio 5: "If you take a £6 bottle of sun cream the VAT element is £1 [20%]. So if you fly to Greece [an EU country], the retailer pays that to the government, if you fly to Turkey [non-EU] and the retailer can find out, then it goes straight into their pockets - nothing illegal about it at all but I will always challenge it."
He said that the 'security' argument is "complete tosh", saying, "They [retail staff] have just been told 'you have to ask for a boarding pass', which is why you get nonsense like when you buy a book or a magazine or newspaper and there is no VAT anyway, and they still want to know where you are flying to - even though it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to anybody."
Meanwhile, Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis said to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, "You're not protecting the sanctity of Britain by giving them your boarding pass, you are enabling the commercial company to get a reduction on its tax bill".
Treasury minister David Gauke has said that the intended consequence of VAT relief at airports was to reduce prices for travellers - not to make extra money for retailers.
The fairest system would be to have a dual pricing system for EU and non-EU travellers; however, a spokesman for Boots said that the company did claim back some VAT, but that this was in accordance with government rules, while WHSmith said such a system would be "impossible". We're not entirely sure how it's impossible to have two price signs instead of one. Clearly, it's beyond our tiny brains.
Customers are apparently already revolting, with reports of people protesting and refusing to show boarding cards in airports. Lewis said that, “People withholding their boarding passes will force companies to take note and eventually take action.”
Somehow, we feel that shops will eventually give in, but then just put their prices up to compensate. Happy holidays.