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Public Relations

Here’s what Dixons, WHSmith and Boots are saying on VAT – and it’s not good news for outraged customers

By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

August 12, 2015 | 6 min read

Airport retailers are saying “it’s only a request” for passengers to hand over boarding cards and that they won’t be changing prices any time soon.

Dixons Carphone, WHSmith, and Boots will not be changing their policies on airport VAT, maintaining that they merely “request” passenger boarding card information – rather than demand it – and price structures will remain the same.

Retailers do not have to pay 20 per cent VAT on goods sold to customers travelling outside the EU, but to do so means they have to scan boarding cards. It is a legal process, though many argue that retailers have been playing on consumer ignorance that handing over boarding cards is for security, or some other reason.

Since it emerged in the Independent that most retailers do not pass savings back to the customer in the form of a discount, many passengers are now refusing to show their boarding cards at checkout.

Those travelling have been encouraged by Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis who said “people withholding their boarding passes will force companies to take note and eventually take action" while David Gauke, the chief secretary to the treasury urged all airport retailers to use VAT relief for the benefit of their customer.

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However, it seems that most will not be changing their policies any time soon.

Dixons Travel said asking for a boarding card “is only a request” and that it “offers one single, great value price across products to both UK and EU destination customers”.

One of the world’s biggest airport retailers, WHSmith – who’s sales last year were bolstered four per cent by its travel business alone - said it does not put customers under obligation to scan their boarding cards before a sale and that “any relief obtained is reflected in our single price and extensive promotional offers”. It also relies heavily on the data collected from boarding cards to analyse purchasing trends.

Meanwhile, Boots admitted it is claiming back VAT on a proportion of purchases made by customers flying to non EU destinations. Like Dixons and WHSmith, it stressed that showing a boarding card is non-compulsory and will be keeping its single pricing structure.

You can read their full statements below.

The Drum also contacted Sunglass Hut, Monsoon/Accessorize, Jo Malone, Mac, and John Lewis who had not responded at the time of writing.

Dixons Travel

At Dixons Travel we do ask customers to show their boarding pass when making a purchase, but this is only on request and has not caused any reported issues.

Dixons Travel follows the standard practice of non-duty free airport retailers in offering one single, great value price across products to both UK and EU destination customers, and this is supported by a price promise for all our customers that guarantees our prices are cheaper on key product lines than UK online websites.


WHSmith policy states that boarding passes should be requested from customers, and not demanded, such that there is no obligation on the part of the customer.

Whilst much of what we sell, e.g. newspapers, magazines and books, is fixed price and does not attract VAT, any VAT relief associated with the identification of customers travelling outside of the EU is reported in accordance with UK legislation, and any relief obtained is reflected in our single price and extensive promotional offers provided to all of our customers. Operational and financial system constraints make any form of “dual pricing” for our extensive product file a practical impossibility.

The destination data, regardless of whether it is to the UK, EU or beyond allows WHSmith to analyse the purchasing trends by time of day and by product category for customers travelling to different locations, and assists us in product ranging and placement decisions at our airport stores. This information is limited to the IATA three digit destination airport codes, which form the basis of IATA’s worldwide airport database and does not give access to any personal data of WHSmith customers.


At Boots UK we believe in offering all of our customers the same great value wherever and whenever they choose to shop with us. For this reason we have a single pricing structure for everyone and offer the same great promotions and rewards whether they shop in one of our stores or online, this includes our airport stores.

We are claiming back VAT on a proportion of purchases made by customers flying to non EU destinations in accordance with current VAT rules set by the HMRC. However, showing a boarding card is not compulsory and any of our customers that do not wish to share this information can shop with us without the boarding card being scanned.

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