Are Booze Cruises back en vogue?

27 April 2015

FineWineCellarWhile the idea of a booze cruise nowadays probably conjures up images of drunken teenagers on a shot-filled ‘cruise’ outside a Mediterranean party port, it is the old style booze cruise across the Channel, filling your boot with as much wine as you can carry, that seems to be making a comeback.

The strength of the pound against the Euro has combined with the vast gap in duty levied on wines to make a short trip to Calais an economically sound decision for some, particularly if you’re buying a lot, and figures from currency exchange firm Caxton FX show that cross-Channel spending is on the rise. They report a 14% rise in British buyers shopping at the French supermarket, Carrefour, compared with the same time last year, which means that now 56%  more Britons are shopping at the chain than they were in 2013.

One reason is the duty levied on wine, and despite the Chancellor’s recent freezing of wine duty, UK consumers will pay around £2.05 per bottle in duty, that is then subject to VAT at 20%, before any of the headline price goes to either the retailer or the wine producer. While French duty is also subject to VAT at 20%, the duty rate is eight times lower at just 23p per bottle.

And, provided the wine is for personal consumption,  no Customs duty on import is required, and this includes large purchases for weddings, events and parties. HMRC reportedly say people are “more likely to be asked questions” if bringing more than 90 litres (120 bottles) into the UK, but confirm that there are no limits as long as you don’t intend to sell the wine.

The other factor currently affecting the attractiveness of the booze cruise is the relative strength of the pound against the Euro. Besides thinking about stocking up on Euros ahead of a summer holiday, the exchange rate means that it’s now £11 cheaper to buy a €100 case of wine now than in April last year. Current rates mean €100 would cost you approximately £71 compared with £82 in April 2014 and £86 in April 2013.

But is the combined duty and exchange rate saving enough to make it worth your while? Traditional booze cruises don’t involve a lot of sightseeing, so do the numbers stack up? Part of the cost, of course, is going to be related to how far from the South coast you live- someone coming from Newcastle, for example, is going to have a considerably higher fuel cost to get to a UK ferry port than someone coming from Canterbury. You also need to add on the cost of the Channel crossing, and cheapest fares will normally be midweek, rather than at weekends.

However, some British-owned shops on the other side of La Manche will actually pay for your travel providing you buy sufficient wine. Calais Wine, for example, will currently book and pay for your Eurotunnel crossing (which normally costs from £69 return) if you pre-order £300 of wine. While £300 on wine might sound a lot, buying in bulk does have its advantages, and is especially useful if you’re planning a wedding or a party.

Craig Nelson from Calais Wine Superstore, said: “We have 10 wedding orders a day. On some premium wines you’re saving as much as £10 a bottle, just because of the tax and difference with the euro.”

What do you think?

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