We put 6 rapid COVID-19 PCR services to the test: from cheap and cheerful to speedy and high-priced

Dec 14, 2021

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COVID-19 tests are fast becoming a standard requirement when travelling as more and more countries put in place new testing regulations in an effort to slow down the spread of the omicron variant.

With PCR tests back for Day 2 testing in the U.K. it means travellers must now self-isolate upon entering the country until they receive a negative result. The test can be taken at any point from day 0 to day 2 after arrival, which means a speedy test can make the difference between hours or days in quarantine.

Day 2 tests require additional reporting to the government around omicron, delta and other COVID-19 variants which means that there can be fewer reliable options than usual for rapid PCR tests and choosing the right one can be a difficult decision.

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Is it worth paying extra for faster results and can you honestly believe the online sales pitches? The TPG UK team roadtests some of the most popular Day 2 PCR tests currently advertising a quick turnaround service so you know exactly what to expect before you book.

In This Post

Fastest Turnaround – 3 hours, 49 minutes

Test company: The Regenerative Clinic

Cost: £399

Image via The Regenerative Clinic

Ease of booking: The test was incredibly easy to book with a wealth of appointment options just a couple of days out. 

Image via The Regenerative Clinic

Testing facilities: The Marylebone location was easy to find and very convenient for me, close to Bond Street tube station. There were three testing stations in the clinic and a PCR test was done by the staff there and involved a ten-second swab in each nostril.

Advertised turnaround: 3 hours (4 hours at other clinics).

Actual turnaround: 3 hours 49 minutes.

Communication: A text to say a result was coming by email, and then an email with the certificate a few minutes later.

Your overall experience:  When I arrived there was a queue of around 12 people waiting on the pavement. I was told that my appointment time didn’t matter and I just had to join the queue. I waited for around 20 minutes to actually take the test. It was incredibly busy in the small space and no social distancing was enforced. The test itself was quick and efficient once I was sitting down. 

Queues at The Regeneration Company, Marylebone / Nicky Kelvin

I took the test at 9.57am, already almost 30 minutes after my appointment and I was disappointed that the result did not arrive within the stipulated 3 hour period. It was an incredibly expensive test because of the rapid turnaround so it was poor having to wait almost 4.5 hours from the appointment time and almost 4 hours from the actual test time. It was also impossible to contact the clinic. At the 3 hour mark, I tried to call but was met with a stated wait time of 87 minutes and 47 people ahead of me. Nicky Kelvin

After we published this review, The Regenerative Clinic contacted TPG (although not me as the customer) regarding the slow service. They added that “on reflection – We have changed the turnaround time from 3hours to 4hours for in-clinic appointments, opened a new clinic in Soho (Greek Street) and reduced the price to £299 for the Express PCR tests”.

This is now reflected on their website.

Best Last-Minute Booking – 10 hours

Test company: Doc Tap

Image via DocTap

Cost: £99.

Ease of booking: I chose Doc Tap because of their London testing locations, one is close to my flat. After landing at 1.30pm at Heathrow I was unable to secure a same-day appointment but easily found one first thing the next morning.

Image via DocTap

Testing facilities: I attended their testing facilities at Highbury and Islington. While nothing glamorous it was very well organised and I was there less than 5 minutes.

Advertised turnaround: Same day, by midnight.

Actual turnaround: 10 hours.

Communication: Negative PCR certificate by email.

Your overall experience: I paid a premium for an express service and it was worth the price. I didn’t have to travel far for the clinic (although this will obviously vary depending on your location) and there was no lining up in the cold – it was straight in and out. The test result was delivered earlier than expected – I would absolutely use them again for a fairly fast and stress-free result. Ben Smithson

Best Airport Service – 8 hours, 30 minutes

Test company: HALO

Image via HALO

Cost: £59.

Ease of booking: I chose Halo because of their testing on arrival at Heathrow T5. On Thursday evening I was able to book a Sunday morning appointment via their website. It was a very simple process and there were multiple spots available each day. 

Image via Halo

Testing facilities: The testing centre was located in the Sofitel at Heathrow T5, which took about 10 minutes to get to after collecting luggage. There was an organised queue and collect system in place, with test kits handed out to people before entering a private testing booth. To complete your PCR test you had to provide a spit sample in a funnelled tube (which actually took a fair bit of spit to fill up to the required line!).

Advertised turnaround: 24 hours or less (by 8am the following morning).

Actual turnaround: 8 hours 30 mins.

Communication: Negative PCR certificate via email.

Your overall experience: I was extremely impressed with the HALO testing system. Being able to test on arrival at Heathrow was extremely convenient as it meant I didn’t have to send off a kit from home or wait for an express courier. The 8 hour turnaround time for just £59 was also much better than I’d expected.

Halo Testing service, Heathrow Terminal 5 / Liam Spencer

In terms of the testing centre itself, everything is marked very clearly and you are given a private space to carry out your test. It’s worth noting that I had to queue for around 15 minutes before a free spot was available. You also need to download the Halo app to carry out your test which may be an issue for some, but this did ensure I followed each instruction correctly with help from in-app step-by-step guidance from booking to submission. Liam Spencer

Best Budget Service – 27 hours

Test company: Covid19 Checking

Image via Covid19 Checking

Cost: £38.99.

Ease of booking: I found it very easy to book my PCR test through Covid19 Checking. The website is very simply laid out and clearly guides you through the different tests available.

Testing kit: The kit was very straightforward. I ordered at 6.30pm U.K. time the day before I flew home and my test arrived the day after I returned from my trip through Royal Mail at 2pm. The package came with an instruction sheet, as well as a free post envelope for my kit. Once I tested myself, I simply popped it in the bag and put it in the post box and I was done. 

Advertised turnaround: According to the website, if the sample arrives back at the lab by 1pm you would receive your results by 5pm that same day. But if not, then you would receive your results within 24hours.

Actual turnaround: 27 hours.

Communication: All communication was via email.

Your overall experience: For the price, I was happy with the experience. Because it was an at-home test and came through the post, it’s expected to be a longer process than an in-person test, but if you are happy to wait just over 24 hours to get your results after receiving and taking your test it’s a good option.

I was initially concerned that the testing company wasn’t a legitimate provider due to the one-page website which provided little information about the company. I’d have also preferred the test to come on the day I entered the country, despite mentioning my travel times on my test purchase. The results also came from a different company called Kernel Biolabs which was confusing.

Overall, the process was simple and easy to navigate, I’d use them again if I wasn’t in a rush for the results and wanted to pay a low cost. Izzy Cooper

Best for value and speed – 10 hours

Test Company: Randox

Image via Randox

Cost: £55.

Ease of booking: A slightly dazzling calendar matrix, but once my eyes had adjusted everything was straightforward with an array of options and locations to choose from.

Image via Randox

Testing kit: Very clinical and clean with a dystopian sci-fi vibe. There seemed to be little social distancing in place when I arrived and the atmosphere was somewhat chaotic with lots of slightly flustered and confused Brits being pushed from counter to waiting-chairs, to test in less than 10 minutes. Impressively efficient, but quite imposing. 

Advertised turnaround: Next day result by 11.59pm.

Actual turnaround: 10 hours.

Communication: Automated email. The initial emails included, if anything, too many details about the booking which made finding things like test location and times slightly stressful while attempting to navigate London’s rush-hour commuters.

Your overall experience: From arriving at the Waterloo testing centre to having my test administered I was there less than 10minutes, in terms of speed I can’t fault the service. But speed does have its drawbacks. The staff were somewhat aggressive in their directions and their tone made me feel a bit like a dawdling idiot at a military camp.

No sooner had I been sent to a centralised waiting area was I told to enter the testing booth. The test was administered at lightning speed – ten seconds on each tonsil, followed by nostrils and I was swiftly ejected feeling like I’d escaped an alien abduction. That said, speed is what you’re paying for and I can make my peace with the slightly stern bed manner from the Randox staff. My results were back way before the advertised time and at a reasonable price. I’d use Randox again in a heartbeat. Jordan Waller

Most Disappointing for the price – 31 hours

Test company: Qured

Image via Qured

Cost: £93 (£64 + £29 expedited courier delivery and collection).

Ease of booking: The booking process was very straightforward and uncomplicated, add your details, pay and wait for your courier delivered kit to arrive.

Testing kit: The kit was securely packaged but the instructions it came with had some discrepancies in the way that information – such as registration codes – was presented on the packaging.

Advertised turnaround: 12-24 hours from taking the test with the expedited courier service.

Actual turnaround: 31 hours.

Communication: All email communication. I was informed my test results were ready via email but had to log into the Qured website to access them – an unnecessary and inconvenient additional step. 

Your overall experience: I had used Qured for a recent Fit To Fly Rapid Antigen test that was taken with a video consultation ahead of a flight to the U.S. and had been markedly impressed with the service. This time I was left questioning whether Qured is really set up to deliver the fast track PCR test results they advertise. After paying £93, receiving my results almost 10 hours after the advertised time felt like a very poor show. 

The test itself was easy to self-administer and the courier was friendly and happy to wait in the cold while I took the test, along with reminding me to take a picture of the registration code on the packaging, something not wholly clear in the test instructions and easily missed. That said, my registration code did not work on my initial attempts to log it with the site which added needless stress. It also appeared in a different format to that shown on the website’s instructions, causing further confusion. I’d use Qured again as a last resort but could not recommend them if you’re wanting a fast and clear service. Jordan Waller

Featured image by Nicky Kelvin

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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