Are you going to the US within the next two years ? Then get your ESTA thingamajig now while it is free. According to Martin’s Money Saving Expert a bill has been passed in the US Congress which has given permission for a “cover the cost” charge on ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). The charge is expected to be $10. See Article
I applied for an ESTA recently and it is a rather basic website which asked similar questions to the ones asked from you on the plane on a bit of paper (not even a whole sheet) supplied to you by smiling airline staff as you try to sleep. So in effect we will now have to pay because something that was probably not adequate for the speed of modern life, or modern security threats, and required a small forest, but free has gone electronic.
So how do you decide what price to charge ?
Reading the requirements issued in Congress I would suggest they need a secure web server that could scale for peak usage. The application would gather the data from the form, storing it in a datastore and then moving it as quickly as possible away from online hackers. Once safely out of hacking way it can then be combined with other databases and any data analysis performed. All that stuff in the document about combining biometric data can be done here . To take payment you would need a light weight e-commerce platform or such like and don’t forget the form has to be managed in a CMS so it can published in lots of languages quickly. As a high target high profile online system once up and running the system has to be continually maintained and monitored.
This is a complicated system and would take some money to build and lot more to run not to mention any human admin or reporting that will be required. Based on this unscientific analysis my initial reaction, of how can you now charge for such service, I now ask why not claw the money back from each application? In fact $10 seems a little low. However the Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Thompson back at the start of systems implementation suggested that failing to implement ESTA properly may discourage certain travelers from participating, causing additional strain at embassies but one assume the implications could be more complicated. Read Statement.
So it is probably priced to cover some costs but not deter people from making the application.
I wish them luck and I hope that they planned for the application rush before the payment starts.
Update: Just got my 3rd ESTA for $15, what a shiny website it has become.