When you’re at an airport, you’re kind of a captive audience. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately, the airport knows that just as much as you do. Now granted, there are some things you really can’t help but buy at the airport, especially if you’re stuck there for a long time (BTW, if you ever are, remember there are lots of free and cheap things you may be able to do while you’re waiting). But if you’re going to be at the airport for a so-called normal amount of time, and can plan ahead, DO IT. It’ll save you a bunch of money.
Over the years, larger airports have almost turned into old-fashioned indoor malls. They’re even designed in certain ways to entice you to buy more stuff. You’ve got stores selling clothing, electronics, jewelry, sunglasses, watches, artwork, perfume/cologne, books, magazines, candy and, of course, travel equipment galore (OMG do I adore browsing through Brookstone!). Store owners are hoping you’ll buy something because you just realized you left your “NAME OF ITEM” at home, or because that cute l’il stuffed alligator is just too cute to pass up.
DON’T FALL FOR IT!
Almost all the stuff you see in airport stores are more expensive than if you bought it somewhere else (although if you buy stuff from these kiosks, you should be able to get a refund for any overpayment). If you keep a list and plan ahead before you pack, I bet you can avoid having to buy another pair of sunglasses, or a second (or third!) neck pillow.
You can also consider grabbing a snapshot or two of that cute l’il stuffed alligator and see if you can buy it anywhere else (Amazon? eBay? Other places the manufacturer sells stuff?) and plan to buy it after you’re back home from your trip.
Sure, there are some things, especially in terms of art or even hand made jewelry, that you may not see anywhere else; you might have no choice but to buy it at the airport and if that’s the case, so be it. But for a whole lot of other stuff, planning ahead of time and comparison shopping are the keys.
Food goes right up there with “stuff” – that Outback Steakhouse, Famous Famiglia Pizza or Wendy’s is going to cost more at the airport than it will outside. Again, if you’re going to be at the airport for hours on end, you may have little choice. But if you’re only going to be there for 2 hours before your plane leaves, plan ahead, eat before you leave, or bring snacks in your carry on to tide you over (but have them very accessible in case TSA asks you to remove them from your bag).
Again, there are exceptions to the rule. Besides the run-of-the-mill McDonald’s and California Pizza Kitchens that you’ll see in airports across the U.S., there are some airport restaurants that are unique, one-of-a-kind, sometimes award-winning places, such as One Flew South in ATL and Cask and Larder at MCO. Even if their prices are a little on the higher side, they are TOTALLY worth having a meal there.
Chances are excellent that the currency exchange desks in airports are going to hit you with humongous transaction fees. You can avoid this in a few ways:
- Take some money out at an ATM (chances are you’ll get a decent interbank rate, which will be better than the rates they offer at exchange counters at the airport)
- Are you a member of AAA? They have over 90 types of foreign currency available for purchase before you travel and their rates should be better than what you can find abroad.
- Do you *HAVE* to have cash for your travels overseas? Or can you manage with just credit cards? It’s possible to avoid extra credit card fees during international travel if you have the right credit cards.
This last one should actually be first, since it’s the first thing you’ll encounter on your trip. But if you plan to drive to the airport and leave your car there while you’re gone, the closer you park to the airport terminal, the more you’re going to pay to park there every day. Plan your parking ahead of time and see if there is off-site parking available, so you can decide which is more important, speed or cost. Also see if this option is available and makes sense for your travels, so you can park for free.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary