When you plan a budget for your vacation or business trip, it's easy to factor in the cost of the plane tickets and the hotel — but it's harder to account for the temptation to spend at the airport.
Maybe it's something that feels out of your control, like a full economy parking lot, or maybe it's a seemingly small temptation that you give in to, like that local T-shirt to remember your trip by. Either way, airports are designed to coax people to part with more money. Click through for insider airport tips to help you avoid overspending at the airport.
Long Wait Times
With airports encouraging travelers to arrive earlier to get through security, that just leaves more time to be tempted to spend money — even if you're just arriving early for the free airport attractions.
To minimize spending, have a game plan for how you will spend the time you do have between arriving at the airport and your flight's departure.
"This is a hard airport tactic to circumvent, as missing flights is highly discouraged and an easy way to throw any trip off from the start," said Jessica Bisesto, senior editor at TravelPirates. "We recommend staying focused and bypassing any distractions you may encounter on your way to your gate."
Limited Liquids Through Security
You're limited to carrying a very small amount — 3.4 ounces or less per item — of liquid through TSA security checkpoints. That's certainly not enough to quench your thirst while you wait for your flight. But you can avoid overpaying for water while you're waiting by visiting the water fountains. Some airports even have water bottle refilling stations.
Charging for Internet
In a time when people are dependent on the internet for work and entertainment, the thought of being offline for even a few hours can send shivers down your spine. Airports know this, and the airport and retail shops might charge you for internet access. If you have unlimited data, consider using your phone as a mobile hot spot. Or, just bring an offline option, like a book, newspaper or magazine.
"If you're one of those lucky people who has unlimited data, you may not experience the same frustrations as those who cover their monthly gigabytes," said Bisesto. "Many airports offer free WiFi for 30- or 60-minute periods."
Limited Cheap Parking
Parking at airports is available on a first-come, first-served basis. So if you plan to park in the cheap lot, but it's full when you arrive, you don't have a lot of time to come up with a second plan, said Melissa Ruiz, manager for airport parking reservations services CheapAirportParking and ParkON.
"Because you cannot reserve or guarantee a spot, a traveler will be forced to park in the long-term lot, which is available at a higher daily rate," she said. "Rates go anywhere from $20 to $30 a day, depending on the airport. That could really add up."
Expensive Dining Options
While you're sitting at your gate for an hour or more prior to leaving, chances are you're going to get hungry — even if you're actually just bored. But, once you're through security, you're limited to the restaurants — no matter how expensive they are.
"Airlines require passengers to arrive several hours in advance for international flights and at least an hour in advance for domestic flights," said Bisesto. "Airports bank on travelers getting a case of the munchies before boarding. Curb this by eating beforehand and bring your own snacks so you won't be tempted to purchase anything from the overpriced convenience stores near your gate."
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Last Chance for Souvenirs
When you're headed home from a vacation, the airport represents your last chance to buy a souvenir for anyone you might have forgotten — including yourself. Airports know this and charge higher prices accordingly.
"If you're looking to bring back a souvenir, make sure you buy it inside the city," said Arik Kislin, entrepreneur and co-owner of Alerion Aviation, a private jet company. "Airports are known for charging higher prices."
Long Walks to Your Gate
Even though you might have remembered to get all the souvenirs you need, there's always something more you could get for yourself. Airport layouts often lead travelers through a long array of shopping temptations, including holiday gifts for anyone you forgot.
"Airports are getting crafty and seeing increased revenue from tourists in recent years," said Bisesto. "More and more airports are opening up high-end retail stores that sell luxury purses, clothing, shoes and more. Although it may be tempting to take a stroll through these lavish stores, chances are you can find the same quality items for cheaper prices at your local mall or online."
Offering Kiosks for Checkout
If you've had a long trip, most people aren't in the mood for human interaction, even if it's just talking to a cashier as you're making your purchase.
To remove this barrier to purchasing, many airport stores are introducing self-service kiosks so that you can make your purchase without having to interact with another human. Just grab your items, swipe your card, and you're on your way — with a lighter wallet.
Positioning of Stores
If you've noticed a trend that the items you're likely to need to buy are right after security, and the extra luxury items come later, that's by design. Placing the must-buy items immediately after security allows travelers to feel more relaxed because they've purchased the items they need.
Then, when they reach the second tier, or optional items, they're more likely to make additional, higher-priced purchases, according to Arthur D. Little's study on Mastering Airport Retail.
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‘Duty Free’ Doesn’t Always Mean a Good Deal
Duty-free shops can be a great place to get good deals when the items are higher-priced or heavily taxed. However, don't buy into the airport myth that all duty-free items are a good deal, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing with DealNews.
"Whiskey and cigarettes, for example, tend to be good candidates for duty-free savings," she said. "The problem is, shoppers tend to browse duty-free shops assuming that everything offers savings — but that isn't necessarily the case. Sometimes, the savings are minimal at best. And if you're in another country, those savings might be further obscured by mentally converting the currency to dollars."
Foreign Currency Conversions
You might think you need to convert all your cash to your destination's currency before takeoff so you have money to spend as soon as your plane lands. But the airport often isn't the best place to do it, despite its convenience.
"Exchanging currencies outside their respected countries isn't always the best idea," said Kislin. "The transaction fees tend to be a lot higher. Wait to exchange your money until you get to your destination."