Chad Hensley
Dec 12, 2018 · 4 min read

Air travel is an exercise in patience. From last-minute delays to lengthy layovers, there is a lot of waiting involved in traveling. Most of us get a bit stir crazy while waiting to board a flight, and if your first inclination is to pass the time by spending money, you’re not alone. Whether you choose to kill time by throwing a few beers back or by browsing the duty-free shops, airports make it dangerously easy to blow your travel budget before you even take off. The first step to not overspending at the airport is knowing what’s fairly priced and what isn’t. Here are a few expenses to be mindful of:

1. Duty-free

In theory, duty-free purchases are a traveler’s best friend. The allure of avoiding taxes on pricey items tempts many shoppers to indulge while they wait for their flight to board. While it’s possible to score a good deal on vices like booze or cigarettes, which boast high taxes in some countries, experts argue that you can usually find the exact same goods for the same price, if not cheaper, at local convenience stores. If you’re considering buying anything from a duty-free store, make sure to comparison shop — especially when it comes to electronics, beauty products, or luxury clothing brands. A quick Google search will reveal if a product is reasonably priced.

2. Food

American travelers spend $52, on average, for food and drink before a flight. This figure seems unfathomably high when you think about all of the dry sandwiches and dodgy salads with questionable expiration dates you’ve suffered through while waiting for a flight to board. Unsurprisingly, the driving force behind the price of food at airports is demand. Hungry travelers have a limited number of options to choose from, and most restaurants don’t have much space for inventory. And when demand exceeds supply, prices surge. Try to make time before you leave home to pack your own snacks to enjoy before and on the flight. While you won’t get through security with a bag of fresh fruit, there are many foods you can pack in your carry-on without hassle.

3. Bottled water

There’s a good chance you’re already aware of the reasons why some shoppers avoid buying bottled water: it’s bad for the environment, the labels can be misleading, and it’s very expensive. A 16-ounce bottle may cost as much as $5 at an airport. This seemingly small expense can add up fast if you’re buying supplies for a family or preparing for a long journey. To save cash, pack a refillable bottle in your carry-on bag and reload your water supply from a nearby fountain or tap.

4. Airport Wi-Fi

For those who came of age in the screen generation, the thought of spending two hours without access to Wi-Fi may seem incomprehensible. While most of the major airports in the country offer free Wi-Fi for business and travel needs, there are plenty that do not. Depending on the city, Wi-Fi can cost between $5 and $15 by the hour. If a lack of connectivity makes you nervous, research beforehand if the airport you’re traveling to offers free wireless connections. If it doesn’t, consider downloading media beforehand from apps that provide offline storage like Spotify and Netflix. If you get desperate, you can always use the hotspot on your phone if you have enough data.

5. Foreign currency

Everyone knows that local currency is a must-have for international travelers, which is why airport-based currency exchange shops have such exorbitant exchange rates. There’s a lot to consider when deciding the best place to exchange currency, and it all starts with knowing what your bank does (and doesn’t) offer. Some banks have international branches and ATMs, while others may partner with other institutions in different countries. In these instances, you may be able to withdraw cash once you arrive at your destination with low fees. Some banks even go as far as reimbursing ATM fees while traveling overseas.

“American travelers spend $52, on average, for food and drink before a flight. This figure seems unfathomably high when you think about all of the dry sandwiches and dodgy salads with questionable expiration dates you’ve suffered through while waiting for a flight to board.”

But not all banks are created equal. While most financial institutions in the US offer currency exchange to their customers, because foreign currencies are constantly fluctuating, the rates aren’t guaranteed to be competitive. Banking should be simple and transparent, and if you’re having a difficult time figuring out what you can expect from your bank while traveling, it might be time to make a change.

6. Airport parking

While parking your car at the airport is convenient, it’s a convenience you’ll pay dearly for. If public transit isn’t available, consider searching for a private, off-site parking lot near the airport. Private lots are usually significantly cheaper and less busy than what you’ll find at the airport. If you’re traveling to a metropolitan area, you might want to consider using a taxi or ride-sharing service rather than letting your automobile rack up fees day after day.

7. Medicine

Has a long flight ever made you feel a little queasy? Many travelers experience nausea, stomach pain, and dizziness on planes. While most airport convenience stores offer a variety of over-the-counter medications, try your best to plan ahead and pack what you’ll need in your carry-on, as the prices you’ll find at the airport are heavily inflated as compared to your local drug store.


What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever purchased at an airport? Share your travel stories with us on Facebook and Twitter.

N26 US Magazine

N26 is coming to the US

Chad Hensley

Written by

N26 US Magazine

N26 is coming to the US

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