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 a seemingly small temptation that you give in to, like that local T-shirt to remember your trip, or maybe it’s a bigger purchase that seems brilliant at the time.
Because airports encourage travelers to arrive earlier to get through security, it leaves you with more time to be at the terminal — and spend money there. To minimize unnecessary spending, make a plan for how you’ll spend your time at the airport while you’re waiting for your flight to depart.
“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.”
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. Instead of buying pricey drinks in the terminal, just visit a water fountain. Some airports even have water bottle refilling stations.
Your water bottle isn’t the only the TSA restricts. Some snacks also fall under the “3.4 ounces or less” rule, including creamy cheeses, creamy dips and spreads, honey, jam and jellies, peanut butter, salsa and yogurt. If you’re planning to bring snacks with you, make sure you can get through security with them. Otherwise, you might end up paying a high price to replace your peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
4. Charging for WiFi
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 many a traveler’s spine. Airports know this, and it might charge you for internet access.
If you have unlimited data, consider using your phone as a mobile hotspot. Or, if you travel frequently enough to justify it, consider subscribing to internet services in the airports you fly through the most. Alternatively, just bring an offline option, like a book, newspaper or magazine.
“If you’re one of those lucky people who have unlimited data, you may not experience the same frustrations as those who cover their monthly gigabytes,” said Bisesto. “Many airports offer free Wi-Fi for 30- or 60-minute periods.”
Parking at airports is available on a first-come, first-served basis. 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, marketing manager for CheapAirportParking.org and ParkON.com.
“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.”
6. Expensive Dining
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. Once you’re through security, however, you’re limited to the terminal 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.”
When you’re headed home from a vacation, your last chance to buy a souvenir for anyone you might have forgotten — including yourself — is the airport. Airports know this — and they charge higher prices for them.
“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.”
“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.”
9. Diagonal Aisles
Even if you’re walking slowly, it’s hard to see what items are in an aisle in the store if the aisles are perpendicular to your path. If you can’t see what’s for sale, you won’t be as tempted to stray from your path to make a purchase. As a result, stores in airports often arrange their aisles diagonally so travelers can see more items from the main walkway — and popular items are typically in the end displays, according to InterVISTAS.
If you’ve had a long trip, you’re probably not in the mood for human interaction, even if it’s just talking to a cashier as you’re making your purchase. To remove this purchasing barrier, many airport stores are introducing self-service kiosks so 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.
11. Store Positioning
Airports tend to place the items you’re likely to need as close to security as possible. Placing the must-buy items there helps travelers relax because once they buy, they don’t have to worry about it. When they reach the second tier — luxury items — they’re more likely to make additional, higher-priced purchases, according to Arthur D. Little’s study on Mastering Airport Retail.
Duty-free shops can be a great place to get good deals when the items are higher-priced or heavily taxed. Don’t buy into the airport myth that all duty-free items are a good deal, however, 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. “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.”
13. Foreign Currency Conversions
You might think you need to convert all your cash to your destination’s currency before your plane departs so you can travel with money and start spending as soon as you deplane. But the airport often isn’t the best place to do it, despite the fact that 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.”
14. Walk-Through Stores
Newer airport designs make it so you actually have to walk some stores to get to your gate. For example, in March 2018, Sangster International Airport in Jamaica announced plans for a new walk-through strategy that it expects to increase retail sales by 50 percent.
15. Last-Minute Offers at the Gate
Some passengers, especially business travelers, are on a mission to move through the airport as quickly as possible, so they don’t fall prey to other tactics throughout the airport. According to Arthur D. Little’s study on Mastering Airport Retail, however, those passengers do have a weakness: last-minute offers strategically positioned by their gates. Don’t let your guard down when you sit down at your gate — the temptations are still right there.
In the U.S., people are used to driving on the right side of the road, so naturally, people will look to the right more often than to the left. Therefore, when the airport curves the walkway from right to left, according to a study by InterVISTAs, sales numbers go up.
17. More Spacious Stores
If you feel like you have more room in the aisles of a store at the airport than downtown stores, you’re probably right. Airports design their store layouts to account for the fact that many people will be carrying bags — they don’t want customers to feel crowded or bump into each other.
Airports know that if there’s not enough room for you and your bags, or if you’re getting bumped into, you won’t shop. Keep this in mind when you’re browsing a store that lulls you into a comfortable environment.