Nothing irritates me more than paying outrageous prices when I'm stuck somewhere with limited options. In an effort to help you avoid this on your next trip, here are some tips to help you save money at the airport.
Lots of things about travel are expensive, especially now. Exorbitant airport prices are nothing new, but combined with increases in other areas, plus reductions in service, they are particularly grating.
On my most recent trip, my flight was delayed past midnight, almost everything was closed, and I hadn't had dinner. I paid $36 for a gin & tonic, a bottle of water, and a small bag of potato chips. Then I kicked myself for not planning ahead.
The fact that you are stuck in the airport, sometimes for far longer than anticipated due to frequent delays and cancellations that are out of your control, means that options are limited and expensive.
There are some things, however, that are in our control. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid blowing your budget before you even get off the ground.
Solo at the Airport? Here's How to Save Money
- Save on getting to and from the airport. Just getting to the airport can be very expensive. How you get there can make a difference. For example, in London you can take the Tube for about £5.50 using an Oyster Card. Traveling light with carry-on luggage makes this really easy. The Heathrow Express Train is £25 (but goes down to £10 if you can book 60 days in advance) and a taxi is about £80. (For more about saving money on a trip to London, read: Solo Travel London On a Budget.) Most cities have connecting trains, airport shuttles, or car-sharing services like Uber or Lyft. Check out all your options, including the rules around who is allowed to service the airport in the city you're visiting. Rome2rio is a handy site to help you find options.
- Park near the airport, not at the airport. Consider staying at a hotel near the airport the night before you fly out. Many hotels will allow you to leave your car in their lot while you're gone. As a bonus, they generally have shuttles to transport you to and from your departure and arrivals terminals. And, as a general rule, airport hotels are less expensive than those in the center. Plus, you get to relax and not worry about getting stuck in traffic and missing your flight! If you plan to park at the airport, again, check deal sites such as Groupon and Travelzoo for discounts.
- Keep your device chargers, electrical adapter, and power bank in your carry-on. Delayed flights can result in run-down batteries in phones, tablets, and computers. Yet these are the very devices that can help you endure the wait and keep tabs on your flight. Make sure you have everything you need in your bag so you don't have to buy spares at inflated airport prices.
- Don't waste money on high mark-up items. The price of bottled water at the airport can be astronomical, not to mention environmentally problematic. The same goes for snack foods. Bring your water bottle through security empty and fill it on the other side. I have read that if you freeze a bottle of water you can get it through security, then drink it cold while you wait for your flight, but I wouldn't guarantee it. Bring snacks from home. At a minimum, you'll save money at the airport and can bring your favorites, but it may also mean that you can eat healthier.
- Get into the lounge for less. Sometimes a pass to an airport lounge is worth it, especially if you're not inclined to bring food and drinks with you to the airport. A lounge may be a better–and certainly more comfortable–deal than purchasing food and drinks in airport restaurants. Priority Pass gives you access to more than 1,000 lounges in 148 countries around the world. I frequently use Plaza Premium lounges, and have found ways to reduce the cost there by searching Groupon or Travelzoo for deals or taking advantage of discounts through existing memberships or points plans. Some premium credit cards give you discounts to lounges and, depending on your status with your airline, you may automatically have lounge access.
- Don't exchange money at the currency kiosk. Many people think that changing money is something that they can get done while waiting around. Stop. Don't exchange your money at an airport kiosk or any money exchange booths. They tend to be more expensive. Wait until you are away from the airport and get cash at a bank ATM–if you even need cash. In the post-pandemic world, cash is not accepted nearly as much. I just returned from 10 days in Ireland without using any cash at all.
- Shop wisely. It can be tempting to fill time with shopping when you're stuck in a holding pattern. But do you really need a teddy bear with a flag of the country you're visiting? How much do you actually love maple fudge? Is that Scotch really cheaper than at home? I have rarely found prices at the Duty-Free shops to be better than what I could get elsewhere. These days, it's easy to whip out your phone and compare prices. And speaking of money, if you're in another country and when you get to the cash they ask you whether you want to pay in your currency or theirs, the correct answer is always theirs. Here's why: Your Currency or Theirs? The Decision Makes a Difference.
- Get on the list. You may know that I am a huge proponent of getting on the email list for every product or service I might want to use so that I can take advantage of perks, get advance notice of sales, even plan travel according to discount periods. Here we go again! Get on the email list for your local airport, or at least take a look at their website before you leave home. Many of them offer deals on shopping, dining, lounge access, and other products and services. You'll also find maps on their websites which can help you plan your time at the airport.
- When you get to Arrivals, head for Departures. If you have ever stood in an endless queue at the taxi stand, along with a hundred of your fellow passengers who also want to get home, try this. Go to the Departures level. At Arrivals, the traffic is congested, cars are jockeying for position to pick up friends and family, happy reunions are taking place, and vehicles are taking up space waiting for people to arrive. At Departures, cars pull in, people jump out, the cars drive off. Taxis are emptying, not loading. They'll be grateful for the fare and not having to get into the maze of Arrivals and you'll save time and money by not being stuck in traffic and lineups, and heading right on out.
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