The Perk of Buying Books at the Airport No One Knows About

Updated: Nov. 02, 2023

Want to pick up that new bestseller at the airport bookstore but don't want to spend the money? This will change your mind.

airplane taking off from, Getty images (2)

Travel is finally back and booming after its COVID-19-induced hiatus. But that leaves us with a whole new problem: What on earth are we going to do during all that time sitting in a busy airport, on a beach or even on the longest flight in the world? The answer: read brilliant books for half price, thanks to the amazing and little-known Read and Return program at the airport bookstore.

If you need some literary inspiration, check out our selection of the best books of all time, the best fiction books of the year, the best nonfiction books, the best biographies, the scariest books of all time, the best fantasy books and the best beach reads. You may know some sneaky tricks for saving on airfare, but how do you get all these amazing books for half price? Prepare to have your mind blown by another incredible air-travel tip.

If you do a lot of traveling or have ever hung around the airport, browsing duty-free items while waiting for a delayed flight, you’ve probably noticed that the bookstores at airports all look pretty similar. They all have familiar logos, walls of inviting plane snacks and, of course, towers of new hardcover books. They can be a bit pricey though. Is relieving midair boredom worth the splurge? Yes. Yes it is—because of a cool program called Read and Return.

What is the Read and Return program at airport bookstores?

Hundreds of airport bookstores are owned by Paradies Lagardère, which began its Read and Return program back in 2003. The concept works exactly how it sounds: When you buy a book at any Paradies Lagardère–owned airport bookstore, you have six months to finish it and bring it back (in decent condition) to a Paradies Lagardère location. When you do, you get half the price of the original purchase back.

Awesome, right? Could this be the best-kept airport secret, or have we just had our make-it-to-the-gate blinders on all this time?

“Our Read and Return program has always been a popular and fun ‘find’ for travelers,” says Mollie Quinn, a buyer in the retail merchandising division of Paradies Lagardère. “There is signage promoting and explaining the program in all our stores that sell books. However, there are always new customers entering the world of travel, so we’re excited to introduce this great program to new people all the time.”

How does the Read and Return program work?

So here’s how the airport bookstore Read and Return program works in practice: If you’re going on a trip, buy the book you’ve been dying to read, and read it on the plane or over the course of your trip. If you’ve finished the book within six months, bring it and your receipt (use it as a bookmark!) to any of Paradies Lagardère’s airport bookstores.

With your used book in hand, the shop will return half of what you paid for it to you. You might as well use the cash back to get that other book you’ve been dying to read. Or the sequel to the book you’ve just finished. In a way, it’s like you’re getting a book for half price—or two books for the price of one. Either way, count us in.

“Reading a physical book is still a very appealing and satisfying activity for so many people of different ages, backgrounds and interests,” says Quinn. “Because of that, our publications program in our stores across North America offers an incredible variety, so naturally a traveler can always discover a great read.”

What happens to the books you return?

It gets better: The store will resell your gently used book for half price. So if you don’t think you can read a book in six months (or won’t be passing through an airport bookstore in order to return it), you can still save money by shopping these discounted books.

If your book isn’t in great shape—hey, drops in the ocean happen—you won’t get cash back, and the store won’t resell the book. Instead, Paradies Lagardère donates these books to local libraries.

“How many products can you buy that can be returned for a 50% refund after you use it?” asked Quinn. “The added value of certain books being donated to libraries in the local communities in which we serve is yet another attractive aspect of the program.”

What else don’t you know about this airport bookstore?

There are certain things you won’t see in airports anymore, thanks to the pandemic. And then there are some new features you’ll be glad to welcome the next time you take to the air. While the Read and Return program has been running for almost two decades, Paradies Lagardère has a much more high-tech feature to grab the attention of traveling bookworms.

Via its Lift and Learn experience, shoppers will see information about a book and its author displayed on a screen in front of them the moment they lift certain titles off a shelf. “It’s a great informational tool, can help drive sales and offers an entertainment engagement for the traveler,” says Quinn.

What should you be reading?

You can, of course, find gems galore at any airport bookstore, but Quinn says the following books are ultra-popular right now.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

A beautifully written, poignant and inspiring 2018 coming-of-age murder mystery, this book tells the story of the life of a young girl named Kya. Growing up desperately poor and largely neglected in the isolated marshes of North Carolina, she discovers she has skills and resolve in spades. The book has been adapted into a movie, which is out now.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

From New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty comes a gripping tale of family feuds, secrets and betrayal. When the matriarch of the much-admired Delaney family goes missing, the father is naturally suspect No. 1. Divided and competitive as ever, the couple’s four children face tough choices.

The Judge’s List by John Grisham

This 2021 thriller novel centers around Lacy Stoltz, a character introduced by prolific American author John Grisham in his 2016 novel The Whistler. Lacy, an investigator working for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct, is approached by a woman who claims Lacy’s father was killed 20 years ago by a sitting judge. This judge, who has other victims but seemingly knows the law too well to get caught, has a list of targets who have wronged him in some way. Can the two women bring him to justice without ending up on the list themselves?

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

Expanding on the story he told on his Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia tells the real-life story of aerial bombardment strategy in World War II. The book focuses on Major General Haywood S. Hansell, who developed high-altitude precision bombing strategies as a means of limiting civilian casualties. When Hansell was replaced by Major General Curtis LeMay due to “difficulties in the real-world application” of the so-called Bomber Mafia strategy, a drastic U-turn in tactics led to napalm attacks on Japanese population centers.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

If you like your murder mysteries with a roller coaster of twists and turns, you’re likely to love this page-turner from bestselling author Lucy Foley. When old friends Jules and Will meet on a windswept Irish island for a fancy wedding, badly buried hatchets are unearthed. Old-school mystery combines with modern psychological intrigue to make this book hard to put down.

Now that you’ve got your airport reading plan down, it’s time to check out the secret perk of buying electronics at the airport that no one knows about. But don’t go too wild and max out your credit card before you even reach your destination. In fact, it’s best to avoid buying these things at an airport. Happy travels!

Additional research by Meghan Jones.


  • Mollie Quinn, buyer in the retail merchandising division of Paradies Lagardère
  • Paradies Lagardère: “Locations Map”