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15 Things You Should Never Buy at the Airport

There's amazing feeling of freedom in being able to fly to your destination of choice. But the time you spend in an airport is anything but free. In fact, it can be pretty darn expensive if you make the mistake of buying any of these items while you're there.

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If you’re reading this story on, you must be using the Internet, and if you’re anything like us, you probably sometimes feel fairly dependent on all that connectivity. No judgment! However, just say no to paying for Wi-Fi in the airport. “Airports take advantage of the fact that once you’re past those security gates, you’re a captive audience,” explains Coleman Collins, former full-time traveler and author of the forthcoming: The Road Warrior: A Practical Guide to Maintaining Your Health, Productivity, and Sanity While Traveling for Work. First off, the Wi-Fi is “slow and horrifically overpriced,” he points out. But more importantly, “travel provides the perfect forced Internet break. Your emails can wait!” Instead of checking your handheld device, how about reading, engaging in a craft, or sitting quietly. Check out what you can get for free at the airport.

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If you’ve decided you can pass up the airport Wi-Fi, then perhaps you’ll be open to passing up the opportunity to impulse-purchase electronics from those overpriced airport kiosks, even those little items like chargers and headsets you may have forgot to pack. “Electronics purchased at the airport will cost you significantly more than if you had bought them ahead of time,” says Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing with DealNews, a shopping comparison website. “Our research shows that electronics are, on average, 34 percent more expensive at the airport than what they would find online. For some of the smaller items, that could mean a difference of $10 to $15. For some of the more advanced technology digital cameras, you could be overpaying anywhere from $50 to $200. And that charger? It could be up to 50 percent more at the airport.” Collins notes specifically that headphones tend to be ridiculously overpriced at the airport. “If you must buy them, whether for an important call or just to survive a six-hour flight, you’ll get prices closest to retail at those Best Buy kiosks.”

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It’s always a good idea to eat a good meal before you fly to avoid getting sick on a plane, but whatever you do, don’t buy your food in the airport. “It’s almost universally overpriced, not very tasty, not very good for you, or some combination of the three,” Collins says. “Besides, most travelers eat at the airport solely as a way to kill time, and not because they’re actually hungry.” Make sure you never, ever buy these foods from the airport.

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Water, or for that matter anything to drink

Air travel can dehydrate you, among other physical side effects, but seasoned travelers know not to buy water at the airport. “I always keep a water bottle with me,” says Becky Rodriguez. “Since you can’t have liquids during security check, I just pack an empty bottle water in my purse or throw it in my carry on. This way, I can just fill it up in the bathroom. It might not seem like a lot, but paying twice the amount for something you can get for free is a total rip off!” Just make sure you’re using a glass or aluminum bottle. Be a smart shopper–these are items you shouldn’t buy at Aldi. 

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Whatever you do, don’t buy souvenirs at the airport. “There is an astronomical markup on souvenirs at the airport,” says Peter Yang, seasoned business traveler. So plan ahead, and purchase souvenirs at your destination, rather than while in transit.

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Foreign currency

It’s probably one of the last things you’ll think about when planning a trip, but don’t exchange your money for foreign currency at the airport, says Jennifer McDermott, a consumer advocate and former communications strategist for a large travel company. “It’s well-known that travelers are arriving unprepared, and given the lack of competition among currency exchange booths at the airport, those booths tend to charge high fees and far from the best exchange rates.” Yang suggests waiting until you arrive at your destination and taking out money from an ATM there. “You’ll get a much better exchange rate that way.” Make sure you avoid the dirtiest spots in the airport.

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Neck pillows

“Before your trip, make sure you purchase a neck pillow if you’re going on a long flight,” advises Arik Kislin, co-owner of the Gansevoort Hotel and Alerion Aviation, a private jet company. “The ones they sell in the airport are overpriced and have been touched and tried on by many travelers walking through the airport.” Yuck and yuckier. (We’re fans of the Cabeau Evolution Pillow that comes with its own set of earplugs.)

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Tend to get woozy while traveling? Whatever OTC medications you think you might need for your trip, don’t buy them in the airport because the prices are always inflated as compared to what you’d pay outside the airport. Try your best to plan ahead, and have what you need on hand in your carry-on, says Chantay Bridges, CNE, SRES, who travels for work and for pleasure.

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Rental cars

“If you want to obtain the nicest car, at the best price and with the least hassle, arrange this before you arrive at your destination,” according to Bridges. “If you wait until you get to the airport, you’re limiting your choices, and a higher price will reflect that lack of choice.” Here’s how to make the most out of your airport layover.

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Shop too much on your trip and looking to pick up an extra suitcase at the airport? According to Bridges, you never should do that. “What you can buy in the airport is attractive, no doubt, but you’ll definitely pay a premium.”

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Reading materials

Your brain needs you to read, and there are so many good books you can read in a day. But don’t wait until you get to the airport to think of this! “Grab a book from your bookshelf and bring it with you, cost-free,” says Bridges. “Otherwise you may be paying that extra hike-up charge to be entertained for a short period of time.” The exception is if you are buying your book at one of these amazing airport read and return bookstores.

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Chocolate is oh-so-good, and it’s also good for your brain. But don’t buy it at the airport, and certainly not in the duty-free shop, advises Brittnay Sharman, one half of the Traveling Housesitters, who’ve been traveling the world for the past three years and have been in and out of 25 countries. “Take a look at the prices, and you’ll see you’re usually paying two or three times more than what you’d pay at the supermarket,” she points out. “They try to make it look more exciting by having oversize items. But do you really need that much chocolate at that price?”

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“Many people stop at duty-free stores because of the common misconception that they will save a fortune on taxes,” points out Veronica Thor, a consumer and shopping expert and blogger. “However, the reality is that the small tax savings doesn’t make up for the markup in prices. And this is particularly true when it comes to alcohol.” She gives the example of Grey Goose, which can be bought for under $50 at Costco, but which is selling currently for $60 at the duty-free chain, Duty Free Americas. Looking to get on the WiFi? Here’s a map with airport WiFi passwords all over the world.

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Department store perfume

That perfume they’re selling at the duty-free shop in the airport could very well be a fake, according to the blog, Duty-Free Buzz. It’s not just at the airport that you’ll find counterfeit perfume, but at the airport, there’s a greater chance that the retailer from whom you’re buying it has no idea if he’s selling a counterfeit version. So, in other words, the duty-free shop may be selling what it believes to be the real deal, but it’s not. You’re far better off buying perfume directly from its manufacturer or in a department store that you trust.

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“Airport parking garages tend to overcharge for long and short time parking,” points out Gari Anne Kosanke, who finds herself at the airport frequently because her spouse works there. “There are a lot of privately owned parking garages near airports that are way more affordable. Some even provide free shuttles to the airport.” You can get started choosing an off-site parking lot or garage using a website like one with a site like Cheap Airport Parking. Now that you know what not to do in an airport, here’s what you should never do on a plane.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.