Airport or shopping mall? Have you noticed that it’s getting harder to tell the difference these days?
Let's learn how to save money at the airport.
Once you finally make it past security, you put on your shoes, heave a sigh of relief and look around. There are jewelry stores, fancy museum shops and even high-end designers have made inroads into airport retail space. Were you planning to upgrade your wardrobe or your electronics at the start of your vacation? Probably not, but look how pretty!
Even if you have the willpower to walk past the brightly-lit luxury handbag place, you’re probably hungry. There are tons of eateries waiting to take your cash, too, and not just the food court any more. You can easily spend a fortune on a gourmet meal while you ride out a flight delay.
Savvy airport businesses know a captive audience when they see one. They’re banking that hungry and thirsty travelers dealing with delays will be less picky about what they spend on lunch. They also know that many travelers are in vacation mode once they enter the airport, and that holiday attitude loosens up the purse strings for impulse buys — underwater camera and selfie stick, anyone?
If you’re traveling on a budget, you need a plan to help you avoid the airport’s clever spending pitfalls. Follow these five tips to avoid mindless spending and save your cash for your destination.
1. Pack an Airport Picnic
Airport food is notoriously expensive, and your best bet is to avoid it if you want to save some money. If you know you have a long layover coming, or your flight is scheduled over a meal time, plan ahead and pack your lunch. Though there are strict guidelines about liquids at security, you can bring food in your carry-on with no trouble. Go ahead and pack some granola bars, fresh veggies slices or a sandwich — all are allowed.
And what about a drink? Though you can’t bring a full water bottle past security, you can definitely bring an empty bottle. The most frugal solution to quenching your thirst at the airport is to pack an empty water bottle and fill it a drinking fountain near your gate. This will keep you well hydrated during the flight, and it’s free!
2. Don’t Forget Your Credit Card Perks
Everyone knows that lots of credit cards offer travel rewards points, but did you know they also offer some travel perks and discounts? Before you book your trip, check your benefits online. Some credit cards offer extra frequent flier miles for airport purchases or a discount on the checked bag fee.
The Jet Blue American Express card, for example, offers a discount on in-flight purchases like premium movies and snack boxes. Check your benefits and see if you can take advantage of any of those cool bonuses you signed up for.
3. Clip Those Coupons
If you don’t have any travel bonuses coming your way, you might have some luck with a regular, old-fashioned coupon.
Most of the places to eat in the airport are the same familiar chains you have at home, and it may even already have clipped some coupons for your favorites. Places like McDonald’s and Starbucks accept the same discounts, rewards cards and coupons at all locations, so bring them along. You can also scan the web for online coupons to boost your chance of finding something useful in the airport.
4. Become an Airport Mystery Shopper
If you would love to take a gander in all those high-end airport shops, being a mystery shopper might be just the thing. Airport secret shopper assignments are often hard to fill since you typically need a boarding pass to get to the shop. If you plan ahead, you can sign up to be a mystery shopper and give yourself longer layovers to make sure you have time to get the job done. Whether you end up earning cash for your trouble or get some free or discounted food, this can be a win-win for people who love to shop!
5. BYO Entertainment
You’re more likely to spend cash when you’re bored, so avoid mindlessly dropping cash on things you don’t need by being your own mini-library. Pack a book and a magazine or two from home to avoid getting sucked into the high prices at the airport newsstand. For kids, see if there are any kid-friendly areas with playing equipment. If not, try packing a coloring book and crayons or even just a deck of cards.
If you prefer on-screen entertainment, load up a few novels on your Kindle or have some movies and games ready to go offline on your iPad to keep you entertained. Just be sure to bring a charger, since videos suck away battery life pretty quickly.
If you plan ahead, you can easily avoid the worst spending pitfalls that the airport can throw at you. Save your cash for your actual vacation and not the fancy shops you see before you even take off!
6. Don't Forget About Parking
If you can avoid it – don't drive to the airport. Ask friends or family to drop you off at the airport well before your travel dates. I often ask my friends to drop off/pick me up at the airport and promise them I'll treat them to dinner (Sometimes it's Chipotle – but hey, who doesn't love Chipotle?!). Don't rule out rideshares or mobile apps either. Paying someone else to drive you makes sense if ends up being cheaper than parking costs.