15 Thrifty Airport Tips Every Smart Traveler Should Know

This shouldn’t be news: airports are expensive places to spend money. Since you can be there for hours at a time with no buying alternatives, vendors can charge people twice as much or more than they’d pay elsewhere, and they can get away with it. You can’t get the vendors to lower their prices, but you can beat them by planning ahead.


1. Pack Your Own Snacks

Large airports have a lot of restaurants and shops with snacks, but the prices are painful. Snacking on your own bag of pretzels or beef jerky might not be as satisfying as getting a burger and fries, but it will save you a lot of money.

2. Bring an Empty Water Bottle

The drinks at airports are also insanely expensive. Pack an empty water bottle or tumbler and fill it for free at a water fountain.

3. Have Plenty of Entertainment

Download movies and shows, pack books and magazines and games, and so on. Have more entertainment than you’ll need. When you don’t have enough to keep yourself occupied, you’re tempted to go to a shop and overpay for something to entertain yourself.

4. Avoid Shopping

It’s easy to kill time at the airport by browsing the shops, and airports have come a long way in providing a variety of high-quality goods to purchase. The problem is that they’re way more expensive than they are elsewhere.

5. Pack Your Own Toiletries and Similar Items

Sometimes you need to freshen up a bit at the airport. Or maybe you get a headache. You can buy products for that at the airport, but they’ll be expensive. It’s better to go to the grocery store beforehand and buy travel-size sanitizer, toothpaste, ibuprofen, etc.

6. Don’t Check Bags

Most airlines now charge a fee per checked bag. Supposedly, that’s to keep ticket prices down, but it sounds more like a way to wring money out of travelers. If you can get by with a carry-on only, you’ll save money.

7. Weigh Bags That You Do Check

If you do have to check bags, weigh them before you leave. 50 pounds is a pretty standard limit, and if you go over it, you get hit with an expensive surcharge.

8. Give Up Your Seat

Are you flexible with your travel plans? Confoundingly, airlines often intentionally overbook flights. When that happens, they’ll usually offer incentives for people to give up their seats. That can be flight vouchers, cash, meals, or other offers.

9. Know the Rules and the Size Limits

Find out ahead of time the size limits for personal items and what you can’t bring onboard. If you run afoul of them, you’ll have to give them up at security, which is like throwing money away. Then you might have to pay airport prices to replace them, which wastes even more money.

10. Don’t Pay For Wi-Fi

Most airports have free wi-fi now. If one doesn’t, use your mobile data or hotspot your phone instead of paying too much for what often isn’t very good wi-fi. Also, avoid paying for upgrades from free wi-fi services.

11. Make a Transportation Plan

Figure out how you’re getting to and from the airport ahead of time. This allows you to find economical options. Last-minute ones often cost a lot more.

12. Park at a Hotel Close By

Some hotels near airports let people park there for a small fee and use their shuttle services. It’s cheaper than airport parking. Just make sure this is okay in advance so you don’t get your car towed.

13. Exchange Currency Somewhere Else

For international travel, you’ll usually save money if you exchange money somewhere other than an airport. At airports, you’ll likely encounter higher rates and/or extra fees.

14. Skip the Gift Wrap

If your wrapped gifts get flagged for extra screening, TSA will remove the wrapping paper, probably ruining it. That’s lost money. Reusable gift bags are better, and you can always wrap the gifts later if you want to.

15. Skip Starbucks

Have you ever noticed that the Starbucks line is really long? Is it worth waiting all that time to be overcharged for coffee that’s already overpriced?

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