Updated on 01.19.07

Blown Away By Prices Inside Of Airports? Five Travel Tips For Saving Cash Beyond The Security Checkpoint

Trent Hamm

I’m sitting here in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport composing this post and all around me I see opportunities to burn through a lot of money very quickly. Hungry traveler? You can drop $10 on some pretty awful fast food quite quickly. Want to eat somewhat better? TGI Friday’s will be glad to take a few Hamiltons from you before you blink. And if you expect to pay below MSRP for anything, think again. Think that’s bad? I watched a friend just this morning spend $12 on two breakfast sandwiches that were described as “awful” and a small container of orange juice.

So what can a busy traveler do to avoid these ridiculous expenses? Here’s what I do every time I travel so I’m not stuck shelling out a lot of cash during airport layovers.

First, I put a ton of goodies in my carry-on. I usually take beef jerky, Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers, and Nutri-Grain bars, but you may want to try some other stuff. I also pack a meal if the trip is going to be really long or the layover is long. I have room for plenty of snacks in my carry-on, because usually I just have a few reading materials and maybe my laptop in my carry-on bag (which itself is actually the backpack I used in college). Beef jerky is the absolute best food to take because it’s extremely filling for the volume.

Second, I pack an empty water bottle in my carry-on. Most of the time, this goes through airport security without a blink. Recently, a security guard did dig it out and check it over, but it was completely empty so he didn’t do a thing about it. After I get it through airport security, I go to the restroom and fill it with tap water. If this bothers you, you can use a filtered water bottle instead.

I also pack plenty of reading material and other entertainment in my carry-on. This always includes a notepad and a pen. Why? No matter how bored I get, I can come up with things to write down. If I have my laptop along, I can always use that for plenty of entertainment (I like playing through older computer games, but that’s another frugal topic…).

When I’m in the airport, I head straight to my gate and sit down. Making this my goal as soon as I get through security makes it a lot easier to not get distracted by the shopping mall-esque qualities of many modern airports. Once I’m entrenched at a gate, the only thing that can really roust me is the need to use a bathroom, so I usually stop at a bathroom very near my gate (and also use that opportunity to fill my water bottle).

What about return trips? I make it a point to pack my bag with snacks before I even reach the airport. Sometimes, this means grabbing stuff at a grocery store in the middle of a trip, but it is much, much cheaper to do this than to buy stuff iniside of the airport. I usually pack enough jerky for both the trip going and coming and I keep it in a sealed container for freshness, so usually I just look for other snack items.

You can easily save $20 each trip using these tips, and even more if you’re ever “tricked” into shopping in airports. Just remember that airports are extremely poor for competitive prices and a bit of advance planning here is well worth the time invested.

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  1. Him says:

    Trail mix works well for me. Easily managed, nutritious, and delicious. Be careful when opening the bag to make sure it doesn’t explode all over the place.

  2. Laura K says:

    Boston’s Logan airpot has (had?) a rule that vendors had to price their goods at the same price people could buy them outside the airport. I just googled it but couldn’t find any information. (I seem to remember that it was pretty well advertised.) I don’t fly (or shop in airports) often enough to know what the effects were, but I do remember being surprised that a bagel and coffee I bought were NOT outrageously priced!

  3. Mike says:

    Apparently cheese (to go with my crackers) and brownies do not go through the x-ray well…They had to be removed and my bag re-scanned. The guy running the x-ray machine was perplexed to say the least until they were removed. This was at DIA. I’ve always brought an “empty” nalgene (1l wide mouth water bottle) through security (usually attached to the outside of my backpack with a carabiner).

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