Duty-free shops in airports can be a great way to grab items like alcohol, confectionery, cosmetics, accessories, fragrances, tobacco, souvenirs, and more without having to pay duty on them.
Exemptions for duty-free shopping are in place, though, so you are limited to a specific dollar amount in addition to your personal exemptions based on the duration of your travel, as well as limits on the amount of things like alcohol and tobacco you can buy without paying duty on them.
But not everything at the duty-free shop is a great deal. And there are some useful tricks to make sure you get the most out of your duty-free shopping.
10 Price Compare
Either before you leave or from your phone while there, do price comparisons. Look at the bottles you are interested in buying when it comes to alcohol, for example, then compare to the pricing at the liquor store in your hometown. Note that the size of the bottle might differ, but you can still get an idea of how good a deal is (or not) once you consider size as well as currency conversion and typical taxes.
Search a few different options and then choose the items with the best deal. For example, if you’re getting twice as much whisky for a fraction of the price, even when taking taxes and currency conversion into account, that’s a bottle worth getting.
9 Get The Maximum Allowed
Know how much you’re permitted and stay within that limit, but get the maximum that you are allowed. This way, you can make the most of duty-free shopping.
If you go over and claim it, you will end up having to pay duty anyway. And if you go over and try to hide it, you could get yourself in hot water with customs. So you’re better off to know exactly what you can bring based on the duration of your trip, including the total spend amount, and stick to it to get as much as you can.
8 Use Your Child’s Passport, Too
Duty-free exemptions apply to each passport, so if you are traveling with family members, including kids, you can get the maximum allowed for each person who has a seat on the plane. However, note that you are not supposed to get alcohol or tobacco on a child’s exemptions, as items purchased are supposed to be for personal or household use.
If you want to get more than you’re allowed but your spouse or friend doesn’t, you can also share. Technically you’re not allowed to pool exemptions. But you can have someone you’re traveling with buy an item for you and declare it on their passport, then they can just give you the bottle of liquor or carton of cigarettes once you’ve cleared customs and are heading home, and you can pay them back based on your arrangements.
7 Know What Not To Buy
You’ll get the best deals at duty-free on liquor and tobacco, because these are items that are usually heavily taxed. But the deals you get on those large boxes of chocolates, sunglasses, or handbags and cosmetics might not actually be worth it.
In some cases, the items are just as expensive, or even more, than what you could buy at home or at a local shop from your destination. Look into where the best deals are to be had and don’t get suckered into buying something that isn’t a deal at all, duty or no duty.
6 Buy Souvenirs Before You Get To The Airport
Sometimes it’s hard to find time to grab souvenirs for the family while you’re away on vacation, or especially if you’re away on business. But duty-free store souvenirs are often heavily marked up so you’re not paying duty but you’re still paying more.
If you want to save a few bucks, you’re better off carving out a few minutes of your day to pop into the souvenir shop outside your hotel or close by your destination to grab items there. Save the duty-free purchases for items where you’ll actually save instead of splurge.
5 Keep Your Receipts
Make sure to keep your receipts on hand to prove what you purchased. In most duty-free shops, they will let you know if you’re exceeding the allowance, or at least warn you about having to pay duties if you’re buying more than you’re allowed.
You’ll pick up your duty-free items before boarding, so keep the receipt attached to the closed bag so you can easily show a customs official should they request to see it. If you’re spending a lot at duty-free, make sure to have all of the shopping receipts from your actual trip on hand as well, as they might want to tally up the total to make sure you’re being honest about your claims.
4 Do Your Research
If you’ll be traveling often, do your research ahead of time to see which duty-free shops tend to have the best deals. If you’re headed to Las Vegas this month but will be traveling to Italy a few months later, for example, compare and contrast based on what you want to buy.
You might find better deals in one airport versus the other and can wait or, conversely, buy things on the sooner trip, in order to get the best possible deals.
3 Use Vouchers
Some airports offer frequent travelers vouchers that can be used on duty-free shopping. If you get these, make use of them. See what you can buy and maximize the value of them to purchase items you were planning on getting anyway, or products with the best deals.
Some airports that offer such vouchers to frequent flyers include Changi Airport in Singapore and Dubai Airport. The vouchers can also be used in airport restaurants so you can buy a bottle of wine to take home and indulge in a glass in a restaurant before your flight.
2 Find What You Can’t Get At Home
In addition to looking for the best deals, find items that you can’t commonly find at home, whether it’s a particular type of whisky or a special edition bottle of liquor. Then keep this at home for special occasions or to give as gifts to friends and family who will love the thoughtful gift of something they can’t go buy themselves at their local store.
This could even include local candies or chocolates and other confectionery treats, a specific brand of cigarettes, and fun souvenirs. Just be sure the price isn’t totally marked up.
1 Buy On The Way to Your Destination
Rather than waiting to shop at the duty-free on your way home, browse and shop on your way there. In some cases, depending on where you are traveling to and from, you can purchase the items you want on your way somewhere.
This saves you time to relax once you get to the airport to head home after a nice family vacation, and gives you something to do if you arrive at the airport to depart several hours early and get through security and line-ups quickly, leaving you time to kill.