Travel experts have revealed which products are worth buying in duty free and which to avoid, with the best bargains to be found on ‘sinful’ products. 

Shopping for cigarettes and alcohol will save you most, thanks to heavy ‘sin taxes’ which apply to liquor and tobacco in almost every country outside the walls of international airports.

Designer sunglasses, chocolate and sweets will cost you the same or more than buying in normal stores so should be avoided, but it pays to purchase cosmetics and skincare inside the terminal. 

Travel experts have revealed how you can bag the biggest savings while shopping at duty free, with the best bargains to be had on 'sinful' products

Travel experts have revealed how you can bag the biggest savings while shopping at duty free, with the best bargains to be had on 'sinful' products

Travel experts have revealed how you can bag the biggest savings while shopping at duty free, with the best bargains to be had on ‘sinful’ products

1. STOCK UP ON ALCOHOL

Buying booze will bag you the biggest savings at duty-free, thanks to the heavy ‘sin taxes’ which most countries apply.

Tony Richardson, founder of UK-based shopping comparison tool Duty Free Hunter, told Traveller Australia it’s smart to shop for heavily taxed goods like spirits and tobacco before you fly.

Travellers coming into Australia are restricted to bringing in one packet of cigarettes per adult, so those seeking a bargain should buy their tobacco at the arrival airport on their trip out of the country. 

‘They naturally are going to have the biggest savings, because you’re escaping either duty or sales tax, or both, depending on the regime in a country,’ he said.

Buying booze will bag you the biggest savings at duty-free, thanks to 'sin taxes' which apply to 'sinful' products in almost every country outside the confines of international airports

Buying booze will bag you the biggest savings at duty-free, thanks to 'sin taxes' which apply to 'sinful' products in almost every country outside the confines of international airports

Buying booze will bag you the biggest savings at duty-free, thanks to ‘sin taxes’ which apply to ‘sinful’ products in almost every country outside the confines of international airports

2. SKIP THE SUNGLASSES

Travellers often kill time by trying on sunglasses, but it’s best to stick to window shopping because there’s no bargains to be had on accessories at duty-free.

‘You may get [airport] exclusive lines, but they’ll be minimal in terms of saving,’ Mr Richardson said.

‘If you dig around on the internet, I would think you’d find them for the same sort of price.’

Travellers often kill time by trying on sunglasses, but it's best to stick to window shopping because there's no massive bargains to be had on accessories at duty-free (stock image)

Travellers often kill time by trying on sunglasses, but it's best to stick to window shopping because there's no massive bargains to be had on accessories at duty-free (stock image)

Travellers often kill time by trying on sunglasses, but it’s best to stick to window shopping because there’s no massive bargains to be had on accessories at duty-free (stock image)

3. ASK FOR COSMETICS SAMPLES

Beauty brands are battling the increasingly competitive consumer market by offering freebies and travel-sized ‘gifts with purchase’ at the duty-free checkout.

Buying cosmetics inside the terminal may not be any cheaper than shopping the makeup counter at Mecca or David Jones, but airport outlets often sweeten the deal with free samples.

Ask a sales consultant for the latest deals before you buy, or check Duty Free Australia for current travel promotions.

Buying cosmetics inside the terminal may not be any cheaper than shopping the makeup counter at Mecca, but airport outlets often sweeten the deal with free samples (stock image)

Buying cosmetics inside the terminal may not be any cheaper than shopping the makeup counter at Mecca, but airport outlets often sweeten the deal with free samples (stock image)

Buying cosmetics inside the terminal may not be any cheaper than shopping the makeup counter at Mecca, but airport outlets often sweeten the deal with free samples (stock image)

4. DON’T WASTE MONEY ON CHOCOLATE

Airport chocolate is, unofficially, the world’s leading last-minute present, but stocking up on sweets at duty-free won’t save you any cash. 

Confectioners capitalise on chocolate being the ultimate ‘after thought’ by packaging their treats as ready-made gifts, which often makes them more expensive than buying bars individually in the supermarket.

The retail cost of sweets varies dramatically around the world, but there will never be major savings on confectionery because the price points are much lower than alcohol, cosmetics or clothing.

Airport chocolate is, unofficially, the world's leading last-minute present, but stocking up on sweets at duty-free won't save you any cash

Airport chocolate is, unofficially, the world's leading last-minute present, but stocking up on sweets at duty-free won't save you any cash

Airport chocolate is, unofficially, the world’s leading last-minute present, but stocking up on sweets at duty-free won’t save you any cash

5. DO YOUR RESEARCH 

Duty-free outlets may look identical from Seattle to Singapore, but that doesn’t mean the offers are the same in every airport.

Retailers run different discounts from one market to the next, so it pays to do some research before you fly.

If you have your eye on specific items, take note of the normal retail price before you leave for your trip and compare the cost once you’re inside the terminal.

The history of ‘duty-free’ shopping

Duty-free shops are retail stores who sell goods exempt from paying local or national taxes and duties, on the basis the goods will be sold to travellers who are taking them out of the country.

The world’s first duty-free shop was opened at Shannon Airport in south western Ireland in 1947, to provide discounted shopping for travellers flying between Europe and North America.

An instant success, the idea was copied around the world. Thirteen years later, American businessmen Charles Feeney and Robert Warren Miller founded Duty Free Shoppers (DFS), which is today the world’s largest travel retailer. 

Duty-free shops are usually found in the international zone of international airports, ferry ports and train stations, but goods can also be bought ‘duty-free’ on airplanes and ships.

Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Avianca and Delta sell duty-free goods in-flight.

The absence of duty or other taxes on goods does not necessarily make them cheaper than goods in ‘normal’ stores.

The costs of identical products from different duty-free sources can vary dramatically, depending on market competition and demand.

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