Whether it’s your first international trip or the hundredth, no one looks forward to waiting for hours for a flight at the airport. There is always a good chance you will want to kill time and will venture in to one of the several duty-free shops at the terminal. But before you start filling up your shopping carts with all kinds of perfumes, chocolates and whiskeys, I must warn you against falling for a common myth, that duty-free goods are ALWAYS cheaper!
I am not claiming to be an expert, but I have taken 199 flights over the last few years and have several spent seemingly countless hours waiting to board my flight. And without a doubt, many of those hours were spent trying to squeeze the best deals at the airport. But before I share my time-tested tips, let me explain what duty-free shopping means. Duty-free shops sell you goods without you having to pay most government levied taxes. Quite obviously, these goods then cost you less than what they would if you were to buy them at a local store. One can find such stores at airports, cruise ships as well as ports.
Now that you know what duty-free really means, here are some of my favourite hacks:
1) Do Not Assume Duty-free is Always Cheaper
Before purchasing your favorite perfume or chocolates from duty-free, be sure to have an approximate estimate of what that product would cost at the local store or even at websites such as Amazon and Flipkart. Use the Wi-Fi at the airport if you must!
2) Remember You Have FOUR Opportunities to Shop at The Duty-Free
It is easy to get lost in the sea of flashy sales and discounts at the airport. I don’t blame you. However, it is important to get over the initial impulse and wait to check prices at the airport you are departing from as well as the airport you are arriving at. You would be surprised by how many precious dollars I’ve saved by not giving in to this temptation. Additionally, I always prefer shopping at duty on my way back home so that I don’t have to lug my purchases around.
Here is an example from one of trips from Bengaluru to Dubai. I love single malts and the Glenfiddich 18 holds a special place in my heart. Knowing that this bottle of liquid gold costed almost INR 20,000 back at a Madhuloka store, I was tempted to purchase it at the Bengaluru airport for USD 95 (INR 6300). However, I decided to wait until I reached the Dubai airport. To my surprise, the same Glenfiddich bottle was priced at USD 83, a full 800 rupees less!
3) Be Aware of Import Limits
It is very important to be cognizant of duty-free entitlements of the country you’re flying in to. If you fail to stick to the limits, you may have to pay duties at customs that are even higher than the usual tax rates. This may make your purchases so expensive that they would not be worth buying in the first place. As of April 2018, Indian nationals are permitted to import goods worth INR 45,000. Any goods valued above this limit are taxed at a whopping 36%!
4) Check for Compatibility Of Electronics Goods
The last thing you want to happen to you after you’ve paid for an iPhone with your kidney is for it to not work in your home country. As weird as it may sound to you, no phone is guaranteed to work around the world since every country has their own unique set of cellular transmission bands. Additionally, be sure to ask the vendors if the phones you’re purchasing are ‘unlocked’, meaning they are free to be operated with any telecom operator in the world. Not asking questions cannot possibly hurt you more!
5) Maintain A Paper Trail
Make sure you keep receipts for anything you purchase at a duty-free regardless of whether it exceeds permissible limits. This will allow you to breeze through customs hassle free in case the immigration officer has any questions for you. While you’re at it, keep your receipts handy. The last thing you want to do at immigration is scramble through your luggage.
6) Use Dutyfree.Buzz To Check Prices
Dutty-Free Buzz is a global aggregator of duty-free products, prices and other relevant information with a focus on providing informative and useful insights in the duty-free world. It is one of the leading websites to track duty-free prices of popular products across the world and has often helped me smarter decisions.
Full Disclosure: This blog is not supported by any of the brands mentioned. All opinions are my own.
A traveler at heart, I have been to 22 countries on 6 continents. My favorite experiences are plunging in to sub-zero Antarctic waters, renovating a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka and hiking Borneon jungles. I am also an engineer, a public speaker, a sustainability believer and a polar explorer. Follow my misadventures on www.passportuncontrol.com and Instagram @geeknextdoor