How to Save Money at the Airport

I don’t know about you, but I’m an average young adult with an almost unquenchable thirst for experience. This is precisely why I would go through extreme measures for travel — and when I say extreme, I mean I prioritise my travel fund over my food and clothing budget.

Hey, I’m not complaining! It’s a given that there are certain sacrifices we have to make for the things we love. But sometimes, after everything we have to go through to save up for travel, we fail our final budget test: airport temptations. I feel you. May this article help all of us actually be budget travellers through and through.

Prepare beforehand

1. Pack light

This is practically a rule of thumb for budget travel. We all want to avoid the excess baggage charges that come when we don’t pack light. Either bring a portable scale with you to make sure your luggage doesn’t go over the maximum weight, or weigh your luggage before travelling and leave enough space for souvenirs.

Make sure not to overstuff your carry-on, either. Bring only what you’re comfortable carrying around, so you won’t have to leave your bags anywhere. Some airports charge travellers for giving them a place to store their bags.

2. Research about additional fees

Some airports charge extra when you check-in over the counter. Others charge for the printing of boarding passes. These extra charges can easily be avoided if you know about them beforehand. So, always research about the additional fees you’ll have to pay at the airport you’re travelling to.

3. Know where to park

Most airport parking fees can get expensive, especially if you’ll be leaving your vehicle there for a while. Before even going to the airport, find out where you can park without having to your funds. Better yet, if no one is available to bring and fetch you to the airport, consider taking a cab instead.

Things to pack in your carry-on

1. Reusable water bottle

I’ll admit that I say this with a huge bias for caring for the environment. But landfill problem aside, having an empty water bottle is truly essential for budget travel. They aren’t only necessary when you get to your destination — we all know that items sold at the airport have sky high prices. And bottled water isn’t an exception!

Just make sure to drink all your water before passing through security! If you know you won’t be able to quickly chug down a lot of water, then opt to keep your bottle only half full. This way, you can stay hydrated and still easily empty your bottle. You can refill your bottle at drinking fountains, or have it refilled on the aeroplane for free. Some countries also have potable water everywhere, so after passing through security, you can even refill your bottle in bathroom faucets.

2. Snacks and packed meals

Airport food is often at least two of these three things: unhealthy, unappetising, or expensive. Unless you’re fine with paying double the price of a hotdog, bring a packed meal with you instead. As a precautionary measure, remember to research which food items are allowed in the airport you’re going to. Just to be safe, avoid bringing large amounts of liquids (i.e. a whole jar of peanut butter!). Go for solid food items instead.

3. Entertainment devices

If you suffer from instant gratification like the rest of our generation, then make sure to bring entertainment devices to distract yourself. Have books or movies in hand, and make sure all your electronics (power bank included) are fully charged.

At the airport

1. Explore the airport

Cool architecture. Stunning indoor gardens. Cultural museums. Golf courses. Playgrounds. Free transit tours. These are just some of the many free amenities various airports around the world have to offer. If you’re early for your flight or just have a long layover, jumpstart your travel experience by exploring the airport. Don’t forget to grab your travel buddy (or your tripod, for solo travellers) and start taking photos!

2. Don’t exchange your money

Airport exchanges are usually a lot more expensive simply because travellers are paying for convenience. Generally, it’s a smarter choice to withdraw all the money you need in one go from a local ATM instead. If you’re more comfortable with exchanging money, then do this anyplace else but the airport. Hotels, train stations, banks, and malls offer money exchange, anyway!

3. Compare item costs

The temptation to splurge on duty-free items is real, especially when a lot of your relatives are expecting hoards from you. But, keep in mind that duty-free doesn’t automatically mean affordable. This said, it’s necessary for you to do some research beforehand to know which products actually cost less in airport stalls. Generally, souvenirs are severely marked up as many tourists only remember to buy these items at the last minute. So, be careful. The price markups might cost you even more than the taxes.

4. Look for free WiFi

Aah, the Internet — the ultimate necessity. But if you want to be smart about your money, don’t give in to the pricey Internet connection. Seasoned travellers would know that most airports offer free Wi-Fi in certain locations. If the locations are too uncomfortable for you and you need to work during a layover or while waiting for a delayed flight, opt to go to a coffee shop with Wi-Fi instead.

5. Consider airport lounges

Al Safwa First Class Lounge | Image credit: Qatar Airways Official Facebook

You might think paid lounges are a total waste of money, but it really depends on your lifestyle. Time is gold; so, if you feel like you can maximise your time in an airport lounge, then by all means — spend your money.

Do note that not all airport lounges are the same, so do your research beforehand. Most airport lounges have private Wi-Fi, which means you can get more work done because the Internet connection is faster. You’ll also have unlimited access to good food and drinks. Not to mention the shower facilities and comfortable resting areas! It’s important to feel well-rested at the airport because you want to reserve all your energy for your actual trip!

Note: It’s usually cheaper if you book lounge access ahead of time.

You might have noticed that our bad spending habits are a result of not doing enough research. This may seem like a lot of homework, but don’t stress! Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll remember why stopping yourself from spending too much at the airport is worth it. Besides, it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

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