Does airport duty-free really save you money?

No trip is full with out first operating the perfume-scented gauntlet of airport duty-free.

With the anxiousness of transit, check-in and customs behind you, you emerge into an assault course of the senses: gaudy whiskey shows, unique fragrances and novelty-sized chocolate bars siren-calling you to achieve into your pocket.

However is duty-free actually the Aladdin’s cave of cut-price marvel it claims to be? Or is it only a well-marketed fantasy?

We wished to know so we appeared into the price of eight widespread duty-free mainstays spanning a spread of classes and cross-referenced them towards 12 main airports to see which supplied the most effective worth.

What’s duty-free?

Responsibility is the tax you pay on taking a product throughout worldwide borders. This contains value-added tax and customs tax, which differ by nation.

The story of duty-free begins on the windswept coast of western Eire in 1947. It was the brainchild of Brendan O’Regan, a comptroller on the minuscule Shannon Airport, a well-liked re-fuelling spot for flights ferrying celebrities (the one individuals who may afford transatlantic air journey again then) between the U.S. and Europe.

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O’Regan realized these super-rich passers-by had been an untapped supply of nice wealth for Shannon. So he persuaded the Irish authorities to create a tax loophole that allowed him to promote farm meals and Irish whiskey to transiting passengers, with the same old customs taxes knocked off. They by no means left the airport, he argued, so why ought to they should pay native duties on merchandise they wouldn’t be consuming regionally?

The thought took off. Impressed by Shannon’s success, Amsterdam opened its personal micro free-trade zone in 1957, earlier than the idea went to the U.S. in 1962.

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In 2021, in response to Fortune Business Insights, worldwide vacationers spent $35.87 billion in duty-free shops, a determine that’s anticipated to greater than double by 2029.

The bottom guidelines


The world of retail has modified massively for the reason that Nineteen Forties. In at present’s age of on-line reductions, year-round gross sales and rising competitors for client consideration, does duty-free truly nonetheless prevent cash? And in that case, the place are you able to get the most effective offers?

We selected a handful of probably the most iconic merchandise from the best-known manufacturers that you’d count on to see in any duty-free retailer internationally.

It is very important notice that it’s unlawful in some nations, comparable to Turkey, to promote alcohol or tobacco merchandise, that means the costs of some gadgets weren’t available on-line, and couldn’t be supplied remotely. In different instances — comparable to Madrid, Rome, Prague and Warsaw — our requests for additional data relating to some merchandise (cigarettes specifically) obtained no response from the airports and duty-free retailers we reached out to on the time of writing.

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We then appeared for the most effective high-street and on-line costs we may discover for every product. Within the pursuits of parity, we excluded limited-time affords or seasonal gross sales from our searches.

The merchandise we checked out had been:

  • Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (1l).
  • Talisker Darkish Storm Single Malt (70cl).
  • Taittinger Brut Reserve or Moet&Chandon Imperial Brut (75cl).
  • Hendrick’s gin (1l).
  • Dior J’adore Eau de Toilette for girls (100ml).
  • Versace Eros Eau de Toilette for males (100ml).
  • YSL Rouge Pur Couture lipstick (3.8g).
  • Ray-Ban Wayfarer Folding 50 (or comparable Wayfarer) sun shades.
  • A carton of 200 Marlboro Gold cigarettes.

The airports we checked out had been:

  • London Heathrow (LHR).
  • New York JFK (JFK).
  • Rome Fiumicino (FCO).
  • Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER).
  • Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN).
  • Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD).
  • Athens Elefthérios Venizélos (AIA).
  • Václav Havel Airport Prague (PRG).
  • Warsaw Chopin (WAW).
  • Istanbul Worldwide Airport (IST).
  • Mexico Metropolis Airport (MEX).
  • Dubai Worldwide Airport (DXB).

Key takeaways

In brief, VAT varies from nation to nation so there’s no exhausting rule as to what it can save you in duty-free. Within the U.Okay. the usual price for many items and companies is 20%. In Italy, it’s 22%; in Luxembourg, it’s 17%. The U.S., then again, levies no VAT. Although, like most nations, it does require customers to pay some customs tax upon taking sure items in a foreign country.

Along with this, duty-free costs differ between airports relying on native prices like using workers, rents and charges, and different taxes. In different phrases, they will just about set their pricing as they see match. Responsibility-free costs in a single airport, subsequently, is probably not per these in one other airport in the identical nation.

With that in thoughts, right here are some things we realized:

  • By no means purchase sun shades in airports positioned in sunny nations.
  • On common, Sweden is likely one of the least expensive locations to purchase alcohol merchandise in airports.
  • Dubai airports are a number of the least expensive to purchase tobacco merchandise.
  • Purchase your duty-free fragrances and make-up in Poland.
  • Don’t purchase Champagne at New York Metropolis’s JFK Airport.
  • Responsibility-free isn’t all the time the most effective deal on the town. If there’s one thing you truly need, all the time test on-line for a greater provide first.

Which airports have the costliest duty-free retailers?

Maybe unsurprisingly, Dubai — whose duty-free emporium turned over $976 million in 2021 — is the costliest airport on common in terms of alcohol and wonder merchandise.

Apparently, although, JFK is the costliest airport in our checklist to particularly purchase Champagne — greater than $18 dearer than the common throughout all of the airports we researched.

Sun shades are most costly in sunspots Mexico Metropolis and Dubai — the 2 locations on our checklist the place you’re almost certainly to wish them.

Which airports have the most cost effective duty-free retailers?

In the case of booze, the Swedish capital Stockholm supplied the most effective worth on common of all of the airports we surveyed. There, a bottle of brut Champagne prices simply $34 (£28), in comparison with $39 (£32) at Heathrow and $50 (£41) within the grocery store. In the meantime, a bottle of premium Tallisker scotch prices $59 (£49) in Stockholm and $74 (£61) at Heathrow.

Nonetheless, if American whiskey’s your tipple, the most effective value is in Warsaw, the place a 1L bottle of Jack Daniels prices simply $21 (£17), nearly $12 (£10) cheaper than at Heathrow and half the value at British supermarkets.

Warsaw can be the place you should purchase the most cost effective magnificence merchandise, constantly cheaper than the common throughout airports when product-by-product comparisons.

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As for tobacco merchandise, dedicated people who smoke might be happiest in Dubai, the place 200 Marlboro Gold cigarettes price $27 — a 3rd the value of the identical carton at Heathrow, and 500% cheaper than in a British grocery store.

What merchandise are cheaper to purchase at a shopping center or on-line as an alternative?

An internet store may very well be extra sensible than utilizing duty-free throughout your travels. FILADENDRON/GETTY

The reality is, for lots of merchandise, there isn’t all the time a lot distinction between duty-free and the costs you may get at dwelling — particularly for those who’re ready to hunt on-line.

The important thing differentials are tobacco and alcohol, that are each normally taxed closely and subsequently might be purchased for lots much less on the airport.

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Nevertheless it’s a extra difficult image in terms of magnificence merchandise. A stick of YSL Rouge Pur Couture, as an illustration, is $36 (£30) in British retailers — precisely the identical value you’d pay at Heathrow. And the one two airports the place you’d pay lower than which are Rome and Warsaw, for a saving of round $3.

The identical goes for equipment comparable to sun shades and watches. We discovered that, whereas airport costs might compete with what you’d pay in Ray Ban’s central London store, a fast search on-line will usually yield a much better deal.

What are the foundations of duty-free within the US?

You possibly can’t simply refill a suitcase of whiskey and fragrance on a visit dwelling from Greece. However the U.S. does have pretty beneficiant allowances for what you possibly can convey again.

When coming into the U.S., vacationers can usher in one liter of alcohol and as much as 200 cigarettes duty-free, in response to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) web site. residents are additionally entitled to convey $200 value of products into the nation with out paying further taxes.

Nonetheless, for those who go over your allowance, then you should pay tax and responsibility on the entire worth of the products, not simply the worth above the allowance. You might also should pay import VAT and customs responsibility for those who exceed your allowance.

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Backside line

To get a duty-free cut price on something that’s not alcohol or cigarettes, you need to all the time do a little analysis earlier than you journey. As a result of duty-free isn’t all the time the nice deal it is marketed as.

An internet sale or in-store provide can usually make lower-taxed gadgets cheaper at dwelling than in a duty-free store, particularly for those who’re shopping for make-up, the place you may discover that the duty-free low cost is just not higher than a present set supplied at your native pharmacy or magnificence retailer.

In case you’re available in the market for a pair of designer sun shades or large model fragrance, know forward of time what it prices each at dwelling and on the internet so that you’ll acknowledge deal if and while you see it throughout your vacation.

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