How not to go broke in an airport

Olena Yakobchuk/

When budgeting for a trip, most people think about how to save money on flights and accommodation. While this is important, many people forget about the places that are universally expensive: airports.

You’ll pay more for just about anything at an airport, whether it’s a souvenir to take home or a snack between flights. Avoid spending too much on your vacation budget with these tips to save money at the airport.

take food with you

Two people eating in an airport.


The easiest way to save money on food at airports is to bring your own food from home or from your hotel. Many people are under the impression that food and drinks are not allowed at security, but you can actually bring a lot more than you think.

If you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, you’ll need to follow TSA rules about what to pack. With regards to food, the TSA allows most solid foods to be safely contained. That means it’s okay to bring sandwiches, chips, candy, protein bars, and even leftovers from dinner.

Any food that does not qualify as a solid item must follow TSA liquid regulations, which means it must be no more than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters. This is where it can get a bit tricky with food: The TSA defines a liquid as anything that takes the shape of its container. That means peanut butter, yogurt, sauces, and even cream cheese must follow the TSA’s liquid rule.

It should be noted that the TSA allows frozen items to pass security checks without needing to follow the liquid rule. However, items must be completely frozen (not partially melted or slimy) to be allowed without weighing less than 3.4 ounces. TSA officers can also take anything at their discretion.

Personally, I like to bring my own snacks (sweets, crackers, and protein bars) from home, as well as a sandwich or wrap, depending on the length of my flight. Airport sandwiches are never very good and always ridiculously expensive.

Research airport amenities

A man charging his phone at the airport.


Every airport is a little different, which means you may have to pay for services you thought would be free. Many airports, for example, offer free Wi-Fi, but some don’t. If you don’t want to pay for an Internet connection, download large files like movies and music at home.

You also don’t want to pay for something that you can get for free if you know where to look. Before you buy a portable charger at the airport, check to see if your location has free charging stations (most do). Packing a portable charger yourself can help you avoid this problem in the first place.

Doing your research can be especially helpful if you have a long layover at a large airport. Many airports have a variety of things to help pass the time, including art exhibits, movies, and even free transportation into the city. See what all your options are before spending your money on expensive magazines and books.

avoid shopping

A traveler buys perfume

Matej Kastelic/

Many airports, especially international ones, are packed with fun shopping opportunities. Duty-free (or tax-free) shopping can be especially tempting. While it’s okay to have fun browsing these stores, keep in mind that everything will cost a lot more at an airport than anywhere else.

If you find the perfect airport souvenir that you might not find anywhere else, buy it. But avoid spending your money on things you don’t really need or things you can get cheaper elsewhere. If you’re arriving at a new destination, wait until you’re in town before buying that hat or T-shirt; you will definitely get a better price at an off-airport store.

Pack your carry-on strategically

A woman wearing a face mask at the airport

Ilona Kozhevnikova/

It’s easy to forget about airport time when packing for vacation, but many people spend hours in airports for the duration of their trip. Keep this in mind when packing your carry-on and/or personal items. To avoid last-minute purchases, make sure you have things like snacks, hand sanitizer, headphones, and books easily accessible.

You can save a lot of money by buying these items at a supermarket before your trip instead of waiting until you get to the airport. While you don’t want to overpack, it’s generally better to be safe than sorry when it comes to pain relievers and sleep aids.

Skip the bar and sit down restaurants

A woman eating in an airport.

Matej Kastelic/

Drinking is expensive everywhere, but it’s even worse at the airport. While we’re not saying you should deny yourself a drink during a boring layover, keep in mind how much you’re spending here.

Airport restaurants are also very expensive, and food can be quite hit and miss. Stick to cafes and bakeries for meals when possible, and don’t be afraid to look at your options before deciding where to eat.

park away

A woman walks to the airport in a parking lot.

Andrew Angelov/

It is often necessary to leave a car at the airport, especially if you live far away. However, you don’t always have to pay premium prices to keep your car close while you’re on vacation. Explore all of your airport parking options and consider parking in economy lots instead of covered ones. These almost always offer free airport transportation and can save you hundreds of dollars depending on the length of your trip.

Many hotels near airports also offer special parking deals that are often much cheaper than airport rates. You can usually take a hotel shuttle or taxi from these locations to the airport, although you may need to spend at least one night at the hotel to access these benefits. Be sure to check with the hotel in advance if you plan to do this.

Some people love airports while others hate them, but everyone can agree that they are expensive. Save money while traveling with these airport tips.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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