7 Things You Should Never Spend Money on at the Airport

updated Jul 11, 2023
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Flying can be simultaneously fun and frustrating. Whether you’re going on vacation or visiting friends and family, you probably have a lot on your mind as you finalize plans and book your flight. Once you get to the airport, there’s even more to navigate, like restaurants and gift shops. Despite a vast array of opportunities to swipe your credit card, there are some things you should never spend money on at the airport.

With plenty of free time once you get past security — especially if you have a long layover or enjoy getting to the airport extra early — it can be hard to resist the vibrant stores and eateries housed in an otherwise nondescript building. However, with inflated airport pricing, there are certain purchases you should avoid while you’re waiting to board. 

Water

With TSA heavily regulating liquid sizes (you can bring one quart-sized bag with containers no larger than 100 milliliters each), you’ll need to hydrate somehow. And the best way to do that is by bringing a refillable water bottle. As a full-time traveler, Emily Concannon says that doing so can save $4 or more every time. “It’s totally free to bring your own reusable water bottle through security and fill it up on the other side,” she advises. Another bonus is that using an insulated tumbler or other container reduces single-use plastic waste.

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Neck Pillows and Blankets

Besides the massive markup on comfort items, that new neck pillow you’re eyeing from across the gate might not be as sanitary as you’d think. “People are touching them, trying them on, and everything else before you get to them,” warns avid traveler Jeremy Foster. It’s best to stay away from buying items you’ll place close to your head or wrap around your body. However, if you find a great deal on a blanket or pillow you love, take it home and wash it thoroughly before cozying up.

WiFi

Thankfully, many airports have complimentary (yet, often unreliable) internet. You might think purchasing WiFi means you’ll have a more stable connection, but that’s not always the case. Bianca Hodge is a travel blogger with a money-saving alternative to overpaying for and wasting time on slow internet. “You likely won’t be spending much time idle at the airport, so use your phone as a hotspot instead,” she advises. Hodge also notes that a portable hotspot is an excellent investment if you’re a frequent traveler.

Earbuds

One of the most annoying things to leave at home is earbuds or headphones. And you’ll pay heavily for that last-minute airport purchase. If you want to watch a movie on board, though, your airline should have a complimentary set of earphones that you can use. “Most in-flight entertainment systems still require the use of wired headphones,” says long-term traveler Jessica Schmit. “Many carriers have wired headphones on deck and are available on most flights to passengers.” Flight attendants will pass earphones out, or you can request a set. Unfortunately, if your airline relies on passengers’ technology, such as computers and smartphones, to display entertainment, they might not have headphones available that fit your particular device. 

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Food and Drink

Airport meals can be pretty expensive. Case in point: I recently flew with a friend on her birthday, and a simple sandwich-sized hummus plate and two celebratory drinks totaled over $50 at the airport restaurant. Yikes! Of course, you want the option to eat if you get hungry, but try to prepare ahead of time if you can. “Most people don’t know that you’re free to bring your own food through security,” reveals Concannon. Her solution? She always packs snacks and sandwiches. “This saves a ton of money and prevents you from waiting in long airport food lines,” she adds. Just note that you can’t travel with fruit internationally.

Foreign Currency

When traveling internationally, you’ll be inundated with currency exchange boxes before exiting the airport in a foreign country. Although it may seem convenient, resist temptation unless you need local funds immediately. Hodge learned a valuable lesson when she purchased foreign currency at the airport, only to realize that she didn’t get the best exchange rate. “When you arrive at your final destination, there are often many places for you to exchange currency, and you will get it for a much better rate than the airport offers,” she recommends. Alternatively, check with your bank to see if you can use a debit or credit card at an ATM to get local currency. They may also have a better exchange rate, although be sure to ask if there are additional fees for doing so.

Souvenirs

Like almost everything you can buy in the airport, you’ll pay a premium on mementos like coffee mugs, T-shirts, or themed magnets. If you really want something to remember your trip by, keep your eyes peeled during your vacation before you get to the airport. With more options available at multiple places in your destination, you’ll also likely wind up getting something a little more unique than you’ll find outside your gate.