Travel News

How to Save More Than $100 at the Airport

Locations in this article:  Hong Kong Los Angeles, CA

We all know airports are practically black holes when it comes to our wallets, especially when we trade convenience for economy. But a few dollars here and there really add up, so take a look at these simple money-saving tips that you can start implementing even before you leave the house.

Bring your own snacks

Don’t kid yourself. There’s nothing worse than being hungry on a delayed flight, if you’re stuck at the airport, or if the flight attendants run out of pretzels. You can either buy your treats for 99 cents ahead of time, or pay $4.99 for the same item once you walk in the airport doors. Easy decision.

On that note, pack a lunch

If you have a long travel day ahead of you, bring your own lunch. Restaurants and fast-food chains in the airport raise their prices just high enough that you might not always pick up on it. Others, like McDonalds, are not so sneaky in swapping their signature dollar menu for a higher-priced “value menu.” Bonus: you’ll probably eat a lot healthier if you DIY… and tropical getaway season is upon us.

Then you’ll be thirsty

You can’t bring your own bottle of water through security…unless it’s empty! Fill it on the other side instead of buying one for $4. If you shudder at the thought of drinking fountains, purchase a Brita filtering bottle to remove those dreadful contaminants ($8.89 at Target.) This one-time purchase will quickly pay for itself.

Pay your luggage fees up front

While your best bet is to have a loyalty card that allows you to check bags for free, there’s always a second-best option: Pay for your checked luggage at the time you purchase your ticket. Spirit Airlines deserves a mention, as they charge one fee at the time of booking, raise it at the time of online check in, and raise it one more time at the airport counter.

Stay underweight

Before you head home, the only thing that should be overweight is you…from eating like you’re on vacation. Buy a small digital luggage scale and avoid astronomical charges and frantic redistributing in the baggage line. These scales are very affordable now; you can find them on Amazon or at discount chains like T.J. Maxx for under $10 (can you think of a better stocking stuffer?)

Currency Conversion

If you’re leaving the country, plan ahead for cash. Usually, using your debit card or credit card gives you the best exchange rate at the point of purchase, but make sure your bank doesn’t charge odd international fees. For cash in your wallet when you land, visit your bank or post office no later than 10 days before you depart, it’s cheaper to order currency than converting it at the airport. The airport rates are “retail” meaning they can differ greatly from the actual rate, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Oh, and they’ll also charge you a ridiculous commission that will have you reaching for your calculator to understand. Stress less and save.

Be Wi-Fi Savvy

Think about what you’ll need to use Wi-Fi for ahead of time. Downloading itineraries and checking in from home may mean you don’t need it at all. If you can’t avoid Wi-Fi, follow our new video with some great tips for finding free Wi-Fi on the road, and the best apps that will help you do it.

Read for less

If you haven’t jumped on the tablet bandwagon, buy your magazines, papers or books before you go to the airport. Again, they hit you with the small but definite up charges that add up. Depending on your reading material, you could save $5-$20 by making a stop at Barnes & Noble in advance. The same goes for in-flight entertainment. Why pay $4 for TV show you can stream or download in advance?

Priority Boarding

Be careful about this one. American Airlines often lets your purchase priority boarding for around $10. The problem is, they do not cap priority and you could spend $10 to stand in the same spot in line along with everyone else who also paid for priority.

No one really likes airport gifts anyways

Don’t save your shopping for the airport (unless you fly out of an airport like Hong Kong International, where the airport and mall are one in the same.) In general souvenirs at the airport are ridiculously priced, and stores can do this because enough people don’t make time or forget to shop and rely on the airport as a last-minute savior. What you could find outside the airport will almost always make a better gift anyway.

Weigh your ride options

When you don’t have a ride to the airport, and public transportation isn’t available, there are usually three options to consider:

1. Take a cab
2. Call an airport shuttle
3. Park & Ride

Investigating these options could save you a lot. For example a Super Shuttle to from LAX downtown Los Angeles costs $36 if booked on the spot, and $20 if booked 5 hours in advance. A cab costs between $50 and $100 depending on traffic. The new app based private service Uber costs $65.

Many airport websites also offer a park and ride calculator to weigh that possibility. For example, park and ride at MSP Airport costs $10 per day. A cab from anywhere in the metro area is upwards of $20, and a Super Shuttle at minimum $24 each way. This means when traveling for a short weekend or business meeting, driving yourself actually costs less. Many park and rides are also throwing in free car washes and underground heated facilities, which can be a huge perk for city residents who street park during winter months with hard-to-predict snow emergencies and street plowing.

By Courtney Crockett for

For more tips on saving money on the road, check out: