blur blurry image of a store
Blurred Shopping Mall Interior Retail Business background

It just sounds so good doesn’t it? Surely if no duty or taxes are being charged, whatever you’re buying is bound to be cheaper? False. Well, sometimes.

Add in the emotional excitement of travel, and irrational decisions are bound to happen, and that’s almost what duty free is counting on. Duty free can be a great deal, but it’s nowhere near guaranteed to save you money, and if you want to be sure, you’ve come to the right place. In fact, duty free being inherently cheaper is one one of the ten most popular travel myths.

Here’s everything you need to know when it’s time to run for the exit or buy, buy buy.

a group of bottles of alcoholBest Items

Alcohol and perfume can be two of the “best buys” in duty free. Chocolates are almost always overpriced and things like “I Love New York” t-shirts will always be cheaper in town, than at the airport.

The first important thing to know is that duty free prices vary by airport, country and region. Some places will offer far better deals than others and some will have great deals on some items, while others are awful. And some won’t have any deals at all!

First Things First…

Having Working wifi or knowing a “home” price – aka what you know something costs at home – is crucial before walking in. Know how much you’d pay for that bottle of champagne or that bottle of perfume at home or your destination, before seeing any of the offers inside duty free, so that you instantly know whether to purchase, or walk.

In places like Germany or the United Kingdom, duty free and champagne are legitimately cheaper in the airport than in the city – so there can be excellent deals absolutely worth going out of your way for – but you must first have something to compare with, just to be sure.

a bridge over a river with a clock tower and a buildingBest Locations

SkyScanner came up with an interesting comparison, looking at prices in duty free outlets all around the world. London, Berlin, New York, Moscow, Singapore and other European countries consistently scored very well.

For alcohol – in general the worst values are in Middle Eastern countries, or countries where alcohol is largely banned within the country. You’ll get the best champagne deals in Europe, best whiskey deals in Japan, cheapest cigarettes in Moscow.

Key Offers

Look for the special offers, especially on booze and perfume. For example, Veuve Clicquot champagne retails for around $50 per bottle in the US. But it’s not at all hard to find two bottles for £40-50 in the UK and throughout Europe.

That equates to roughly $60, a savings of $40 or more. Perfumes and skin products also often include special bundles which can represent equally excellent value. Combine these offers with limited time promotions by having an email address specifically for marketing emails. Heathrow Rewards is a great place to start.

You never know what kind of double points, or spend $100, get $20 back coupons may pop in there, and if you have a separate inbox for these kind of offers, they won’t bug you.

Do you buy things in duty free? What’s been your best purchase?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. Damascus Airport was the cheapest duty free, shop I have ever seen. Marlboro was 8 Dollars, and Gauloises were sold for 10 Dollar. Usually all pilots were packing bags full of cigarettes there.

  2. Cigarettes much cheaper in the ME and Turkey.

    In Dubai and Doha If you buy certain bottles of Johnnie Walker you’d get a roller board type suitcase to carry it in.

  3. Liquor is expensive in most parts of SE-Asia, so when I’m abroad I will always pick something to bring home, it’s up to 75% cheaper than buying local in Indonesia, so worth it anytime. 2 days ago I picked up some mixing whisky – Monkey Shoulder and Grant’s both 1 liter – for 30 euro.

  4. LHR has some outstanding duty free prices on alcohol — a good shortcut to identify them is finding that minority of products with labels saying, “Available only to passengers traveling outside UK & EU” — the majority of products are available to all passengers and not nearly as good a deal.

  5. And look at what App offers there are. I use the RED by Dufry app and get 5% off the duty free price @LHR.

  6. One to avoid at all costs is Bordeaux in France. Much cheaper in town and better service

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *