Recently, I had to do an overnight business trip which required me to make a 2 hour flight. Given the flight time, time of day of the flight, and accompanying delay, I decided to buy dinner at the airport. Why stay hungry for hours on end, right?
With a little bit of time on my hands before the flight, I ambled over to the little food court that was within my gate. In surveying the choices, I found pizza, Chinese food, and subs. The pizza kiosk looked empty, and the Chinese food looked pretty unappealing. When you see tired business travelers eating greasy noodles out of a to-go container, it’s not exactly a siren song that draws you to buy that stuff and consume it:)
So, I instead decided to purchase a sub sandwich and, a drink. In surveying the choices, I settled on a full-size sub, and a large bottled water for the flight. I like to bring water on the flight, just in case. After the sub was made, and I grabbed the bottled water, the employee rang me up.
The total? $13.
Yes, it was $13 (and some change, actually) for a sub sandwich and a bottle of water.
Sure, the sandwich wasn’t small, and the bottled water was a probably over 20 ounces, but that’s quite an expensive price to pay. Even the lady that rang up the order remarked that you could probably buy two of the same meals for that same price if you were outside the airport at a regular location. If the same meals were made at home, I’d venture to guess that one could probably make five of the same meals. To be fair, I didn’t take a really close look at the prices when I ordered, only because it was clearly a fast food, food court quality meal I was buying. How expensive could that actually be, right?
Well, it was quite expensive by most standards here in the U.S. Fortunately for me, as I mentioned earlier, I was on a business trip. It was a legitimate reimbursable expense, so I wouldn’t personally feel the pinch. But still, it’s not something I want to pay, whether I’m ultimately responsible or anyone else is.
That got me thinking about how expensive it can be to travel by air. Sure, the tickets themselves represent the bulk of the expense. But there are other expenses that can really add up, and make the airport a place that drains your pocketbook unexpectedly and in a hurry. Normal rules and price ranges don’t quite apply there, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of being on “vacation mode” and lose perspective on keeping expenditures in line.
With that inspiration, I’ve drawn upon my travel experiences to come up with 5 ways to save money at airports:
- Pack your Food. When packing for your trip, prepare an easy to transport meal that can be placed in a carry-on. You’ll have to be sure to pack food that can go through security (check on specifics ahead of time), but most items should work. Maybe a sandwich and an apple, for example, would make an easily transportable meal that’s not messy and could be eaten while waiting for your flight or while on board. Instead of spending $10 for an airport meal, you could pack one for $3. For a family, this can add up quickly.
- Drink Water Before Arriving. Since you can’t bring water bottles into the gate area, make sure you drink a fair amount of water before getting to the terminal. No need to drink like a fish and then be running to the bathroom all the time. Just drink enough so that you won’t be super thirsty upon arrival. Now, I do recommend getting water while at the terminal, in case you’re stuck on board and then subsequently delayed at some point. That said, at least you can purchase less water. A $2 bottle of water is better than a $4 bottle of water! Or, alternatively, you could bring an empty reusable water bottle and fill it at a fountain in the gate area.
- Bring Reading Material from Home. Many people like to bring items to read onto the plane. If it’s a long plane ride, that’s certainly understandable. Personally, I do this as I can be quite focused on the plane and prefer to read instead of sleep. If you’re like me, plan ahead and bring a book or magazine from home. If you choose to make an impulse purchase there, you’ll likely pay full price and might be missing out on reading something you’ve already purchases. Plan ahead, and you can save from $5 to $25 and up.
- Avoid Clothing, Souvenir, and other Airport Retailers. These items purchased at the airport are probably not going to be cheaper than what they would cost at a normal location. Rather, they’re likely to be priced at a premium. Remember my sub sandwich example? Think of that multiplier, except for bigger ticket items. Again, some people get into vacation mode, escape from reality, and buy things that they don’t need while paying a premium price.
- Park in Economy Lots or Take Public Transportation. This applies to the part of the airport travel experience that occurs before you get to the terminal. Now, if you’re flying from a small, regional airport, this might not make a difference. But if you’re traveling out of a larger airport, it’s something to consider. For me, parking in the garage would cost $31/day vs. $16/day in a remote, “economy” lot. Over the course of 5 days, that adds up. Another option is to take public transportation to the airport, if available. This would likely result in even more significant savings.
What about you?
Do you ever follow any of these approaches to saving money when traveling at airports? Do you have any other tips?