Airports are a little like baseball stadiums. You’re limited in what you can bring, you can’t easily get back out and all the stuff inside is way overpriced.
Just like you should prepare for a baseball game with sunscreen, your favorite jersey and a few handy insults for the jerk playing third, there are a few strategies for saving money when you’re at the airport.
1. Weigh Your Luggage
Bringing overweight luggage is costly. American Airlines charges $100 or more for luggage weighing more than 51 pounds. Low-cost airliner Southwest charges $75 for bags weighing 51 to 100 pounds.
Meanwhile, luggage scales go for around $15 or even less in some places. This is one of those cases where you can spend money to save if you’re carrying a heavy load on your trip.
2. Bring a Water Bottle
Just like at a baseball stadium, bottled water is way overpriced at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) won’t let you bring a filled water bottle through security, but you can bring an empty reusable bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain once you’ve passed through.
It’s a good idea to have a reusable bottle when traveling to begin with because you can save money on water throughout your trip and keep a few plastic bottles out of the landfill.
3. Pack Snacks
A lot of airport food is overpriced mall slop, so chances are you can find something better and cheaper to bring with you. (Check the TSA website for specifics.) Pinterest has plenty of recipes for packable and delicious food. Another way to avoid paying for airport food is to eat before you leave home.
4. Bring Amusements
Waiting around is a huge part of air travel, so you need a way to pass the time. A book is a good start, as is a mobile device loaded with movies, music, podcasts and audio books. Streaming may not be an option, as many airports don’t offer free Wi-Fi, so download any media ahead of time. Make sure to bring a decent pair of earbuds, too. Plane headphones are not always free, and they are usually low-quality anyway.
5. Pack a Travel Credit Card
You can skip many of the above steps if you manage to get into an airport lounge, where, in most cases, you’ll also get complimentary access to Wi-Fi, snacks, beverages and showers. You’ll usually have to pay an annual membership of a few hundred dollars to access these lounges, but the right card can get you in as well. We compiled a list of credit cards to use at each of the busiest airports in America here.
Of course, travel cards that get you into airport lounges usually have high annual fees of their own, but their rewards may be worth your while depending on how much you travel. (You’ll also typically need good to excellent credit to qualify for a premium travel card, so check your score before applying. You can see two of your scores free on Credit.com.)
6. Avoid Airport Parking
Chances are it’s cheaper to arrange transportation from your home to the airport than it is to pay for airport parking, especially if your trip will be long. When you’re booking transportation, make sure to call a few companies for quotes and compare prices against your rideshare app of choice. Or even better, ask a friend to take you.
7. Don’t Go Shopping
The entire premise of this article is that the airport is an overpriced trap. No one would ever go there for regular shopping. Anything you need, whether it’s food, toiletries, medicine or souvenirs, can be purchased outside, likely at a far better price.
Don’t take these steps just to squander the savings on an impulse buy, no matter how nice the duty-free shop is. If you see something tempting, remember: As long as you packed everything you truly need, you don’t need to buy anything at the airport.
Image: Izabela Habur