Get ahead of the crowd with Premium
Register Forgot password

Can you still get a bargain at the duty-free?

Jasmine Birtles 12th Jul 2022 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s a question more and more of us are asking as we jet off to sunny climes: is it worth shopping at the duty-free? Or could I get a better deal online?

Looking for a bargain at the duty free counters used to be part of the fun of flying off somewhere exotic. Knowing you could also pick up a few cool bargains on the way was something that made hanging around in the airport a bit more bearable. But now it doesn’t feel quite so special.

So we’ve done some digging, with the help of an online comparison site, and have found that the answer isn’t too positive for the airports.


Duty-free or online? Which is cheapest?

Duty free shop at airport


Well according to the comparison site, PriceSpy, generally it isn’t worth it anymore.

The website reviewed 324 products in duty-free stores across three UK airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester) in seven product categories, and its research showed that 74 per cent of items are actually cheaper online,

In fact, shoppers are able to save up to 14 per cent by buying online rather than the airport. In hard cash that’s an average saving of £7.10 per purchase.

The top category that does best online as opposed to at the airport is sunglasses with an average saving of 20% if you buy from a website rather than the airport. For example, Ray-Ban RB3025 Aviators are £121.65 duty free but £75.50 online. Mind you, at the airport you can at least try on the sunglasses and make up your mind in front of a mirror. Online, ideally you need to know what you want before you buy it unless you have time to try several at home and send back what you don’t want.

A close second category when it comes to savings online is toiletries where you could save 18% by shopping on the web rather than the duty free. One example here is the Hugo Boss Bottle Deodoran Stick 75ml which would set you back £18.50 duty free, but online, you could find it 40% cheaper at £10.95.

PriceSpy research found that the category where the online savings are lowest compared to the airport was watches, with an average saving of just 4%. However, with the pricey designer watches you find at duty free, that 4% can make quite a difference. The biggest saving in the study was on the Diesel Mr Daddy 2.0 DZ7312, which averages £275.75 duty free, but is an impressive £146.87 cheaper online.


Is it even cheaper on the high street?

And it’s not just the websites that often beat the duty free stores either.

One of my MoneyMagpie team, Izzy, found that even the massive Tobelerones that you get in ALL airports is actually cheaper in her local supermarket.

She found that the 360g bar is £6.50 at the airport while you can pick it up for a fiver at Sainsbury’s.

She was also disappointed to find that Emporio Amani Diamonds fragrance for men 50ml was £39.50 at the airport but £32.50 at Boots. Having said that, though, she did find that Bombay Sapphire Gin 70cl is £20.99 at the airport, a pound cheaper than the £22 it costs at the supermarket.


Which items are best to buy at the duty-free?

Make money as an in-store demonstrator


To be fair, the PriceSpy study did find that 26% of products reviewed were either the same or cheaper at the duty free shops as they were online, particularly when it came to perfumes and make-up.

  • Estee Lauder Dream Dusk edp 100ml” cost £105.80 at the airport while the cheapest price online was £130
  • Tom Ford Eye Color Quad 10g cost £56.65 air-side, while cheapest price online was £67.85
  • GHD Max Styler hair straighteners cost £149.15 at the duty free while the cheapest price online was £169


What is the best way to get a bargain at the airport?

So, if you’re planning on buying something specific at the airport to save money, here’s what you do:

  • Firstly do some quick research online before you get there.
  • Use comparison sites like Pricespy, Kelkoo or Idealo as well as Amazon and even eBay to see what the best price would be online, and then see if the duty free section can better it when you get to the airport.
  • You never know, you could still pick up a bargain on the way to your holiday.


Do I have to show them my boarding pass?

Airport Duty Free

There have been some heated discussions over the last few years as to whether you have to show your boarding pass at the till when you buy something at the airport.

Here are the facts:

  • When you buy from the duty free shops you do need to show your boarding pass so that they can reclaim the VAT on the items you have bought.
  • However, in the other, non-duty-free shops in the airport (Boots, WHSmith etc) you don’t have to show your boarding pass. If they ask for it you can just politely refuse as it simply allows them to reclaim VAT charged on the goods you buy which they have not passed on to you.
  • You do get the VAT removed at the duty free shops so it’s mandatory to hand over your boarding pass to them.

a reader writes…

I was interested to hear from Andrew Williams, a MoneyMagpie reader and also a fan of my Daily Mail column (Miss Moneysaver) that the term duty free is a misnomer. He says:

“The words ‘duty free’ is something of a misnomer when applied to most products sold in a duty free shop!  In a duty free environment only alcohol and tobacco are subject to a duty tax.  All other items including perfume do not attract duty, only VAT. Alcohol and tobacco are also subject to VAT.  Generally, therefore the best savings against U.K. high street prices can be found on tobacco and alcohol products.”

He also adds that Brexit may have an impact on the duty free shops:

“Until Brexit (and since 1999 when EU travel duty free was abolished) travellers could only purchase ’tax free’ items for inter EU travel.  Duty free items (alcohol & tobacco) could sill be purchased for travel outside of the EU. Since Brexit duty free purchases are again possible for tobacco and alcohol for intra EU travel.  I suspect Brexit will not have impacted on retail prices for other non dutiable items.”

Interesting points. What do you think?


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

Send this to a friend