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The 7 Worst Things to Buy at the Airport, According to Experts

You're probably getting a bad deal with these pre-flight purchases.

Whether you somehow managed to make it through security quickly or are just dealing with a dreaded delay, it can be hard to avoid spending money when you have time to kill in the airport. Unfortunately, even modest terminals can be filled with tempting buys that run the gamut from pre-flight essentials all the way up to luxury fashion items. But if you're looking to steer clear of any bad deals, there are a few specific purchases you should avoid before you take off. Read on for the worst things to buy at the airport, according to experts.

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Neck pillows

A woman sleeping on a plane with a neck pillow

Trying to get enough sleep on a long flight can be pretty hard if you can't get comfortable in your seat. But if you're considering picking up a neck pillow for your next journey, you might want to get it before the very last minute.

"These can make any flight more comfortable, but you don't want to buy it at the airport," says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with

As you might expect, the impulse comfort items are quite a bit pricier in the terminal than they are in the normal world.

"They cost far more than what you'd spend shopping online or from a big-box store like Target," Ramhold says. "If you travel a lot, it's worth picking up your own neck pillow from elsewhere for all your trips rather than buying one (or more) from an airport."

Headphones and electronics

man looking out window of airplane while wearing headphones

Headphones are one of the essential items that can make travel bearable, allowing us to zone out in our seats to music, a podcast, or even a movie while noisy passengers carry on around us. Just make sure you come prepared for your flight and don't rely on the selection at the terminal.

"Buying headphones or any other piece of tech in an airport is also a big no-no as you'll probably end up paying too much for them," says Sean Walsh, travel expert and the founder of Pilot Passion.

Fortunately, he points out that many planes now provide free headphones you can use during the flight if you've forgotten yours, sparing you the extra expense.

"If this isn't the case, there's a high chance that the flight attendants are selling earbuds in-flight, and these are often far much cheaper than the ones sold at the airport," he says. "You can expect to pay as little as $2 to $5 for these."

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Bottled water

drinking bottled water in store

There's no denying that airplanes are extremely dry environments, which makes hydrating before and during your flight important. But unless you come prepared, you might wind up spending a lot more money on your refreshments.

"Purchasing bottled water at the airport is a good way to cut into your vacation budget thanks to its expensive nature," says Ramhold. "Instead, consider taking a collapsible water bottle with you that you can fill up once you're past security."

And it's not just useful for your flight. "That water bottle will be handy for keeping you hydrated on your trip and avoiding having to buy multiple bottles of water while you're walking around your destination," she explains.

Foreign currency

Movemember has raised hundreds of millions around the world.

Traveling internationally can sometimes require an extra level of preparation. But if you plan on picking up bills in the local currency at your destination, just make sure you wait until you're out of the airport.

"There's usually very little competition amongst the currency exchange booths in an airport. Hence, there is no incentive to charge affordable fees for their services and provide the best exchange rates," says Walsh.

If you're looking for a better deal, you'll likely be better off waiting until you arrive at your destination and can make it to a bank. Otherwise, you can also stick to using a credit card for your purchases to help avoid theft, fraud, and other issues.

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WiFi service

redheaded woman on laptop in airport lounge
Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

Whether you're traveling for work or pleasure, having downtime at the airport can be useful for sending out those last-minute emails or putting some final touches on that big project. Unfortunately, while many major airports have now made it easier than ever to connect, it might not be worth ponying up for a reliable public connection.

"There's a good chance that depending on the airport you're heading to, they'll want you to pay for the service, and it won't be cheap," says Ramhold.

Instead, she suggests finding a cafe or coffee shop within the airport that may offer free WiFi. "After all, a cup of drip coffee—even at the airport—is probably far cheaper than what the airport itself will charge for stable WiFi. And you may not even be obligated to buy anything at all."

Duty-free items

Duty Free Shop in Airport

Those who've traveled internationally know that airports go to great lengths to entice you into purchasing at duty-free shops, often forcing departing passengers to walk directly through the shelves of expensive items to get to their gates. But while these might seem like a great last-minute gift option, you shouldn't be fooled by the pricey lineup.

"Be wary about buying alcohol and perfumes at the airport's duty-free shop, as sometimes the prices are way higher than at a normal retail store," says Justin Albertynas, travel expert and CEO of hotel booking engine RatePunk. "It's important to research and compare the local prices to make the right financial decisions."

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souvenirs things to throw away

There's nothing wrong with picking up a little memento during your travels, especially if it's a gift. But experts caution that the worst place to grab a souvenir is from the terminal just before you depart.

"Not only are they usually very overpriced, but they also tend to be pretty generic," says Ramhold. "Even if you're on your way out and realize you forgot to buy a souvenir, you're better off ordering something online when you get home from a place you visited while you were there rather than resorting to something expensive and nondescript from the airport."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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