We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How to Not Go Broke in an Airport

A woman in the airport
Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock.com

When budgeting for a trip, most people think about how to save money on flights and accommodations. While this is important, many people forget about the places that are universally overpriced: airports.

You’ll pay more for pretty much everything in an airport, whether it’s a souvenir to take home or a snack between flights. Avoid dipping too much into your vacation budget with these money-saving airport tips.

Bring Food With You

Two people eating in an airport

The easiest way to save money on food in airports is to bring your own food from home or your hotel. Many people are under the impression that food and drinks are not allowed through security, but you can actually bring a lot more than you might think.

If you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, you will need to follow TSA regulations about what to pack. Regarding food items, the TSA allows most solid foods that are safely contained. That means sandwiches, chips, candy, protein bars, and even dinner leftovers are all okay to bring.

Pure Protein Bars

Great for bringing on flights.

Any food that does not qualify as a solid item must follow the TSA’s liquids regulations, meaning it must not be larger than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters. This is where it can get a little tricky with food—the TSA defines a liquid as anything that takes the shape of its container. That means that peanut butter, yogurt, dips, and even cream cheese must follow the TSA’s liquids rule.

Morfone 16 Pack Silicone Travel Bottles Set for Toiletries

Liquids need to fit in containers about this big.

It should be noted that the TSA does allow frozen items to go through security screening without needing to follow the liquid rule. However, items must be completely frozen (not partially melted or slushy) to be allowed without needing to be less than 3.4 ounces. TSA officers are also allowed to take anything at their discretion.

I personally like to bring my own snacks (candy, crackers, and protein bars) from home, as well as a sandwich or wrap depending on the length of my flight. Airport sandwiches are never very good and are always ridiculously expensive.

That's it Fruit Bars Snack Gift Box

These also make great airport snacks.

Research Airport Amenities

A man charging his phone in the airport

Every airport is a little different, which means you may find yourself paying for amenities you assumed would be free. Many airports, for example, offer free WiFi, but some don’t. If you don’t want to pay for an internet connection, download large files like movies and music at home.

You also don’t want to pay for something that you can get for free if you know where to look. Before you buy a portable charger in the airport, check to see if your location has free charging stations (most do). Packing a portable charger yourself can help you avoid this problem in the first place.

Anker PowerCore Slim 10000 Portable Charger

This charger has a 10,000mAh capacity, PowerIQ/VoltageBoost for optimized charging, and an ultra-slim profile.

Doing your research can be especially helpful if you have a long layover in a large airport. Many airports have a variety of things to help you pass the time, including art exhibits, movies, and even free shuttles to the city. See what all of your options are before spending your money on pricey magazines and books.

Avoid Shopping

A female traveler shops for perfume
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

Many airports, especially international ones, are filled with fun shopping opportunities. Duty-free (or tax-free) shopping can be especially enticing. While it’s fine to have some fun browsing around these stores, keep in mind that everything is going to cost way more in an airport than it will anywhere else.

If you find the perfect souvenir in the airport that you might not find anywhere else, go ahead and buy it. But avoid spending your money on things you don’t really need or things you can get cheaper elsewhere. If you’re arriving at a new destination, wait to get into the city before you buy that hat or t-shirt—you will definitely get a better price at a store outside of the airport.

Melsbrinna Passport Holder

A great way to keep your money organized while traveling when you do shop.

Pack Your Carry-On Strategically

A woman with a mask in the airport
Ilona Kozhevnikova/Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to forget about airport time when packing for vacation, but many people spend hours in airports throughout the duration of their trip. Keep this in mind when packing your carry-on and/or personal item. To avoid last-minute purchases, be sure to keep things like snacks, hand sanitizer, headphones, and books easily accessible.

Sony MDREX15LP in-Ear Earbud Headphones

Bring your own headphones and don't pay for low-quality ones in the airport.

You can save yourself a lot of money by purchasing these items at a supermarket before your trip instead of waiting until you get to the airport. While you don’t want to overpack, it’s usually better to be safe than sorry when it comes to things like pain relievers and sleep aids.

OLLY Sleep Aid Gummy

Great for bringing on planes.

Skip the Bar and Sit-Down Restaurants

A woman eating in an airport
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

Drinking is expensive everywhere, but it’s even worse at the airport. While we’re not saying you should deny yourself a drink during a boring layover, be mindful of how much you’re spending here.

Restaurants in airports are also very expensive, and the food can be pretty hit or miss. Stick to cafes and bakeries for food when possible, and don’t be afraid to look around at your options before deciding where to eat.

Stasher Silicone Reusable Storage Bag

Pack leftovers for the rest of your trip.

Park Far Away

A woman walks to the airport in a parking garage
Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock.com

Leaving a car at the airport is often necessary, especially if you live far away. However, you don’t always have to pay premium prices to keep your car close by while you vacation. Browse all of your airport’s parking options and consider parking in economy lots instead of covered ones. These almost always offer free shuttles to the airport and can save you hundreds of dollars depending on how long your trip is.

coowoz Large Travel Backpack Women

If you're parking far from the airport, a backpack is easier to manage than a suitcase.

Many hotels near airports also offer parking specials that are often much cheaper that airport rates. You can generally take a hotel shuttle or a taxi from these locations to the airport, although you may be required to spend at least one night at the hotel to access these benefits. Be sure to check with the hotel ahead of time if you plan on doing this.

Some people love airports while some people hate them, but everyone can agree that they are expensive. Save money while traveling with these airport tips.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on a single goal: helping you make the most informed purchases possible. Want to know more?