Stay Grounded By Avoiding Pricey Airport Impulse Buys

You’re at the airport with far too much time to kill before your flight boards. You realize you’ve got nothing in your pocket to help you pass the time, and an electronics-vending kiosk catches your eye. You could walk over, swipe your credit card and claim your salvation from boredom, but if you do so you may well regret the purchase after your flight lands.

DealNews examined 32 items sold at five airports and found that 81 percent of the devices cost an average of 34 percent more than they do at non-airport locations. The research found that digital cameras and high-end headphones cost anywhere between $50 and $200 more than they would at other places.

There’s little reason to snatch up a camera at an airport, since you probably won’t use the camera on the flight or on the cab ride to the hotel. Hitting up an electronics store after you get to your destination will save you significantly. Buying headphones before a long flight, on the other hand, may be worth the extra cash if the alternative is paging through the SkyMall catalog for the next several hours.

Watch Your Wallet While Shopping for Airport Electronics [DealNews] (Thanks, Mark!)


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  1. mbz32190 says:

    Really? Next thing they’ll tell us is the food and souvenirs at stadiums and concerts are overpriced. I will no longer be buying a pile of ipads out of a vending machine whenever I travel. Thanks Consumerist!

  2. taaurrus says:

    Silly me. Here I thought that it was just common sense to know that items at an airport are more expensive then they are elsewhere. WHY, exactly, was this even a Consumerist story? Those who actually purchase these things at airports deserve to pay the higher price because it really is common knowledge that stuff there cost more – really is no need for a story to tell us that.

    • Damocles57 says:

      The only things sillier than a non-article on Consumerist are the obvious, redundant, gratuitous, and unnecessary comments that are sure to follow aforementioned non-article on Consumerist.

    • Round-Eye §ñ‰∫∫„ÅØ„Ç≥„É≥„Çπ„Éû„É™„ÉÉ„Çπ„Éà„ÅåÂ•Ω„Åç„Åß„Åô„ÄÇ says:

      Not necessarily everything at the airport is more expensive, though. Sure, they can definitely be considered impulse buys, but a few months ago I realized I needed an iPod shuffle that I’d forgotten to pick up while in the States on business. At LAX while awaiting my return flight, I picked up an iPod at the Best Buy (I know, I know…at least it wasn’t the brick-and-mortar outlet) vending machine just pas security at the int’l terminal. It was the same price as in the store or online. It was exactly what I needed and was super convenient at no additional cost.

    • nicless says:

      You guys are aware that if you no longer appreciate the content of this website you can just stop reading it, right? It’s like the writers here owe you money and you are sticking around to make sure they’ll pay up. It may be common sense to 95% of the people, but if this article helps one person then it was worth writing.

      Seriously, if you guys don’t like it here go start your own consumer blog.

  3. Straspey says:

    “…may be worth the extra cash if the alternative is paging through the SkyMall catalog for the next several hours.”

    OR –

    Wait for this…

    You could simply walk into one of the many newstands at the airport and, for a few dollars – buy a few magazines…or (shudder) even a b-b-b-ook.

    But no –

    We need something “electronic” to quell the horror of having nothing to do for a few hours.

    • balthisar says:

      Well, I usually get free WIFI in the business lounge, so I download my books into my “something electronic.” :-p (I’d do my magazines, too, but they seldom come out at the precise time I’m awaiting a flight, i.e., I always have them.)

      For the sake of the more serious, I tend to think that these kiosks and vending machines aren’t so much for the bored as the hurried. Mom or dad comes home from a business trip, but didn’t have time to find a gift for someone. Sure, it’s over-priced, but it’s worth his or her time to bring back something nice for a loved one.

      • Straspey says:

        Both your points are well-taken.

        In fact, we bought a Color Nook for my wife back in August and I’d say about 85% of her time on it is spent reading – which is why we gave it to her, because she’s an avid reader. I would imagine she’d have it with her at any airport, train station, etc.

        Not being a regular traveler, I don’t have to deal with that last-minute gift issue, but for the serious business traveler, I can see how those kiosks might come in handy – and also for those traveling abroad who may have inadvertently left their device at home.

  4. Wade says:

    One of the nicest things about the Pittsburgh airport is that all vendors must agree to charge prices that are consistent with non-airport vendors in the area.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      The only nice thing about Pittsburgh is that all Pittsburgh airport vendors must agree to charge prices that are consistent with non-airport vendors in the area.


    • dwtomek says:

      Does the airport agree to lease at rates that are consistent with non-airport lessors? I can’t see how running a business inside of that airport would make any sense otherwise.

      • sonneillon says:

        You have eight million people walk by your store a year, you sell shit with a high profit margin anyways and you can’t find a way to make a profit from that.

  5. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I LIKE the SkyMall catalog. I always swipe it out of the seat pocket and take it home and pretend that I have enough money to buy fancy stuff from Hammacher Schlemmer.

    I usually take a book with me anyway. Or I doze, unless I have a window seat and we’re not flying over a bunch of clouds.

  6. ajlei says:

    PDX (Portland Airport) ensures that airport prices are the same as in non-airport stores. Plus, that airport is lovely. And free wifi!

    • humphrmi says:

      I love PDX. I had to go to Portland a lot for my last job. Now I miss the airport!

    • Ablinkin says:

      PDX is certainly a nice airport. Very well organized with easy access. With the extremely liberal politics of the city, it’s surprising that they can pull off running such a nice facility.

      • Brunette Bookworm says:

        Wait, what? Are you saying those of us who are liberals don’t like nice things or places to go? Was the political comment even necessary?

  7. Torchwood says:

    I’m not surprised. When you have a captive audience, you can certainly charge more.

    Not relevant to the story, but might as well share. A few years ago, I was catching a late flight from LAX to Sacramento on Southwest Airlines (aka Greyhound of the skies). The plane was on a route that went from Nashville, through LAX and Sacramento, and ended up in Portland. It must have been a long flight, since when the plane landed and parked at the terminal, several people made a mad dash to the McDonalds. When they re-boarded the plane about ten minutes later, we were allowed to board. It was not a crowded flight.

  8. Happy Dad says:

    More expensive? Really? No shit.
    What about Ipod vending machines? They’re probably no worse than retail.

    Wouldn’t someone that wants something like that already have it? And if one can afford the high markups then who cares how much more they cost.

  9. oldwiz65 says:

    Even the big chains like McDonald’s charges more for food at the airport, and often at the malls.

  10. Ablinkin says:

    Next we need a ban on movie theaters charging 500% markup on their candy and the racket of 5-10 dollars for large bucket of popcorn. An article on how to safely smuggle in contraband sodas, candy bars, or even a healthy bag of carrots would go a long way toward saving money to see the latest Hollywood flicks.

    In all seriousness if a flyer doesn’t bring enough entertainment with him/her who’s to blame the airport vendors for charging the high prices. You certainly don’t want to go back outside the TSA security area to see if you can save a few bucks do you?

  11. Wysguy says:

    I didn’t know Radio Shacks had stores in Airports

  12. Kodai says:

    81% cost an average 34% higher…

    How much higher or lower did 100% of the items cost? My guess is that they deliberatly left off all items that cost regular prices or less to mess with the numbers.

    BTW, 81% of 32 is 25.92. So, 25.92 items cost an average of 34% more. What happened to the extra .08 of an item?

    • rdeebee says:

      ??? The only thing that costs the same at the airport as in the city is a date with Larry “Widestance” Craig

  13. Jeff asks: "WTF could you possibly have been thinking? says:

    I was just thinking about this the other day. Many years ago (10?), on a Florida vacation, as my family was killing time between flights, I observed a family like mine perusing a kiosk in the airport and I watched them buy a portable DVD player for something like 299.99. And 39.99 for some movie to put in it. Just bought each of my kid’s families a poratble DVD for Christmas. 42.00 at Target. Forty-two dollars. Leaves a lot of cash for movies :)

  14. richcreamerybutter says:

    As I recall, Narita’s prices seemed consistent with normal pricing as well (I’d forgotten about PDX until someone above mentioned it). Imagine having a reasonably-priced retail selection predicated on the idea that people are likely to postpone buying some items after determining how much room is left in their luggage!

  15. El_Fez says:

    Wait – why the hell would you buy a camera DURING the trip?

  16. Zen Angel says:

    I used to work at an airport…some of the prices (ok, pretty much all of them) were akin to highway robbery. I made a list & checked the prices while I was on vacation. Across the board, we charged more for everything on the list, including bottled water, a common alcoholic drink, a souvenir key chain & sunblock than they did at my vacation destination…Disneyland.

  17. ducktownhusker says:

    If you need a Consumerist article to tell you that airport vendors charge more, you probably also need someone to tell you to shut off the water when you’re done brushing your teeth.