Can you still get a bargain in duty free?

7th April 2015


The boom of online and high street discounters has made it difficult for shoppers to calculate whether or not airport duty free still offers good value for money unless they have done their research before departure. has compared the prices from nine of the UK’s biggest airports against 12 of the nation’s biggest retailers to reveal where the biggest savings can be made and when you are better off making your purchase when you get home…

World Duty Free (WDF), the UK’s leading duty free retailer, offers close to 500 different fragrances. Reduced prices and giant bottles have made fragrances a popular duty free buy, with many passengers choosing to stock up on year-long supplies of their favourite perfumes and aftershaves.

The study looked at two of the UK’s most popular fragrances, CK One by Calvin Klein (200ml) and Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Eau de Toilette (75ml). The products were on sale in duty free for £36.30 and £31.05 respectively. A quick search across high street and online retailers establishes that both fragrances are available at a better price outside of the airport. CK One can currently be purchased at Boots for £24.99, while Le Male is available on for £26.11. While World Duty Free prices are competitive, better value can be found elsewhere and it is certainly worth checking before travelling.

With an abundance of fine and often exclusive spirits available, there is plenty to win over passengers and tempt them into parting with their hard-earned cash. In the UK, outlets run by World Duty Free even include a ‘World of Whiskies’ concession to promote some of the UK’s finest liquid exports.

Like fragrances however, there is no guarantee that savings on duty will be passed onto the customers. British supermarkets, perhaps in determination to outbid rivals, often offer substantial savings on  alcohol. A 1-litre bottle of Gordon’s Gin, the world’s bestselling London Dry Gin retails in World Duty Free for £17.99; Supermarket Morrison’s however will sell you a bottle for £17.00. The saving may be small, but with a 1-litre bottle of spirits a large and rather awkward addition to hand or hold luggage, passengers may find it more convenient to do their booze shopping back home.

Chocolate is the go-to item for travellers looking for a last-minute holiday gift for loved ones, not to mention those who feel obliged to offer their colleagues a treat from their travels. Duty free shelves are stacked with staple favourites for UK passengers including Lindt, Milka and the giant Toblerone.

World Duty Free advertise a 400g Toblerone bar for £6.00 which puts it at the top of pyramid as far as price comparisons go. With Toblerone a fundamental addition to the confectionery aisle of supermarkets and department stores, retailers including Waitrose, Debenhams and Morrisons all price the same size bar below £4.00.

As a consequence of the taxes placed on them, cigarettes remain the one item that consumers are guaranteed to make a duty-free saving on. The research showed that airport savings amount to as much as 50% on the high street equivalent, with a 200-carton of Marlboro Lights selling at airports for £42.00. At high street stores such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots you can expect to pay more than £44.00 for their boxes of 100 cigarettes meaning you can pay half as much per cigarette by buying duty free.

Quotas in the UK on the import of cigarettes are extremely strict and consumers can expect heavy fines should they exceed the limits and fail to declare their goods. Those travelling from outside of the EU are limited to 200 cigarettes while within the EU this figure stands at 800. In 2012, two air hostesses narrowly avoided jail time for smuggling 14,800 cigarettes back into the UK having arrived on a flight from the Canary Islands.

The iconic Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer range remains a popular airport purchase, particularly for travellers who have forgotten to pack any shades. A departure lounge purchase may prove to be a shrewd move with the glasses retailing in duty frees stores for as little as £104.15.This compares to  high street prices, which can be as high as £170.00. The lowest high street prices were from department stores Debenhams and John Lewis at £125.00 , which was still considerably higher than duty free.

Duty free electronics and entertainment stores have faced a reshuffle in recent years with the digital revolution reducing their product offering to devices such as cameras, smartphones, headphones and tablets. Dixons Carphone appears one retailer switched onto the change with the company’s Dixons Travel brand now present in 12 of the United Kingdom’s major airports.

This year, three of the UK’s most popular consumer electronic offerings include iPads, Beats headphones by Dr Dre and the Go Pro Camera. The Go Pro Hero 4, the latest in the successful product line is available in duty free for £274.00 with UK retailer Currys (part of the same group) closest to matching that price at £279.00.

Noise-cancelling headphones from Beats by Dr Dre may be a useful addition to their list of travel accessories. The brand’s fashionable Studio 2.0 headphones are available for £149.92 in duty free, with high-street stores including Argos, Currys and Selfridges all offering the product for £169.00.

Apple’s successful iPad series continues with the 3rd generation iPad Mini, although marketed online for £299.00, the Dixons Travel store at Gatwick confirmed that the mini is available in store for £270.00, this beats competition from which offers the product for £285.99.

Oonagh Shiel, of, says: “Once through security, Duty Free is the must-go-to for leisure and business passengers to stock up on luxury consumables and electronics – or simply to kill some time ahead of your flight.

“Duty-free has an enduring reputation as the cheapest, last-chance place to shop before you board your flight – but, of course, retailers also know that they have a captive audience; and these days it seems that the ‘cut-price’ tag is not one that airport retailers always live up to; so don’t be fooled. It’s worth remembering that with cut-throat competition between supermarkets, that bottle of gin or giant Toblerone could well be cheaper on your local high street – so don’t just buy that last-minute item because it’s there.”

She adds:“It’s great to see that, for some items at least, there are still savings to be made. There is no obligation for concessions to pass on savings in duty-free, but without discounts, UK consumers are a shrewd enough bunch to look elsewhere. As with flights, and holidays, we suggest doing your research in advance and comparing the options – particularly if you don’t need that item for your trip.

“To make the best of the savings on offer, we suggest air travellers check before they fly. The majority of prices are available online, and even if they are not, a call through to particular stores may even give you access to special deals and discounts. After all, you want to have as much money in your pocket for when you get to your destination. Shop around to be sure you’re getting the best deal by buying duty free.”

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