It's not just the airlines that want to nickel-and-dime you out of every last penny. Airports all across the country have become kindred spirits, if not outright coconspirators, when it comes to robbing you blind just because you're in vacation mode. Don't blow your budget overpaying at the airport. Here's how to save big bucks on your next trip.
Be thrifty when it comes to snacks. Resist the temptation to overpay for chips, sodas, and sandwiches at the airport. For a quicker, healthier, and cheaper alternative, pack food, such as trail mix and granola bars, that travels well and won't cause issues in the security line.
Bring an empty water bottle. Staying hydrated on your flight is one of the keys to a successful trip. And while you can’t bring liquids into the terminal, you can bring an empty bottle and fill it up on the other side of security. If you’re a frequent traveler, spring for the Vapur Anti-Bottle, a foldable, reusable, durable "bottle" with many uses that scored very well in our field-tested product review.
Print your boarding pass at home. It's a time-saver in all cases, and a money-saver if you happen to be flying Spirit (which charges $2 or $5 per pass) or certain overseas low-cost carriers.
Get your souvenirs somewhere else. Anywhere else! Airport shops charge designer store prices for Wal-Mart-quality tchotchkes. And let's face it, do you really need that keychain with the grinning leprechaun on it? Invest a few minutes at the end of your trip for souvenirs, or better yet, stockpile keepsakes as you travel. Buying at the airport is one time where waiting till the last minute really doesn't pay off.
Buy your books and magazines ahead of time. Airport book stores never offer significant discounts, so you'll pay full-price on the latest bestseller unless you plan ahead. Bring your own copy, or download an e-book if you don’t want to carry the extra weight.
Read and return. If you absolutely must buy a book on the go, look for a Paradies-operated store. This retail chain, which operates out of 75 airports in the U.S. and Canada, has offered an innovative read-and-return policy since 2003 that allows you to buy a book at one location and return it within six months to get 50 percent of your purchase price back.
Pack more bags. No, really. Even factoring in the ubiquitous second-checked-bag fee, it may make sense to spread your luggage over two bags rather than cramming it all into a single piece. On most major domestic carriers, your first checked bag costs $25 and your second bag costs $35, for a total of $60. A single overweight bag runs anywhere from $90 to $400. So while the best advice is to pack light enough to avoid any bag fees, a close second is to distribute your luggage evenly.
Pick flights with minimal layovers. Even the savviest traveler can give in to the temptation of airport shopping and dining on a long layover. Good judgment goes out the window when you're hungry or just plain bored. For domestic flights, stick to shorter connections so all you'll need is a granola bar or peanuts to keep you occupied.
Seek alternate parking arrangements. Sticker shock isn’t limited to airfare and baggage fees, not when airport parking—even the so-called economy lots—can run more than $100 per week. Take public transportation, hitch a ride with family or friends, pay for an airport shuttle, or capitalize on long-term parking alternatives in your city. Just don't pay $40 per day to park your car near the terminal.
Don’t Pay for Wi-Fi. Seriously, don’t do it. You’re on vacation, and airport Wi-Fi is notoriously terrible anyway. Unplug! The world will still be there when you get back.