Airports have some pretty amazing amenities like golf courses and full-service spas. But for cash-strapped travelers, some of the very best airport perks are the ones you can get for the price of showing up. The secret to bagging many of these airport freebies is being in the know. Here’s a rundown of not-so-obvious airport freebies.
Editors Note: Some services and amenities at the locations listed below may be altered or halted due to the pandemic.
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Water Bottle Refill
Ever since I discovered that water fountains are one of the germiest places in airports, I’ve been inclined to avoid them. In the past, the alternative to a water-fountain refill is usually an absurdly expensive bottle of Fiji. But an increasingly large number of airports is now offering hydration stations where you can fill up reusable water bottles via automatic hands-free sensors. San Francisco International, Chicago O’Hare, London Heathrow, and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson are among the many major airports that offer this perk.
Why sit at the gate when you could see something new instead? Several airports offer complimentary tours for travelers passing through. There are free tours of Singapore that operate out of Changi Airport (temporarily suspended due to COVID), and travelers stopping in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport can hop aboard one of a variety of tours to temples, markets, or even a cave. Additionally, Turkish Airlines offers free Istanbul tours for flyers stopping in Istanbul Ataturk Airport (temporarily suspended due to COVID), but you must be traveling on that airline to be eligible.
You don’t necessarily have to shell out full price at the airport bookstore in order to find something good to read during your layover or on your flight. Several airports have installed libraries where you can borrow a book or drop off one you’ve just finished. Helsinki Airport offers a book swap point in its Kainuu Lounge, while Tallinn Airport has a library that “operates purely on trust,” with passengers expected to return borrowed books on their return flight or “some other time.” Amsterdam Schiphol also has a library, complete with books, iPads, and cozy seating areas.
Whether seeking ceremony or just a quiet space to sit, flyers will find free facilities for doing just that at numerous airports. Various religious and spiritual services, from interfaith chapels at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson to a quiet meditation room at Albuquerque International Sunport, are available in terminals around the world. These services are almost always free, but donations are usually welcome.
A Pet Potty Break
More and more airports are offering animal-relief facilities for those traveling with four-footed friends; this is often a fenced-in patch of outdoor space reserved especially for pets. Some are nicer than others. At Miami International Airport, look for the handful of dog parks surrounded by white picket fences and featuring both grass and dirt surfaces as well as waste-disposal stations. (Note that you’ll have to go through security after visiting Miami’s outdoor pet-relief areas; indoor restroom spaces are available post-security.) Other airports just have a patch of grass surrounded by chain-link fencing; still, that’s better than nothing. For a more complete list of airport pet-relief areas, see this helpful roundup on Dog Jaunt.
Luggage tags might not be the most exciting freebee on this list, but, as many experienced travelers know, they’re available for free at almost all airport ticket counters. And they’re very useful—especially if you’ve forgotten to affix your own luggage tags. You should fill out and attach a bag tag to each checked piece of luggage—and carry-ons, too—so that airline staff can identify your bags in case they get lost. Either you’ll find the free luggage tags sitting on the check-in counter, or you’ll need to ask for them.
A Little Help When You Need It
Disabled travelers will find special assistance at airports around the world. But they’re not the only ones who need a little help sometimes. Many airports have programs that offer assistance to virtually anyone who needs it, such as young travelers, flyers who don’t speak the local language, or even lost or confused passengers—for free. For example, at New York’s JFK and Newark Airports, a nonprofit program called Traveler’s Aid exists to provide support to kids traveling alone, people who have lost their tickets, or those who have gotten separated from travel companions. Similar setups are available at many airports, from Travelers Aid Chicago at O’Hare Airport to Customer Care Counters, which can provide information in up to 170 languages, at Vancouver International Airport.
Safeguard breakables with a free “fragile” sticker affixed to your bag. Some travelers buy these in advance, but they’re offered at most airline check-in counters free of cost. Just ask your airline customer-service agent to slap a few on your suitcases. Although we can’t promise that the baggage handler tossing luggage onto the plane is going to read and also heed that sticker, it’s worth a try.
Keep yourself entertained during long layovers without burning through your phone’s data, thanks to an increasing number of airports offering free Wi-Fi—including Atlanta, Denver, Toronto Pearson, London Heathrow, Sydney, Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles, and many more.
It all started in Northern California. The Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport was, according to many reports, the world’s first airport yoga room. Since that amenity opened, it’s become much more common to see travelers folding into downward dog or working up a sweat via jogging trails in airports. There are free yoga rooms at the Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Burlington, and more. Meanwhile, Baltimore/Washington has a two-kilometer Cardio Trail that flyers can access free of charge.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.
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