Tips for Saving Money at the Airport - picture of family in airport lounge playing games
Budget Travel

Tips for Saving Money at the Airport

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Dudes, airports are expensive. And, if you like to travel as much as we do, not budgeting properly for airport expenses can take a toll on your monthly spending allowances. Heck, even when you do plan for it, saving money at the airport can still be difficult. Yup, yup. Even experienced frugal travelers like us can still make some budget-busting mistakes.

Just a few weeks ago, Holly and I got out of Dodge and made our way to the airport. But, this wasn’t any regular trip for us. We made a special road trip all the way to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to drop our children off at my parents’ house. The kids got to spend a special few days with their grandparents, and we took the opportunity to turn it into a fun vacation for just the two of us. However, that meant that we were going to be flying out of an airport that we were fairly unfamiliar with – Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Knowing that we were going to be leaving at the butt crack of dawn, we decided to park our car using the long-term airport parking. Since economy parking in Indy is just $9/day, we weren’t too worried about the fee…until we pulled up to the gate.

“$24 a day…for parking my car! What the balls?!?”

Personally,  I think somebody should have carried my bags and escorted me to the gate at that price, but I was already tangled up in their web. They had me. It was too late for me to back out now, so I swallowed hard, bent over, and proceeded to pay more than double what I expected for parking in their concrete maze.

Saving Money at the Airport

Honestly, I should’ve known better. I made the rookie traveler’s mistake of assuming, which ended up costing me about an extra $100 in parking fees alone. I mean, it would have been way more fun to lose that money at the craps table instead of having to use it to pay for parking. But alas, I was stuck with the consequences of my poor planning.

As I shuffled my way way through the airport with my head hung low, I began to realize all of the ways that a trip through the airport can destroy your traveling budget. Here are a few tips to help you avoid feeling the airport pain that I so richly deserved.

Check for Parking

As I’ve already mentioned, make sure you check around to find the best rates for parking. A difference of just a dollar or two may not mean much, but $5-10 could save you a pretty hefty chunk of change over the course of several days or weeks. Remember, airports aren’t the only places that will happily accept money for parking your car. Check for off-site parking lots located near your airport of choice. Almost all of these places are going to cost you less – and sometimes considerably less – than parking at the airport. Plus, they should have a shuttle that brings you to and from the site. Had I simply looked around, I could have parked for less than half of what I paid to park at the airport – saving me almost $100. Ugh!

Eat Before You Go

Everybody knows that airport food is expensive, right? Well, if you don’t, trust me – it is. If you really want to start saving money at the airport, this is a great place to start. You’ll know what I mean the next time you try to buy a $3 candy bar or a $4 bottle of water there. Of course, you can’t bring liquids past security (isn’t that convenient…), so the vendors on the other side of the TSA checkpoints have you exactly where they want you. Next time, try eating before you come to the airport. You’ll definitely save a few bucks by not paying those jacked up airport prices. If you absolutely can’t stand to go without your coffee (or soda), try waiting until you get on the plane. You should be able to score at least one drink compliments of your airline during the flight. Need a little water? Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at one of the airport’s 2 water fountains. (I’m kidding! You should be able to find at least 3 of them…) You can usually find them right next to one of the overcrowded bathrooms before or after your flight.

Pack Lightly

You have to tip your hats to the airlines – they definitely know how to make a buck. Obviously, you can’t travel without clothes (at least I can’t), but you may need to bring more than just your carry-on allows. Of course, you can no longer most of your personal items onto the plane – things like razors, larger bottles of shaving cream, most perfume or cologne bottles, etc. All of that stuff has to be placed into checked luggage, which most airlines make you pay for. So, try not to check a bag if you don’t have to. If you do, look for an airline that offers free checked bags – like my personal favorite, Southwest. Not only do I not have to pay for my first checked bag, I can actually bring my entire wardrobe with me if I choose because the second bag is free as well! Plus, their fares are almost always the cheapest…so SCORE!

Don’t Use Your Data

Sitting in the airport is boooooorrrriiiinnnggg, which is why saving money at the airport can be so difficult. Next time you are waiting for your plane to board, just take a look around at all the peeps sitting around staring at their screens. It is pretty hilarious to see everybody trying to avoid any interaction with another human being. Seriously, what did we do to pass the time before smartphones and tablets? I’ll tell you what we did…we read books. Yup, those things that are made with paper and have words all over them. Of course, there are tons of places to spend money at the airport. Bookstores are no exception. You can even buy the more visually appealing OK magazine there too. However, if you plan ahead, you can actually find books for FREE at your local library. If, however, you must absolutely connect to the internet, at least save you data. Most airports still offer complimentary WiFi, at least for an hour or so. Just “watch” their boring video advertisement, and save yourself a few bucks by connecting to their WiFi for free.

Airports present all sorts of budget busting traps for the frugally conscious traveler. However, if you prepare for your travels ahead of time, you can avoid some of the most of the expensive money grabs and save yourself a few bucks. For reals peeps: Do as I say, not as I just do…’ed. Seriously, I really could’ve used that extra Benjamin in Vegas.

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25 Comments

  1. Yikes! That must have stung a bit. Sevilla has a tiny airport and on a whim, l decided to check how much parking was going to cost us when we went to Marrakesh. It was a good thing l did too. Reserving a spot cost us €28.64 for the week. Without reservation, it was €129. I felt so smug when l saw people paying outrageous prices when l heard people complaining when we went to pay. From now on, l am going to check :-).

    1. Wowza! That is a huge difference!!! Good for you Kemmy! I wonder if we can reserve a parking spot…

  2. I hate paying to park but sometimes they do have you over a barrel. Before we got into rewards, I’d never been into s lounge in my life but we always try to do that now with whatever card offers access. Some are better than others but most are good for wifi and drinks and snacks.

    1. We learned how awesome lounges can be during a long layover in Miami. It was fantastic, plus we earned it free through rewards 🙂 I’m pretty sure our dinner that night was like 4 plates of snacks 🙂

  3. Great reminders! I would also suggest checking online for discount codes for airport parking. There’s a few places near our airport that frequently run “buy x nights, get 1 free” (shows up on Retailmenot and similar sites). The one we love has a free stay program after 10 stats too.

    1. Good tip! I have not done that, but I’m gonna have to next time we park out of town.

  4. I discovered how expensive are airport during my first foreign holiday, I’ve ate in the airport and men in one of expensive restaurant of my hometown I’d spend less than here, then usually I use train because I hate airport parking…but is true also if you plan a budget is very hard to keep the budget (sigh)

  5. Parking is a big one for me. I’m always so glad that I check ahead of time and park in the cheapest lot (or try to get a ride even). Another one is not buying magazines and making sure I bring a book. I used to spend so much at airports when I was younger!

    1. Magazines are ridonkulous. They’re like $4 a magazine now…for a bunch of fluffy gossip and photos. Blech!

  6. Good tips Greg. The worst is when you get stuck at the airport thanks to a delay. When we went to NYC a few months ago for business we ended up getting stuck here at the Omaha airport for about 8 hours. The Omaha airport is as glitzy as it sounds, lol. There are few options for anything and they’re all crazy expensive. That being said, we do have pretty reasonable long-term parking – $4/day which isn’t too bad I guess.

    1. Ugh! That is the worst! We got stuck in KC once for like 8 hours…with the kids. Talk about boring, and of course you can’t financially plan for that either.

  7. We always bring the empty water bottle and some water fountains even have a spot to fill up water bottles nowadays. We live pretty close to the airport (both JFK and LGA) and it generally makes more sense to get a cab rather than park our car. Well we can take public transportation too but that’s a bit of a hassle and stressful with a toddler in tow.

    1. Yeah, I can see how the subway or a bus would be a pain with a kiddo. It was a pain for me to go to the airport by train in Chicago, and I was all by myself.

  8. Ha, the last time I actually read a book for leisure (years ago) when I was doing air travel. And, yes, the parking at airports is highway robbery…even the long term “cheap” parking lot.

    1. For reals. I hate having to pay just so my car can sit there. Of course, I could have paid much less had I shopped around…

  9. At $24 a day they should carry You in, not just your luggage! A friend was telling us about park sleep fly packages. He said they are able to get a hotel room for about $100 in Louisville, park, and then take the shuttle to the airport. That’s not bad at all considering parking rates of $9 per day.

  10. The water bottle is key! I brought my big 24oz one. Only issue is that it has a straw. I filled it up before I went on the plane and forgot about it. When I opened it in the air it shot all over the place! Good thing it was an overnight flight and I pretended I was asleep. I’m not made for business class….

  11. We live in a major city and are lucky to be able to take the subway/city bus to the airport. This is a huge savings because it only costs us a token each. Parking at the airport is getting incredibly expensive. But I have to admit, after a long transatlantic flight, when you just want to get home to your bed, sometimes waiting for the bus can seem a little painful!

  12. Good points! When I fly out of the major airport in my area, I always park off-site and take their shuttle and it saves me quite a bit. Sometimes I can even find a coupon or promo code. For FinCon, I’m heading out of a much smaller airport than usual (great airfare deal!) and I made sure to check out all the pertinent details in advance so I’d be prepared.

  13. Parking is so crazy expensive in Chicago that whenever we book a flight, one of the first things we do after is start calling our lovely family to see who wants to drive us to the airport 🙂 But they know how much money they’re saving us so they usually don’t mind and we’ve returned the favor a few times as well.

  14. It’s nice that you shared some experience of yours so that we learn tips for saving money at the airport. I agree with you that eat before you go is one of the best top as items sold at the airport are 20% or even higher than its store price. We sometimes bring our own food or eat somewhere before heading to the airport.

  15. I totally agree with these tips.
    I live in Germany so thankfully, they supply a special train that goes directly to the airport so that you dont have to worry about a thing, and it’s spacious too!
    I’m British and in the UK, I wouldn’t use public transport to get to the airport if I can help it but either get my brother to pick me up or take a taxi. And daily airport parking is daylight robbery. You only get 5 minutes to “hug and drop” and then you have to run or that’ll be £10.00 please!

  16. Don’t make the mistake I did and misplace my parking ticket! It had actually wedged itself into my cellphone cover (which I found months later!). I picked up my mom from the Atlanta airport and as we are heading to the parking garage I can not find my parking ticket anywhere!

    I had literally only been in the airport for around an hour, but could not prove that to the parking attendants. I even gave them my moms flight information that showed she had just recently landed there in Atlanta.

    Nevertheless I had to end up paying $35 to leave, instead of the $6 I would of paid if I had my parking ticket. Let’s just say now I make it a point to NEVER loose my parking ticket! Thanks for sharing those 4 great ways to save money at the airport. Hope you have a great day~ 🙂

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