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Tips for duty free shopping


The term “duty-free” has connotations of bagging some great bargains at airports before or after your holiday. While not every item promises major savings, being a little savvy allows you to enjoy goods that have significant markdowns than elsewhere in the UK.

So what’s the deal with duty-free, and what can you do to ensure some good savings?

What duty free means

Duty free goods are items that are sold minus the local import tax, which is normally included as part of a product’s price. Duty free shops in airports are also minus VAT, which depending on what country you are buying in, could be less 5% - 25%.

Why price varies across duty free stores

There are a number of factors that allow prices to vary a lot across duty free stores. The first one is geography. Depending on the economy of that country, and the distance the product has travelled, the price will reflect this. On top of this, you have other taxes (and expenses like store rent) added which will vary from country to country. Thirdly, being the only store in the area selling those particular items (particularly tobacco and alcohol), they have the monopoly, and therefore if the seller wants to make more money, they could increase the prices accordingly.

So how do I get the cheapest goods?

It helps to do a little online research before your trip. If you have a product in mind, say, a 50ml bottle of Christian Dior aftershave, check out the price differences in duty free shops across the globe. It might be that you benefit from a significant saving at the Duty Free in the country you’re travelling to.

Alcohol and Tobacco


The biggest savings are to be found with tobacco and alcohol, mainly because they are usually the most heavily taxed items.

Tobacco is generally always far cheaper than in the average UK shop. Spirits, beer and wine will see a reduction in price too. The only thing you need to bear in mind that there is a limit on how much alcohol and tobacco you can bring back to the UK.

Currently, the rules are a maximum of 200 cigarettes (or 150 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco). For alcohol, the limit is 16 litres of beer and 4 litres of wine (not sparkling), or 1 litre of spirits or liquor over 22 per cent alcohol, or 2 litres fortified wine, sparkling wine and anything up to 22 per cent alcohol.

Perfume and cosmetics


With holiday spending money burning a hole in our wallets, and excitement in the air, it’s all too easy to fall prey to the perfume and cosmetic counters. Who doesn’t want to look and smell gorgeous while having a great time abroad? The duty-free market for cosmetics is so lucrative that L’Oreal call it their “sixth continent.”

As with most other duty-free items, do your research before you go. Find out what perfumes are on sale at your airports, which perfumes you like enough to buy and do your price comparisons.

Bear in mind that the airport duty free has more range than the inflight trolley. And in order to be a decent fellow traveller, limit your airport perfume spraying – you don’t want to overwhelm the people sitting near to you on the plane!



No trip home from holiday would be complete without wielding an enormous triangular tube of Toblerone across the airport carpark.

To get over the post-holiday blues, we turn to chocolate to cheer us up. And there’s something about airport chocolate that is a little bit irresistible. It could be that they stock a lot of brands not available in the average UK supermarket, or it could be that they’re supersized and often in attractive packaging. Whatever it is, it makes pigging out on the couch when we finally get home feel very decadent. Let’s face it, an evening with Kinder and Milka before heading back to work makes things feel less dismal. Plus, they make great presents.



Electronic shopping at Duty Free is often done out of urgency – headphones, speaker pods, sat-navs and chargers are often bought as a result of original items being left at home by mistake. But actually, items are significantly cheaper in duty free than elsewhere. Which makes buying products you need just for the home a better deal if you pick them up from the airport than the high street.

Suddenly that pre-Christmas city break seems a better idea when you know you can pick up cheaper presents at the airport!

So how savvy is duty-free shopping? The overall message is to do your homework. Duty-free doesn’t necessarily translate as the cheapest option all the time. But with the right research, you could make considerable savings on individual products.

So, now you know what to look out for next time you find yourself with a few hours to spare at the airport. Dubai airport and Kuala Lumpur airport are two of our favourites for duty free shopping.

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