With discount travel websites like Orbitz, Travelocity, and Priceline constantly reminding us about low fares and other airline ticket specials, we sometimes forget that locating cheap flights is not the only way to save money when flying. It’s well-known that airport retail services and parking authorities exploit their captive customers by inflating prices. When you’re living on a budget and still wanting or needing to travel, you can do far more to save money than just find a cheap flight. Here is some advice on saving money at (and before you even get to) the airport.
1. Plan for small contingencies. Airport retail operations make a killing on breath mints, tissues, pain pills, toiletries, and practically every other little drug store item that travelers whimsically purchase inside the terminal. The markup on these things can be incredibly high – sometimes double what you’d pay outside the airport. They know, once you’re trapped at the airport (either before initial departure or during a layover), that you’re not going to leave. So you’ll probably pay a premium price for even the most basic of items, right? Well, you may be able to save money by preparing your purse or carry-on bag with these types of products in advance.
2. Bring reading material. Unless you’re already carrying work to do at the airport or while flying, you may find yourself wanting to read something. Don’t buy books, magazines, or even newspapers at the airport, as these are also price-inflated items. It shouldn’t take that much effort to find a book or magazine at home and stuff it into your bag before you leave! And if you’re a real cheapskate (like me), there’s always the public library. Why buy books when you can borrow them for free?
3. Eat a MEAL before you leave home (if possible). In the mad dash to get to the airport, people often forget to eat something substantial. Rather than dining at home or stopping at a restaurant of their choice *before* they get to the terminal, they rush through security and hastily pursue the food court option: another completely overpriced venture. Besides limiting yourself to a handful of choices, you’re also wasting money when you pay $9.00 for a fast food meal that would’ve cost $4.50 outside the airport.
4. Bring some snacks with you. I am *NOT* advocating that you tote three sizes of snack-filled tupperware, a big thermos, and an insulated lunch bag with you to the airport, although I’ve seen people do it shamelessly. But why not bring a small bag of chips, a granola bar, or an apple from home? It won’t save a ton of money, but every pinched penny counts in the effort to save money.
5. Take public transit to the airport, alleviating the need for airport parking. Although it may take a little longer at both ends of your trip, you can avoid exorbitant airport parking charges. Here in the relatively small hub of Milwaukee, where long-term structure parking is $10 a day, the charges rack up quickly – especially for longer trips. Imagine the difference: $30 in parking for a three-day trip versus $3 in two-way bus fares. Wouldn’t you rather have an extra $27 for your trip?
6. Get a ride to the airport. This is even cheaper than taking public transit. If you have willing friends or family members, ask for rides to and from the airport. With the money you save, you can treat your chauffeur to a latte. ;)
7. Explore economy parking. If you absolutely must drive yourself to the airport, at least look into low-rate parking, usually operated by small, private companies near the airport. It’s always farther from the terminal, but it’s often half the cost. These economy lots usually run regular shuttles between the terminal and lot, and they’re normally open 24 hours a day.