airport saving tips
Everyday Money

14 Ways to Save Money at Airports

June 12, 2024 - Daniel Dreier

Follow these simple tips to save money at airports in Switzerland and when traveling abroad.

Travel tends to be expensive, and the costs tend to begin right from the time you head for the airport. The excitement of travel can make us lighten our hold on our wallets and focus on enjoying the experience instead. But a few simple adjustments to your airport habits can save you hundreds of francs without taking the fun out of travel.

Try these saving tips from next time you fly:

1. Avoid airport parking

Parking your car at the airport can add a significant expense to your trip. For example, keeping your car at a long-term parking space near Zurich airport for one week will typically cost you anywhere from 100 to more than 200 francs. Depending on where you live, getting to and from the airport by public transportation can be a lot cheaper.

2. Change money ahead of time

Having some cash in the local currency (or US dollars, depending on the country) is recommended, and in some cases necessary (to pay for visas when you land, for example). The exchange rates used by money changers and non-bank ATMs at airports often are not the most favorable. Depending on which currency you need, you can often get better rates if you exchange money at a Swiss bank before you travel. In some cases, withdrawing money at ATMs in your destination country works out even cheaper than exchanging in Switzerland. Make sure to use ATMs from reliable banks (often outside of the airport) and avoid banks which charge ATM fees.

3. Do not shop out of boredom

Keeping yourself busy during airport waits and layovers will help you avoid shopping out of boredom. Airports are designed to create a shopping experience with which passengers can entertain themselves – for a price. Watching videos, reading, doing creative work or playing a game are all simple ways to keep yourself busy without spending money.

4. Compare duty-free prices

While duty-free shops may be tax-free, the prices they charge for many goods are as high or higher than what you can find elsewhere. Before your trip, make a list of the things you want or need, and note the price you would pay for them at normal retailers. It is also good to check prices charged in your destination country (online, for example). Buying items at duty-free shops only makes sense if the price is better than what you would pay elsewhere.

5. Understand your passenger rights

Many people end up spending a lot of money on food and refreshments while waiting for delayed flights. But depending on the length of the wait, you can claim meals and refreshments from the airline. Other situations in which you may be eligible for compensation include flight cancellations, overbookings, luggage loss and damage, and more. Being familiar with your airline passenger rights can save you money.

6. Get required tests and vaccinations before going to the airport

Airports in some countries host medical centers where you can get medical examinations or vaccinations required for travel to your destination country. These centers often take advantage of unprepared travelers by charging high prices. Getting necessary tests or vaccinations before traveling often works out a lot cheaper. Taking time to research medical requirements for each country you are traveling to can help you avoid being hit with expensive airport surprises while traveling. If you have supplemental health insurance, it is worth checking whether it covers travel vaccinations in Switzerland and abroad.

7. Bring your own food

The price tags at many airport shops and snack bars are almost enough to frighten away your appetite. What's more, many airlines now charge you for in-flight food and snacks – particularly on shorter flights. But if you are the frugal type, you can simply bring packaged food in your hand luggage to keep you munching at a fraction of airport and in-flight prices. If you prefer not to pay for water, simply pack an empty bottle which you can fill at a water dispenser or bathroom once you get through security.

8. Use free Wi-Fi

Many airports offer free wireless Internet connections. For example, Zurich airport gives you four hours of complimentary Internet access. The Basel and Geneva airports also offer free Wi-Fi connections. Always check whether a complimentary connection is available before you pay for a lounge or buy drinks at a café just because you need to get online. Because free airport Wi-Fi can be limited or slow, consider downloading movies, music, and other stuff you want before you travel.

9. Claim your credit card benefits

If you have a credit card, it is worth checking whether it offers perks which can help you save at airports. For example, some Swiss credit cards (including some no-annual-fee cards) include insurance which reimburses receipts for extra food or hotel spending caused by flight delays and cancellations. This is advantageous because the refreshments provided by airlines during delays are often very basic. Some more expensive credit cards give you complimentary access to airport lounges, including some lounges which provide food, drinks, Internet access, and many more services which you would otherwise have to pay for.

10. Redeem your airline miles for stuff you need

Many people participate in frequent flyer programs but never earn enough airline miles for an award flight before their miles expire. But at some airports, you can redeem miles for purchases from duty-free shops. For example, you can use Emirates Skyward miles to shop at Dubai Airport’s duty-free stores, and Qatar Qmiles can be spent at duty-free shops in Qatar’s Hamad International Airport. If you expect to save enough miles for a flight, then that is preferable because you get better value. But if not, then spending your otherwise-worthless miles at airport shops instead of money is a smart move.

You can find more information in the guide to earning and using airline miles from popular frequent flyer programs.

11. Think twice about checking in luggage

Many airlines exclude checked luggage from economy tickets, especially for shorter flights. The ticket markup or counter fee for checking in a piece of luggage can be as high as 100 francs per flight. Take time to consider whether bringing certain things with you is worth paying extra money for. In most cases, you are better off sticking with the luggage allowance included in your ticket.

12. Avoid overweight

Having to pay for overweight can add hundreds of francs to your travel costs. Trying to decide whether to pay or dispose of stuff can be awkward when you are standing at the check-in counter. Before going to the airport, take time to check your flight’s limits on luggage weight carefully and weigh your luggage even if it does not feel particularly heavy.

13. Claim tax refunds

While this saving does not strictly apply to airports, you should keep it in mind when leaving foreign countries by air. As a resident of Switzerland, you can claim tax refunds for stuff you buy in many countries, including EU countries. Many merchants in foreign countries will provide you with tax refund slips which you can cash out at the airport. In many cases you have to specifically request these slips, and they may only be available for purchases exceeding a certain value.

Taking the time to find tax refund service points (Global Blue or Planet offices, for example) and cash out your slips while at the airport can keep you from losing money to unnecessary taxes. Tax refund services also offer mobile apps which can simplify the process of tracking and claiming tax refunds.

14. Take advantage of complimentary airport shuttles

Many people use taxis or public transportation to get to and from the airport because they are unaware that their hotel or resort offers a complimentary airport shuttle service. Taking the time to ask a hotel or resort whether they have an airport shuttle, or to check online, can cut out a lot of spending on unnecessary transportation.

More on this topic:
Earning and using airline miles in Switzerland: A complete guide
Credit card insurance benefits in Switzerland explained
How to cut the cost of hotels in Switzerland
Simple ways to get cheaper flights
How to get online during flights

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Editor Daniel Dreier
Daniel Dreier is editor and personal finance expert at
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