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6 Ways to Save on Airport Expenses on Flight Days

Airports are some of the world’s most effective money vacuums. They’ve got so many ways to separate you from your cash and since you’re captive, you have very little price sensitivity. You either buy that $12 burger or you don’t. If that $6 bag of peanuts seems pricey, too bad. You won’t find it cheaper down the hall. Flight days can end up putting a serious dent in your budget.

flight days

Many of the expenses can be reduced or eliminated with a bit of advance planning, however. Here are a few places where you can shave costs so that you have more to spend where you’re actually going.

Use an Off-site Parking Service

If you need to drive to the airport and leave your car, which is unavoidable in some cases, take advantage of alternative parking options. Every major airport has a slew of off-site parking options. These are privately owned lots that are usually a business unto themselves or they are otherwise empty space owned by hotels or rental car lots.

I’ve used these in Orlando and Miami on multiple occasions when I had to fly out of a different airport and have normally spent half or less what the lowest official airport rates would have been. It’s usually not much more time-consuming either. The one I used to use in Nashville when I lived there got me to the terminal faster than I could have gotten there waiting around for the airport shuttle making multiple stops.

Check this airport parking reservations site to see multiple options in one place. I pulled up the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta for two weeks from now and found seven options for $7 or less per night. Where you really benefit though is in a city like San Francisco where the normal rate is $25 per night. Check out the difference below. If you stayed away a week and paid $10 per night to park rather than $25, the difference is $105 to spend on something fun in your destination instead.

SFO airport parking

They also have “sleep and fly” options where you spend one night at an airport hotel on the way out and leave your car until you return. That’s a great option if you’re driving in from far away and would have to spend the night anyway.

If you don’t find what you want there, try this service instead:

Try Lyft Instead of Uber

Maybe it’s because they’re the #2 underdog, but the other on-demand car service seems to work harder to get your business. Where Uber often hits you up with “surge pricing,” Lyft often hits you up with specials. Twice now I’ve gotten a half-price ride to my local airport (less than $8). I just got an e-mail this week offering another similar deal when I return. I can’t remember ever getting any kind of discount offer from Uber in years of using the service.

Bring a Water Bottle

water bottle airportI always carry an empty refillable water bottle with me on flight days and then fill it up post-security on the way to my gate. In many airports now they have filtration/UV systems in place so it tastes as good as that $4 bottle you’d buy at an airport shop. You get an unlimited amount and you’re not contributing to the death of our planet.

You can probably pick up a water bottle for what you’d spend on a couple overpriced disposable ones. There are even models from the likes of Vapur that compress down flat when you’re not using them.

If you don’t want to use plastic, there are hundreds of metal ones to choose from, some of them made from recycled cans. 

Carry Some Food

The U.S. airlines are starting to get a tad less stingy about giving out a snack in-flight, but if your flight is not direct you’ll probably spend a lot of time in airports getting hungry. You’re limited on what you can bring with you because of liquid restrictions, but solid items like sandwiches, nuts, trails mixes, and bars are no problem.

You can usually buy any of these outside the airport for 1/2 or 1/3 what you pay inside on flight days or the day before. (Except for progressive cities like Portland, where they’re not allowed to gouge you.)

Get a Better Phone Plan

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re a frequent international traveler there’s only one cell phone service you should consider. Your data and texting will be included nearly anywhere you go, no extra charge. Phone calls are included anywhere in Canada, the USA, and Mexico, otherwise a flat 20 cents per minute if you can’t get a data signal for VoIP service.

If you’re with one of the other carriers, you can get a physical sim card or a virtual sim. 

Download Your Own Entertainment on Flight Days

On international flights you’ll usually have some kind of seat-back entertainment system in large planes, but on U.S. domestic ones most of that comes with a credit card charge. Or they’ll have some odd plug and charge you for a headset. Be prepared for these fee grabs by having plenty of entertainment on your laptop, tablet, Kindle, or phone.

How about you? What do you do to have more to spend upon arrival?

Collette Valliear

Saturday 6th of August 2016

Find out if your credit card company offers a free Priority Pass Lounge Access membership. If not, it's worth signing up for one. Priority Pass gives access to airport lounges all over the world - a quiet, comfortable place to recharge your devices while you read a free newspaper, and eat free food!


Wednesday 29th of June 2016

I've been known to sneak a few airplane-sized liquor bottles onto the fee-loving U.S. carriers to avoid the $8 they sock you for. But don't tell my flight attendants.


Tuesday 28th of June 2016

I agree, airports can be quite upsetting in regards to the family finances and these ideas are very practical and effective.