A key buy you should avoid is airport food. It has improved considerably in recent years. In many cities, specialty restaurants dealing in favorites such as Chicago deep-dish pizza or Memphis barbeque have found airport homes. If you're just passing through and want to sample those specialties, it can be a great opportunity.
But the cost for most meals will come in at a higher rate than what is charged in the city. Airport terminal overhead costs are steep and are usually passed along to the consumer.
Avoiding food purchases at the airport is easier said than done these days. Many airlines no longer serve meals or snacks on anything but long-haul flights. It might not be practical to pack a lunch for your trip (although some budget travelers do it), but if you must eat in the airport, plan on spending more money for food that might not be as good as you expect.
Expensive Airport Duty Free Items
Some major airport terminals resemble upscale shopping malls. Duty free shopping is a big-money industry. Essentially, you're buying merchandise at greatly reduced tax rates because the airport is located in an international trade zone.
But the so-called deals on duty free items don't always work out to be as wonderful as advertised. The tax totals are relatively small, and the prices on items offered for sale might be less than discount-level. Sometimes, they're marked up considerably.
There probably are bargains to be found in these stores, but unless you've been pricing such items and therefore have the ability to recognize a good deal, it's best not to buy. Making an impulse purchase because you're certain it's a reduced price often results in disappointment and much bigger bills to pay after returning home.
Airport Taxi and Limousine Services
In many places, the airport is far-removed from the city center. This can result in some expensive taxi and limousine tabs.
But even in places where the distance isn't as great, airport transportation can be an eye-opening expense.
Companies usually have to make special arrangements and even pass a review process in order to operate at the airport. The authorities impose these requirements to keep out unscrupulous operators who might want to "take you for a ride" with travel rip-off tactics.
It's best to find public transportation at the airport. In big cities, it can be quite affordable -- perhaps as low as $10 or less by train into the central city.
No matter the locale, avoid the taxi and limousine stands if at all possible.
Airport Money Exchanges
People who are exchanging money in an airport might have an urgent need to acquire another currency. But in most cases, it's an impulse that results from a lack of planning.
Budget travelers know that there are places outside of an airport where they can find much better rates. If they do perform an airport exchange, it will be for a small amount of money -- just enough to arrange ground transportation to their hotel or a bank in the center of the city.
This does not mean that airport currency exchange operations are ripping off the public or are in any way dishonest in their dealings. They simply provide a service in a very expensive location, and charge accordingly.
If you don't plan ahead, you might need their services. But you should expect to pay for your lack of planning. A better strategy is to obtain local currency through an ATM.
Airport Car Rentals
Airport space is expensive. If you're going to rent cars at a terminal or even nearby, the property will come at premium prices. Once inside, space for counters and offices also doesn't come cheaply.
But car rental companies find airports to be lucrative spots for doing business. They tend to pay the high overhead costs and simply pass them on to customers in the form of higher rates or perhaps an airport surcharge.
Do a simple cost comparison between what it costs to rent a car in town and at or near the airport. Generally, the airport rental will come in significantly higher.
Sometimes this added expense can't be avoided. But if it's practical, take public transportation from the airport area into a place where rates and fees are lower. Skip the airport car rental whenever possible.