Duty Free shopping

The Dos And Don'ts Of Duty Free

8 September 2017
Read Time: 3.0 mins

When faced with empty hours to fill, potential flight delays and foreign currency to utilise, glossy shelves lined in shiny luxe goods paired with overly enthusiastic sales staff can provide quite the temptation.  Whether you are after an item unavailable back home, 'forgot' your sunglasses, can't live without adding another bottle to your in-house perfumery or simply need new headphones, Australians are regulars in the duty free aisles.  But it does pose a big question.. is it really worth it?  Or is it simply a marketing ploy we have fallen prey to over years of creative advertising. 

Australians traditionally favour electronics, sunglasses, alcohol, makeup, perfume and cigarettes when getting in a few last minute purchases.  However when consulting price comparisons it is evident that several items stocked on those enticing shelves offer no significant savings compared to local retailers.  So, when should you indulge? A little shopping never killed anyone, however if you can save some dosh why shouldn't you.  Read on for a few handy hints for your next international haul...

Duty Free Dos

Spirits - one of the few items customers can still enjoy considerable savings across.  This is particularly relevant when items are bundled up and well presented, is a very common (and tempting) offer.  It's difficult to say no to pre-packaged carry cases carefully cuddling your two favourite bottles of poison, especially with that post-dose headspace.  Rest assured you can usually enjoy a genuine saving here.

Duty free shopping - often there are special offerings for things that are not available anywhere else.

Cigarettes - for those still trapped in nicotine's tight claws, you will see savings.  These items are highly taxed in Australia, so there is a level of duty to be saved, however the regulations around quantity imported are also tight.  Be sure to do your research before getting swipe-happy at the departures register.

Duty Free Don'ts 

With the growing presence of conglomerates like Sephora, the expansion of department store locations and a struggling economy, customers can often enjoy better prices on makeup, cosmetics and fragrance here on home soil.  Australian online retailers also offer competitive pricing on several of these items, stocking international brands that can be delivered more economically than having to hand over a boarding pass. 

The same goes for wine varietals and food items like chocolate, confectionary, nuts and cookies.  So if you're visiting friends overseas be wise and stock up on Tim Tams, Cherry Ripes and Vegemite when doing the grocery run.  Most Aussie wines can be picked up cheaper at the likes of Dan Murphy's, as can imported champagnes.  The duty free prices on these don't offer much competition, so perhaps it's just more of a convenience thing.

beer, wine and spirits Be selective - spirits good to purchase, wines go local.

Several digital and electronic pieces are frequently purchased airport items, particularly headphones, cameras and laptops. Upon a little research, pricing doesn't differ too much from the likes of JB Hi Fi, Harvey Norman and department stores, particularly when they run a solid sale.  If you know what you are looking for, just do your research, you can probably find a better deal at home or online.  It often pays to go to a store in person and make a cash offer too, you should get a much better deal that you would at the gates.

Of course there are always abnormalities, so be aware of these too.  Certain items will always be cheaper duty free when you're exiting their country of origin.  i.e. French cosmetics in France, American brands across USA airports and certain electronics in Asia.  You can also shop smart and take advantage of duty free exclusives, often found in the cosmetics aisles where a certain luxe brand will do double up packs or group 3 or more items into a kit.  If you are genuinely in need of these items, then they usually do offer a genuine saving compared to retail, however if you are simply getting swept up in the glamour and temptation of it all, whip out your phone and check a few sites for prices closer to home.  You should have time to kill after all.

Words by Jess Holmes and images courtesy of Getty.

Jess Holmes

Jess Holmes refers to herself as a walking contradiction, yearning for life's little (or large) luxuries one minute, eat-drink-treking her way through offbeat destinations another.  She's just as happy exploring the street(food)s of Oaxaca, putting her body through its paces atop Peruvian mountains, and sunning herself on Sri Lanka's secluded beaches as she is wandering through Napa Valley vineyards, indulging in NYC's best spa treatments or sipping Chianti on the Amalfi Coast.


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