Duty Free – Is It Worth It?

20 December 2014

We've all been there – the thrill of a bargain and the oft impulsive purchase made within the brightly-lit and time-limited duty free window. But what if duty free shopping isn’t the way to go? Are there better deals on offer from your local chemist or liquor superstore?

We put duty free to the test, comparing five popular duty free items up against regular Aussie retailers and of course, the home of the consumerist, the United States.

With so much travelling going on at this time of year, we help take the calculations out of your festive bargain hunting with our duty free comparisons below. These prices are based on research conducted on 19 December 2014.

 Pour with confidence with duty free alcohol

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A good bottle of Whisky

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A time honoured duty-free purchase and the kind of item you might not necessarily splurge on until you get the chance to pick it up at a good price. Let’s compare a few varieties of Chivas Regal.

Chivas Regal 25 Year Old Original Blended Scotch Whisky 700ml

F1RST Tax and Duty Free (Australia): $368

Dan Murphy’s: $399.99

Duty Free Stores New Zealand: member price (free to join) $359.92 NZD (approx $341.62 AUD)

Best deal: duty free NZ

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old Whisky 1 Litre

F1RST Tax and Duty Free (Australia): $49.99 or 2x for $79.98

Dan Murphy’s: $64.90

Duty Free Stores New Zealand: member price (free to join) $50.32 NZD (approx $47.89 AUD)

Best deal: duty free

Chivas Regal 18 Year Old Gold Signature Blended Scotch Whisky

F1RST Tax and Duty Free (Australia): $88

Dan Murphy’s: $84.90

Duty Free Stores New Zealand: member price (free to join) $92 NZD (approx $87 AUD)

Best deal: Dan Murphy’s

Overall winner: duty free

Rookie error: don’t buy more booze than you’re legally allowed to bring back into Australia. The limit is 2.25 litres per person. If you exceed Australia’s duty-free limits, duty and tax will apply on all items of that type, not just the goods over the limit. If you’re taking duty-free with you overseas, when you make your purchase be sure to check the limits of that country too. Finally, stopovers beware! If you are changing flights and need to enter through security at a second airport you might run into problems with liquid regulations (max 100mls remember). Don’t lose your booze if you have a connecting flight that doesn’t make a direct transit!

Savvy shopper: If the country you’re visiting has cheaper on-shelf alcohol prices than Australia, and you can’t get duty free because of your travel connections – buy your alcohol and pack it carefully in your check-in luggage. A 1.75 litre bottle of Makers Mark can be brought in the States for around $55 USD compared to $45 dollars for only 700mls here in Australia.

 A tech-savvy shopper always gets the best deal

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The must-have tech gadget

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Available from a multitude of retailers and often on sale – if you paid full price for one of these, you’d have to be desperate to have it in your hands then and there.

iPad Air 16GB

Apple (Australia): $499

JB Hi-Fi: $498

F1RST Tax and Duty Free (Australia): $453

Best Buy (USA): $349.99 USD (approx $428 AUD) + tax

Best deal: If you’re travelling to the States, pick up your Apple products stateside. Otherwise, get your hands on that iPad at the airport. With the tax added to the price in the US, it doesn’t always work out to be much cheaper. However, if you can, make your purchase from a major US store such as Macy’s that offers tourists tax-free shopping.

 The thrills of duty free shopping

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Designer Perfumes

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If you’ve got a signature scent, it’s always neat to grab a bottle of your favourite perfume when you’re passing through duty free.

Calvin Klein Eternity 100ml

JR/Duty Free: $50

Terry White Chemists: $29

Chemist Warehouse: $26.99

Best deal: hands down get your fragrance from your local chemist. How do our local chemists get such cheap fragrances? Did they fall off a back of a truck? We asked Terry White to comment on their bargain basement beauty prices. “Terry White Chemists as a group have strong alliances with our suppliers and they recognise the brand as being a destination for fragrance. As such we are offered very competitive prices for our fragrances and pass this on to the consumer.” Thanks TW!

 Snap happy

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'Get the shot'

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If you’re in the market for photography gear or a point and shoot camera, there are major saving to be had duty free or by shopping overseas.

Panasonic LF1 Digital Still Camera

F1RST Tax and Duty Free (Australia): $379

B&H (New York): $229.99 USD (approx $280 AUD)+ sales tax (approx $20)

Ted’s Cameras: $399.95

Best deal: Buy a camera next time you’re in the USA. If you’re not heading to the States anytime soon, get your camera duty free.

 Cool shades at hot prices

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Get your shades on

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Never go on holiday without your sunglasses. It’s always good to have a spare pair. Both true. But should you wait until you get to duty free to pick up your shades?

Oakley Frogskins

F1RST Tax and Duty Free (Australia): $145

Oakley online store: $159.95

Visiondirect.com.au $136.95 with free shipping

Best deal: buy online before you fly. If you do forget the sunnies, you can still pick up a pair for a good price duty free.

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So is duty free worth it? When it comes to booze and tech items, you can definitely stand to make some savings. Just do you research and if you’re planning to pick up some duty free goods when travelling just make sure there isn’t a better offer available outside the duty free zone.

Safe travels, happy holidays and blissful bargain hunting!

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.