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Cars & travel.

Updated: 6 Aug 2021

How to save at the airport

Airports seem to constantly find new ways to part you from your money. Which? Travel helps you to avoid getting stung before you fly
Which?Editorial team
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A little planning goes a long way these days if you want to make your money go further at the airport, whether you're flying off on business or holiday. Our advice gives you handy tips on everything from changing money to car parking and bringing food through security, so read on to make sure you never pay too much again.

1. Don’t exchange money at the airport

Don’t pick up your holiday money last minute at the airport – you’ll be hit with terrible exchange rates. Banks and money changers at the airport see you as fair game if you’ve left things this late and will penalise you accordingly, so planning in advance always pays.

You'll generally get a better deal if you order your currency online rather than searching the high street for the best rate.

2. Book your transfer in advance

A paid-at-the-station return ticket on the Gatwick Express from London Victoria is over £37, but it’s 10% cheaper if you book it online in advance, and there are alternatives. Southern trains also operate this route and although the journey is about five to 10 minutes longer (depending on stops), we found return tickets booked online in advance from £24.00.

Cheaper still are Thameslink trains from St Pancras and Blackfriars, which take around an hour, from £21.10.

There are ways to save on the expensive Heathrow Express too. If there are two of you travelling a return ticket booked on their website is £74. But pop the never-publicised phrase “duosaver” into the promotion code box and the price drops to £55.50. And if you’re a real advanced planner there are even greater savings: a one-way 90-day advance purchase ticket for use on weekends or bank holidays is £5.50 per person, or £8.80 if you book it at least 30 days before travel.

Video: Five ways to save at the airport

Hurry deals, early-bird deals and Black Friday sales; Which? Travel is always investigating how to get the best price on your holiday. Find out more about Which? Travel

3. Always book car parking online in advance

You’ll always get much better rates for car parking at the airport by booking online via the airport’s website in advance than just showing up.

If you want to stay for just a day sometimes booking a longer-stay car park for a few days, even if you only to intend to use it for one, might still be cheaper than booking 24 hours in a short-stay park. There’s nothing then to stop you taking your car out of the longer-stay park after just a day.

And if you have an early flight and want to stay near the airport, see if a local hotel has a “stay and park” option to sleep the night then leave the car in their car park.

4. Check if 'deals' really are cheaper

Shops at airports often try to bamboozle consumers who want to compare tax-free shopping prices by offering airport-only brands or irregular sizes. But the truth is, with the advent of the internet and supermarket discounts, airport shopping just isn’t the bargain it used to be.

From time to time some airports offer 'click and collect' deals on their websites that offer additional benefits such as a free security fast-track pass or a voucher to use for a free drink at a café.

5. Avoid drop off fees

Airports increasingly make you pay a fee even just to drop a passenger off at the terminal, but there’s often a work around. At Manchester for example you can drop someone off at the Jet Parks One car park from where there’s a free shuttle. It’s a similar story at Edinburgh where you can set someone down at the Long Stay car park where they can then also get a free transfer.

Some airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Cardiff for example – don’t (at the time of writing) charge a drop-off fee. But call the airport or check its website before travelling to find out how to avoid them at those that do. And don’t get caught out by overstaying in the drop off area…the fee at Manchester for example shoots up over six-fold if you stay just a minute too long.

6. Dine for less

It can be hard to keep up with the latest guidelines on what food you can and can’t take through airport security. But in a nutshell you can take sandwiches and fruit so there’s no need to fork out for lunch at pricey airport restaurants.

Bring an empty water bottle to fill after security. An increasing number of airports have filling stations. Cardiff, Newquay and Belfast airports all told us that any of their food retailers would fill up water bottles if asked for free.