Yes, airport food is expensive – 3 tips to remember

I know this is not news to my blog readers, but this is put out there for the average traveler going on vacation this year.

Last week I was at Phipps Bistro in the A concourse of CLT.  This is my usual lunch place when I fly out in the afternoons on Delta.  A family had taken a couple sandwiches, a couple drinks, and a bag of chips and their total surpassed $30 which led them to void the sale and move on.

With the average sandwich price I’ve seen in airports over $8.00 and sodas running at least $2.50 a sandwich and a coke is over $10.00 before adding any sides such as chips or fruit.  I always said I prefer to eat table service in airports since the price differential is non-existent, just the cost of a tip vs no tip but with table service I can get a refill on my beverage and don’t have to haul around stuff and find a spot to eat.

Airport fast food also doesn’t usually have the value menu.  I was in ORD years ago behind a group of school girls.  One was so excited to get a McChicken for a buck.  I didn’t have the heart to break it to her that (at least at that time, I haven’t eaten at an airport McDonalds in years so I’m not sure if it is still accurate) there is no Dollar Menu at the ORD McDonalds.

So what can you do?

  1. You can take your own water bottle through security as long as it is empty.  Many airports are installing these bottle fillers.  I know CLT, ORD, and many other airports have them.  They fill pretty quickly, but I’d still recommend having a bottle with a built-in filter if you are picky about water taste but don’t want to spend $4.89 on a bottle of Fiji.  You can bring your own flavor packets or Mio to flavor up the water if you so desire.

    water fountain
    water fountain
  2. There are no TSA restrictions on bringing food from home as long as it can’t be perceived as a liquid or gel (such as yogurt and pudding).  Bring your own carrots and celery sticks.  If you have a 2-oz souffle cup or buy the little tubs of peanut butter or ranch dressing you will have a good snack and the liquid will be less than 3.4 oz.  Bring some trail mix or nuts for a snack that has a long shelf-life and can fill you up in a pinch.
  3. Skip the alcohol.  I think most airport venues charge way too much for alcohol.  When it’s $8 or $9 in the airport but just $6 or $7 onboard you are better off waiting to board.   You might even check eBay and the like to try to find some beverage coupons if you know you like to partake.  If you are going carry-on only you can still bring mini bottles in your liquids bag.  You cannot drink them in the airport or on the plane, but you will have them when you land.  They are usually a couple bucks a piece in NC, but that is cheaper than the price on a plane.

If you are planning a trip and are an infrequent flyer, make sure to budget for food at the airport.  Your personal needs will vary based on how you eat, but expect it to be at least 20% more than you’d expect to pay outside the airport.  The snacks add up the fastest so if you like candy, gum, and the like make sure to pick it up before the airport.  Bring your own bottle of water and unless you need to imbibe to survive the flight, avoiding alcohol is the fastest way to cut down on airport spending.


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    This is in addition to anything you get from your credit card, dining or other programs.


  2. Great ideas and I hope a few seasonal flyers read them. With fussy kids, you’re probably in for a rough (expensive)time. As a regular solo flyer I’ve adapted quite well IMO. When possible I eat before the airport, pack my own or at least buy before the airport. I skip the booze. The ONLY thing that I buy air-side is a liter of water, and curse TSA with every sip. (OK, I’m fussy about my water.)

    Question: Does anyone know of ANY airline that makes their on-board coffee with other than airplane ‘potable’ water?

    1. On some of the regional carriers I’ve seen them put bottles of the water they serve into the coffee water holder, but I think the hoses are not cleaned frequently.

  3. I’ve noticed recently that several airports I’ve seen have added vending machines and the machines sell soda, water, candy, chips etc. cheaper than the shops do. Not a lunch they make but a least it’s a little cheaper. Just try to avoid using a credit card on the vending machines, sometimes they will send through multiple charges and then back them off. Problem is your card company may shut the card down when this happens (speaking from experience thank you San Diego !)

    1. @Charles – this is absolutely allowed if it is indeed empty. I have taken empty single-use (ie Dasani or Aquafina) bottles as well as resuable water bottles for several years now.

  4. I often take food from home on trips, including salads and sandwiches plus a couple of apples. I am not always trying to be frugal, just trying to eat healthy. On a recent business trip I even brought my breakfast of greek yogurt with blueberries in a snack size ziplock bag. Just before TSA I added it to my quart liquids bag (i did not want it to sit next to shampoo and soap for too long and pick up smells). Once on the other side of security it went back into a little lunch bag that I carry. My coworkers were incredulous, but they showed up with little yogurt packages themselves the next time we had a business trip.

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