I’ve always looked at Duty Free shops as a place to find bargains, but according to a story in CNN, that might not be the case. In fact, expecting a bargain is wrong and you really need to do your research before you assume it’s a good deal.
“I think the expectation of a bargain is wrong,” said Suzy Gershman, author of Frommer’s “Born to Shop” guides. “You may get a bargain, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
For the most part, there aren’t many savings, agreed Stephanie Abrams, host of the nationally syndicated radio show “Travel With Stephanie Abrams.” She only shops duty free if she needs something, like a last-minute gift.
Now, I look at Duty Free shops a lot like I look at big box discounters like Costco and Sam’s Club. In general, the prices are better but you shouldn’t assume that they’re better than what you get elsewhere. Savvier shoppers, who look for deals all the time, may be able to get a better deal, even after you consider taxes, by shopping online instead of in Duty Free.
One other discovery I made while flying through Heathrow two years ago: there are times when a manufacturer won’t offer a “regular” retail item in Duty Free. The Macallan, a famous Scotch distillery, has a special series of bottlings it offers only in the “travel” market – i.e. duty free. You can’t, at least least two years ago, buy a Macallan 12 or 18 in Duty Free!
So, you might be able to find a deal in Duty Free but considering all the sales and other promotions available at home, don’t assume you have a deal.