Here's how airports trick you into spending money

EyesWideOpen / GettyYou often have to walk through duty-free stores to get to your gate.
  • There are several ways airports ensure you spend more money when waiting for your flight.
  • Before you even get to your terminal, airports charge you high fees for parking – and offer pricey programs to allow you to the cut line.
  • After security, you’ll pass duty-free shops that aren’t as cheap as you might think, and when you’re finally near your gate, you’re overcharged for food and drink.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Travelling can be expensive, especially after dropping hundreds of dollars on flights and baggage. But many forget about the amount of money they will spend at the airport, too.

Airports have implemented sneaky tactics to make sure passengers are more likely to spend money before they board their planes. Here are all the ways airports are ensuring that you shell out extra cash in their terminals.


First, airports charge customers high fees for short-term and long-term parking.

Alexander Demianchuk/ GettyAirport parking.

Airports can easily get away with charging high fees for parking spaces because some customers don’t have another option. At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, for example,it costs $US35 to park your car for one day. Meanwhile, London’s Heathrow airport charges$US22 for just two hours and climbs to over $US1,000 for 15 days.


Once inside the airport, you’re confronted with services like CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, and Global Entry, which all require you to spend more.

Chris Hondros/ Getty ImagesGlobal Entry.

CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, and Global Entry are offered to travellers to complete ahead of time if they do not want to wait in security lines at airports. All three of these services allow travellers to skip the line and pass through security in just a few minutes – but it comes at a price. TSA PreCheck is the cheapest, costing $US85 every five years, while CLEAR is $US179 every year.

Although you think you’re the winner since you get to skip the line, these programs work in the airport’s favour. The less time you’re spending in line at security, the more time you spend shopping in the terminal.


After security, you’re greeted by duty-free stores, which are designed to make you spend money.

ShutterstockDuty-free shops.

After security, most airports force people to walk through the duty-free shop, increasing the chances they will find something they want. The walkway through the shop typically veers to the left, leaving more space for items on the right. Since more people are right-handed, they tend to look to the right when walking, increasing the chance they will shell out some cash.

Duty-free shops aren’t even as beneficial as some might think. It can mean great savings if you buy cigarettes or alcohol because those items are usually highly taxed. But candy and other items you can find in the grocery store are often marked up, while electronics are often outdated and cheaper online.


Some airports don’t announce gates until 30 minutes before takeoff, ensuring you spend time in stores and restaurants rather than at the gates.

Johnny Green/ APGatwick airport.

In airports, the “golden hour” is known as the time you spend between airport security and boarding the plane. During this time, people are more likely to spend money, and some airports are smarter about the way their passengers spend that “golden hour.”

For example, Gatwick Airport just outside of London keeps passengers in a large terminal encircled by stores and restaurants until their gates are called. This large waiting area essentially forces people to shop.


Beautifully decorated airports are designed to help you feel less stressed and therefore more likely to spend.

Ben Mack / InsiderA flower garden at Istanbul Airport.

Airports like Vancouver International have plants throughout terminals to create a more peaceful, serene environment. In doing so, airport officials hope to relax passengers and increase their satisfaction.

“When passengers reported high levels of satisfaction with an airport, they tended to increase their retail spending,” J.D. Power and Associates said in a 2010 study.


Massage chairs and spas are installed in airports for the same reason.

Peter Parks/ GettyMassage chairs at the airport.

Since travelling can be very stressful, airports have installed small spas and massage chairs to keep people relaxed. But the more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to spend. In fact, if passengers are 1% more satisfied with the services of the airport, there is a 1.5% increase in sales.


Meanwhile, food and drink prices are high because airports know your options are limited.

REUTERS/Edgar SuAirport food.

Airport food is almost always overpriced. In fact, 49% of airports in the US have reported charging more simply because they can, according to the Airport Council International-North America. It’s not just food, though. You will also be overcharged for water, which has been marked up 200% at some airports, the Los Angeles Times reported. Since there are not many dining options in most airports, you are forced to pay the prices.

There are some airports around the country that keep prices reasonable, however. Portland International Airport, for example, implemented a policy in the ’80s that keeps food prices in the airport equivalent to the food prices found in the city of Portland.


Finally, currency exchange services at airports have higher exchange rates.

Education Images/ GettyCurrency exchange.

Much like the food sold at airports, the money exchange businesses found around airports are also overcharging you. Many will have you pay fees that can cost anywhere from $US5 to $US15. These businesses also have exchange rates that are 7% to 15% higher than if you exchange the money outside the airport.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.