The great 'duty free' rip off

Why ‘duty free’ may not be your cheapest option

Duty free shop

Holidaymakers are paying up to 50% over the odds for their 'duty free bargains' at the airport, according to a new report. It discovered that all sorts of items - from perfume to alcohol - were available for less elsewhere.

The investigation, by The Sun newspaper, was launched as the airport store World Duty Free rolled out a 'click and collect' service - which lets you buy online and pick up your goodies in the departure lounge.

It pointed out that while the website boasted of savings of up to 20% compared to the high street, in some cases, the reality was somewhat less impressive.

The worst deal spotted by researchers was CK One Eau De Toilette 100ml, which was £10 more expensive than at Fragrance Direct (at £29.95), so buying from World Duty Free was 50% more expensive.


There are several reasons for this. First is that while the store is called 'duty free', if you are travelling within the European Union (at least while we are part of it), there's no duty to pay on these items anyway - so no limit on what you can buy and no automatic saving from buying in the airport.

The stores will pledge to offer savings that come close to matching the 'duty free' saving, but are making these savings themselves through purchasing and pricing decisions. It means they cannot always offer a better deal.

Second, many of the retailers that can undercut World Duty Free are based entirely online, so don't have the same sorts of overheads. This is particularly the case with fragrance. In addition to those identified by the report, AOL also found Emporio Elle Eu De Parfum 100ml was cheaper on Amazon (£34.95 compared to £36).

Similarly, the Ray-Ban Aviator Classic RB3025 is one of World Duty Free's best sellers - at £141.65. However, the Ray Ban site itself sells the sunglasses for £125.

Finally, the other group of retailers offering cheaper deals are supermarkets. In many cases, alcohol is used as a loss-leader, to get people in through the door in order to do a weekly shop. The report found Moet and Chandon Rose Imperial at £37.49 - £9.49 more expensive than Ocado. Separate AOL research has found 1 Litre of Pimms is cheaper at Asda (£10 compared to £12).

Still some savings

However, it's also worth noting that there are some real bargains available - particularly when you buy alcohol in 1 litre bottles, which aren't targeted by the supermarkets as loss leaders. A litre of Tanqueray Gin, for example, is just £13, compared to £20 at most of the big supermarkets. Smirnoff Red, meanwhile is £11 - compared to its nearest rival (Ocado at £16).

It means that World Duty Free stores at the airport certainly shouldn't be written off. However, it pays not to assume that everything on sale is a bargain. So you should do a price comparison before you part with your cash.

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