The Dirt on Duty-Free

National Geographic Traveler Editor at Large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: Am I getting a good deal at duty-free stores at airports?

My Answer: Duty-free shops can theoretically mark down their products 15 to 50 percent and still turn a profit because the sale occurs outside national boundaries and therefore is not subject to local duties and taxation.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll always find a bargain.

“The savings can vary greatly,” says Yngve Bia, president of the travel research firm Generation Research.

Tobacco and liquor products usually are priced the most aggressively, and Bia says it’s not uncommon to get half off the retail price. But better run a quick price check before you buy that bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky. Fire up your smartphone and see how much you’d pay for it at your discount liquor store back home.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the May 2014 issue). Follow his story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

Do you have a burning travel question? Share it with us in the comments section below for a chance to appear in Traveler magazine.


  1. Weary Traveler
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    July 8, 2014, 11:18 am

    Nat Geo, you’ve gotten lazy about these posts. Whoever is publishing them is failing to give proper synopses on the landing (article list) pages. 7 of the first 8 articles listed had a generic summary describing the author, not the article. Tedious! Don’t keep us guessing, give proper summaries on the article list pages. On the positive, the remaining 17 articles on the list page did have summaries, so this must be a recent failure of process.