What you should and shouldn’t buy duty free

Peter Terlato 6 April 2017

Duty free shopping airport

Who likes to stop at the duty free shop?

Duty free shopping is controversial. Bargains can be found but often items are priced higher than regular retail offers making it tough to know whether you're getting a good deal or if you're being fleeced.

Last year our editor-in-chief Angus Kidman recanted a story of supposed "super savings" at Sydney's international airport. The duty free shop was selling four packets of Tim Tams for $24. Even if you're dangerously maths-phobic, you can probably calculate that works out at $6 per packet of Tim Tams. And if you've been in a supermarket recently, you'll know that's overcharging on a massive scale.

However, seven out of 10 Australians make duty free purchases when they travel overseas.

If you're like me and think Seinfeld was the greatest show ever created, you'll recall George and Kramer's trip to the airport and their discussion about the pros and cons of duty free shopping. Costanza says duty free is the "biggest sucker deal in retail" but despite this, Kramer "still likes to stop at the duty free shop".

finder.com.au crunched the numbers to discover what you should and shouldn’t be buying duty free.

The best value for money at the duty free shop is in cosmetics, cigarettes and alcoholic spirits.

For example, a bottle of Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream 125ml retails for $105 but sells for just $60 duty free. That's a saving of $45 and a price differential of around 43%.

A carton of cigarettes was found to be 37% cheaper in duty free but these savings are voided by the fact Australians are limited as to the number of tobacco products they can purchase when returning home.

The restrictions on alcohol aren't as tough and Australians can save up to 33% buying liquor duty free.

You shouldn't buy products such as chocolate, biscuits and nuts as they're often terribly overpriced.

finder.com.au's research found a 360g Toblerone Gold bar was 88% more expensive than at retail, while Tim Tams were 72% more costly and honey roasted macadamia nuts cost 18% more than usual.

Women's perfume YSL Paris Eau de Toilette Spray 125ml was $143 duty free but only $89.99 RRP, a 59% increase in cost, while Hugo Boss' Man eau de toilette 125ml was 38% more expensive at $83 duty free.

Wine, especially Australian wine, was also overpriced, though the difference is minimal (less than 10%).

ProductDuty free costRetail costDifferencePercentage
Clinique dramatically different moisturizing cream 125ml$60$105-$45-43%
Benson & Hedges Fine Grey PB 25/200s$160$252-$92-37%
Absolut Vodka 1L$34.90$51.95-$17.05-33%
Johnnie Walker Red 1.125L$34.90$51.95-$17.05-33%
Dior Addict Lip Maximizer Lipstick N° 001$40$49-$9-18%
Mumm Champagne NV 750ML$49.90$46.95$2.956%
Red wine - Charles Melton Father in Law Shiraz$24.90$22.79$2.119%
White white - Villa Maria Two Valleys Sauvignon Blanc 750ml 2015$24.90$21.90$314%
Paton's Suncoast Gold Honey Roast Macadamias Koala 125g$6.60$5.61$0.9918%
Hugo Boss, Man eau de toilette 125ml$83$59.99$23.0138%
YSL Paris Eau de Toilette Spray 125ml$143$89.99$53.0159%
Tim Tams Double Coat 200g$6.90$4.02$2.8872%
Toblerone Gold 360g$16.90$9$7.9088%

While you might score a duty-free deal on alcohol or perfume, airports aren't a dream destination for bargains. Shopping online, armed with a selection of coupon codes, is likely to be much more satisfying.

Picture: Shutterstock

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