Is duty free shopping always cheaper?

My holiday always starts in duty free – the perfume, the Chanel eyeshadows, a bit of Bobbi Brown and Clarins.

Duty Free sign at airport shopIt makes me feel like a child in a sweetshop, surrounded by great offers and the chance to put the luxury purchase or two on the ‘holiday budget’ so not even out of my own purse (naughty I know).

Once on the plane, I’m eager to pull out the duty free catalogue to see what delights are on offer.

But are things really cheaper?

Personally, I love a bargain but I don’t like feeling duped. There are too many marketing ploys encouraging me to spend my hard-earned cash and I like to make it go that bit further.

So I’ve done a bit of investigating…

Perfumes, aftershave and beauty

Once I’d applied the exchange rate, ranges like L’Occitane were just about the same price as on the high street so not really tempting enough to lug around with me and stuff in an overhead compartment.

Occasionally you can find an airport special offer. There were some great Clarins sets with all the essentials – though not all in full sizes – in Madrid airport that I didn’t spot until after I’d paid and then I didn’t want to rejoin the queue. But I can find Clarins with a 20% discount all year round online!

The one that was cheaper duty free was my favourite Benefit’s They’re Real! mascara at £16.50 – RRP £19.50 and online £18.45. So I looked at what I can find all year round, without the cost of a holiday, and here are my favourites.

Online alternatives this fab website has loads of discounted different brands. I can spend ages on here and come away with lots of my favourites, including suntan lotion and my must-have – Lancaster – at up to 50% off.

Here are some examples I found today:

  • Dolce and Gabanna’s new Flora Drops, eau de toilette 50ml (RRP £56) – duty free £45; allbeauty £44.95
  • Jimmy Choo 60ml eau de parfum (RRP £49); duty free £39.50; allbeauty £27.95
  • Lancaster Tan Maximiser (RRP £22) duty free £19; allbeauty £17.95 and loads more in my favourite Lancaster range.
  • Paco Rabanne 1 Million 50ml eau de toilette (RRP £41.50) – duty free £33 allbeauty £30.95

lookfantastic.comlookfantastic logomy daughter introduced me to this site and I thank her for that. If I can’t find what I’m looking for on allbeauty it’s on here. They often have great offers too and little gifts so it’s now a regular go-to site for me (and her).


Tempted by a bottle of your favourite spirit or maybe a little Champagne to enjoy while you reminisce about your holidays? Sounds great, but it’s not always the bargain you think it is.

Having bumped into a friend in the booze section in duty free, we both concluded that the price was really no better than Waitrose, M&S and other supermarkets with their price match and special offers.

Not worth the hassle of stocking up, particularly as we were both on EasyJet with carry-on luggage.

Cigs and cigars

Just about the only thing that we couldn’t find cheaper somewhere else. Unless you can give up and I’m not sure if buying in bulk will help you do that…


Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve got my choice of sunglasses wrong because I’ve bought them from duty free looking at the price first rather than what really suits me.

It really is worth doing your research first, trying sunglasses on the high street, making a list of the brands and styles that suit you and sticking to it. Then if you find the right ones at a cheaper price, great – you’ve bagged a bargain.

But for me now it’s high street research and then a little online shopping…

sunglasses2u logoOnline alternatives

Try or

prêt a voir logoThe sunglasses on both of these sites offer great prices and loads to choose from (too many in fact). I found the glasses I wanted and I also have them to travel to the airport with. Bonus.

Duty free versus online shopping

As there’s lots more available now online that means cheaper prices all round, with many sites offering free delivery.

Duty free often means limited stock so you can’t always find what you’re looking for.

My advice? Do your window shopping on the high street then look online to find it cheaper. I’ll always enjoy a browse in duty free but I do know it’s not always the place to find the best prices. Time to get savvy.

What’s your duty-free experience? Do you prefer online shopping now? If you have any hints or tips to pass on we’d love to hear them.

More information:

Duty free allowances

Deborah Garlick

About Deborah Garlick

I'm the founder of Henpicked. I love reading the wonderful stories and articles women send us - I read every one. I've learnt so much and hope others enjoy them too. I believe life's about being happy and that we're here to help one another. And that women are far wiser than they often realise, so let's stop putting ourselves down.