How to Sharply Reduce Your Restaurant Bill at Airports

How To Sharply Reduce Your Restaurant Bill at AirportsHave you ever been the victim of a crime — a robbery, perhaps? Well, if you have ever found yourself on the departure or arrival side of an airport security system, you may certainly have felt like a victim, especially when you are on a layover and have to find something to eat. Here you are in a situation where restaurant owners aren’t harnessed by the competition of outside providers. This means that the prices being charged at the restaurants located inside the various terminals are usually quite high. This situation is complicated by the fact that, with the increase in security, you can’t even bring in a bottle of water and it is rare that a passenger will venture outside of the terminal to feed themselves. So in essence, one is likely trapped into purchasing what they need from one of the terminal’s vendors after they have cleared security. However, there are ways to circumvent the expensive eateries and soften the blow to one’s pocketbook in the process.

Last week my wife and I traveled through three airports, one of which is referred to as a hub. The hub airport, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is claimed by some to be the busiest airport in the world. If it isn’t, it must be close; the statistics seem to back up this claim with Atlanta seeing some 55 million travelers a year. Since our layover was lengthy, some of what I am going to share with you — how to eat without the expense — is from what I learned by observing other passengers. Some of the tips I will be addressing here require very little preparation and thought and can be done by just about every flying passenger.

First, you don’t have to buy a $3 bottle of water. Instead, bring an empty water bottle with you. Then, once you have cleared security, you can fill the bottle with water from a drinking fountain. It’s the same water, but free. Some passengers were even carrying mini-Brita filtering bottles to remove contaminants from the water, which can simulate the taste of the best bottled waters. Either way, bringing an empty water bottle can save you money with little inconvenience.

Second, bring snacks and treats that are non-liquid and don’t require refrigeration. This is a huge money-saver since buying snacks on the airline can cost anywhere from $2 to $6 depending on the snack you purchase. In fact, if you are going to be flying during your meal hour, you may wish to bring a sacked lunch — especially if you have children flying with you, since airline offerings are not only costly, but meager.

Next, avoid sit-down restaurants. You will pay a huge premium to have your food brought to you by a server. This happened to my wife and me when we chose to eat at the Samuel Adams restaurant in the Atlanta airport. Due to high traffic in the establishment, even at 3 p.m., the service was abominable and we were shocked at the cost. We had what are called “naked” hot dogs — with nothing on them. These were served with a lunchbox-sized bag of chips and a small, mostly filled with ice, Coke. No one asked if we would like a refill or if we needed anything else. The meal cost us $17 and the hot dog was what it claimed to be: plain. We found ketchup and mustard, but that was all there was to add to this hot dog that could easily be purchased for $2.50 at the fair.

The cost came as a surprise to me. So, since I still had quite a wait ahead of me, I decided to observe what others were eating. In my exploration, I found a no-name vendor that was selling hot dogs with all the fixings that were double in size to what we bought and discovered that I could have paid less than $12 for the same meal. Still no deal, but a savings of $5 and a better hot dog, as well.

However, if you can find one, the most reasonable deals and the best service was found at either the Burger King or McDonald’s restaurants. Either of these offered reasonably priced meals, though somewhat more expensive than what you would get from the local franchise. While I admit that they are probably not the healthiest choice, the one nice thing about a franchise is that you know exactly what you are going to get no matter where you go.

The biggest tip I can provide to you is: Don’t let long lines at a vendor deter you. Those people who are in line are most likely seasoned travelers who know a deal. The vendors are also usually experienced in dealing with lines and will get to you quickly. It is also more likely that the travelers know that the quality of the food they are waiting for is worth the cost and that they are going to receive a good meal at a fair price.

What tips do you have? Please share your personal experiences with us.

Source: Wikipedia

Comments are welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by I-5 Design & Manufacture

Article Written by

I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.

  • misterManSam

    A good tip for some countries… If there is a bar in the terminal, ask them for a glass of water. In the UK, Australia and elsewhere they are obliged to provide tap water for free even without any purchases. This law applies for sit-down restaurants as well.

  • Dan Hammer

    My two tips:
    1) If you don’t want to pay out the nose for booze, you can bring nips past security in a quart sized bag as they are regulation-sized.
    2) If you are thirsty, you can ask the flight attendant for a drink as you board the plane if they aren’t too busy and you are very polite.

  • Rick Fernández

    In the Portland OR (PDX) airport, vendors with locations off-airport must by state law charge no more at the airport than they do for the same items that they sell off-airport. This would be the best way to ensure that you’re not getting ripped off at the airport. Have your legislature change the law to follow Oregon’s.

    • Jason

      In Boston there’s a similar law but it doesn’t matter if a vendor has an off-airport location. You’re not allowed to sell things for more than they sell for in Boston, and there’s a phone number posted at the entrance to every store that you can call if you think you were overcharged.

      • Jeff

        It is actually the same way in PDX. Vendor prices are compared to local competition and are regularly audited.

        Of course, it is always cheaper (normalized for quality) to eat food you’ve prepared yourself. However you won’t be charged any more at PDX than at a restaurant elsewhere in the Greater Portland Metro region.

        Vendors at PDX are charged quite a bit for rent. They also must participate in a pretty progressive recycling program. Vendors make their money through the high volume of traffic through the airport, not jacked up prices for individual sales.

        PDX vendors do not receive a share of ticket sales, parking fees, etc. The ticket prices at the airport are slightly higher than prices at the major hubs to the north and south (Seattle and San Francisco), but this price difference is most likely a result of PDX’s less significant geographic placement in the international flight pattern network.

        Parking fees are actually pretty low at the PDX airport, especially considering its integration into the light rail network. Leave your car at home, and take the MAX to the airport.

    • Jason

      The costs are simply shifted elsewhere, so you get ripped off in hidden ways instead of obvious ways. If not for that law, PDX could charge higher rent to their restaurants. They make up for the lost revenue in higher ticket prices, parking fees, etc.

      Besides, restaurants are no bargain at their regular prices. The best way to ensure you don’t get ripped off is to bring your own food (as the author suggests in his second tip). Takes a little planning going to the grocery beforehand, but it’s worth it if you want to eat for only $2-4 per meal instead of $10+.

  • Matthias Vandegaer

    Befriend someone who works at your usual airport: people who work at airports usually have staff cards that let them buy food and drinks at a reduced price.

  • Lon Mayer-Salman

    I do really like the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in your picture at my home airport of RDU. The prices aren’t much, if any, more than their regular location in Raleigh. It’s too bad I don’t get there more as my trip is always starting or ending there.

  • Lon Mayer-Salman

    I do really like the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in your picture at my home airport of RDU. The prices aren’t much, if any, more than their regular location in Raleigh. It’s too bad I don’t get there more as my trip is always starting or ending there.

  • Wolf Ilandl Butler

    Ask airport staff. They work there, and usually have to eat there- so they know where the good, inexpensive food is. If you have a long time between flights, or you checked in really early- try other terminals at the same airport. There can be a huge difference in availability and prices, especially if you are flying on a “budget” airline operating out of a terminal with less traffic.

  • Poopsalicious

    wow this is fuggin retarded. thanks captain obvious, world’s cheapest super hero.

  • Gringo

    I have to disagree on the last point. Usually, the longest line is at the stand offering the most “typical” stuff, where people with no clue tend to end up. And to get those long lines served quickly, you often get a sloppy dish with sometimes half-cooked ingredients.
    I pick the one with the smallest line. I get my food asap, it is usually well made (if there is prepared food that you might think is lying there for to long, you can always ask for a fresh made serving. no vendor will deny you this) and you tend to get bigger portions.

    This also works great at music festivals. While everyone else is waiting 30 minutes for a half-cooked pizza, I get something more adventures (and, more often than not, amazing) withing 5 minutes, for a more reasonable price for the portion size with much friendlier service.

    But maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. In fact… why don’t you keep standing in line for pizza, please… 😉

    • Jeff

      Since we all seem to have computers in our pockets these days, look up the restaurants at the airport. Turns out that people review the food and service they receive from airport vendors.

  • Shane Phillips

    buy a water bottle with a built in filter and I would also packs of crystal light since I personally hate plain water

  • Shane Phillips

    buy a water bottle with a built in filter and I would also packs of crystal light since I personally hate plain water

  • TheMonkeyKing

    The picture is of the 42nd Street Oyster Bar and Grill in the Durham/Raleigh Airport (RDU).

  • sacksyboy

    PRO TIP (USA):
    The TSA cannot prevent you from bringing a frozen solid bottle through security. No need for empty bottles, water filters and water fountains. Just make sure it is frozen solid and you can bring it through.

  • misterManSam

    Interesting. Still, I haven’t had a problem in the UK so far :) In Australia it is law, so feel free to make a fuss!