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This Airport Mistake Cost Me $72. Here’s How You Can Avoid It

Smiling couple looks at phone together while waiting with luggage in airport

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Last week, my husband and I were visiting family across the country on a somewhat-impromptu trip. We found a great flight deal that allowed us to pay for both of our round-trip tickets entirely with airline miles, so I was feeling great. Time with family, and no dent in my personal finances? Heck yeah.

But then came the return flights. We made one little misstep that ended up costing us quite a bit of cash on our way home. Here’s what happened.

Airport food is expensive

Normally, I make sure to pack a reusable water bottle and plenty of food to make it through a travel day without spending money in the airport terminal. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead for the return trip this time around. We had a 7 a.m. flight out of San Francisco, and once we were through security, we realized we wouldn’t comfortably make it all the way to our layover in Detroit if we didn’t get some breakfast and coffee before we boarded the plane.

We did what we could to find the most affordable (yet still edible) option in the terminal — which included speed-walking right past a place advertising a breakfast sandwich for $18.95. (I’m not paying that much for a few bites I have to eat out of a paper bag on my lap unless I have no other option.) But things are limited in the airport, especially that early in the morning when not every storefront has opened, so we had to settle for something only slightly less expensive. Once our sandwiches were wrapped and our coffees were poured, we were out $44.

Since we live in a city that doesn’t have any direct flights to and from San Francisco, we had to contend with a layover meal, too. We arrived in Detroit with just enough time for a late lunch before our connection. That meant another hit to our credit cards — this time a slightly more palatable $28. But we were still down $72 on the day because we forgot to plan ahead.

Pack your own food — or look for a lounge

According to Vox, you can expect food and drink prices in airports to be around 10% to 15% higher than you’d expect to find outside the airport. It’s almost like a tax you’ll pay for the convenience of dining near your gate rather than having to pack a lunch box. And while bringing your own food can be a great money-saver, it’s not the only option.

If you have a credit card with airport lounge access, you’ll have a range of snacks, meal items, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, all included in the price of admission. And if you don’t have a travel credit card with this perk, you can look into buying a day pass to an airport lounge. This could cost you anywhere between $35 and $79 per person, depending on the airline and lounge location. Do a quick calculation and see if you’d get your money’s worth. But if you have a long layover, want a quiet place to relax, or plan to eat and drink at least one meal before your flight, there’s a good chance you’ll come out ahead.

Spending money while traveling is unavoidable, but don’t resign yourself to necessarily spending a lot of money. A little preparation can keep more cash in your wallet so you can use it on things you’ll actually enjoy, rather than a dry turkey sausage sandwich and an itty-bitty falafel wrap. At least the latte was good.

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