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Travellers do their duty — best airport shopping prices in 2024

Duty-free shopping is back with a bang at airports around the world with travel returning. We compare some prices around the region to see who offers the cheapest deals on whisky and perfume.

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by Vijay Verghese

June 2024

SEE ALSO Hong Kong shopping | Kuala Lumpur shopping | Bangkok shopping | Singapore shopping |Shanghai shopping | Biggest travel gripes | What hotel guests steal | Asian cruises | Asian dives

Who has the cheapest arport duty free - a 2014 survey of Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Bangkok

A quick look at the best duty-free prices at airports from Singapore and Hong Kong to Bangkok, London Heathrow and Dubai. HK duty-free (left and centre); Don Papa rum in Manila (right)/ photos: Vijay Verghese

THE URGE to splurge is part of our DNA it would seem. As travellers exit their home countries it becomes a frenzied fetish. The passage from Everyday Land to Fantasy Land — where normal restraints don’t apply — lends airport duty-free shopping an added lustre.

Now that irrepressible duty-free shopping bug is back as tourism recovers boosting travel-related retail spending and duty-free to an estimated US$70 billion in 2023.

Airport duty-free shopping is a combination of breaking free from the shackles of normality, the bragging high of better-than-home rates, transit boredom, and the pressure on business travellers (short on time and long on conscience).

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Somehow looking at prices in a foreign currency seems far removed from the reality of paying the electricity bill and mortgage at home. So in the spirit of that suspension of disbelief, a quick look at some airport duty-free prices for alcohol and perfume in 2024.

The duty-free craze is sweeping beyond airports and into tourism zones at dedicated large-scale malls that cater for mass shoppers like Hainan’s CDF megastores in Haitang Bay and Haikou. These developments are largely aimed at the Chinese domestic market with variable prices (not the cheapest). Chinese have been seen in recent years as the saviours of this shopping genre.

At one time it was the shopping-mad Japanese who were being openly cheated at various international airports. In the early 1990s Guam airport had a segregated area with signs entirely in Japanese offering hugely inflated prices, while right across the aisle identical goods (with English signs) were priced far lower. The unsuspecting Japanese flocked to their comfort zone and were mulcted in droves.

Things are saner now. Seoul’s Lotte and Shinsegae have well stocked duty-free stores in town with attractive prices. Lotte’s Myeongdong downtown store is a must-see for many a traveller though cut-price deals offer stiff competition in the neighbourhood. Foreign-bound travellers pick up their sealed duty-free purchases at the airport.

Best price for duty-free Johnnie Walker Black and Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet

Stylish Singapore by contract may have the cheapest alcohol including Johnnie Walkr Black Label (left): Jim Thompson is an endangered species at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi (centre); Delhi Airport Chivas (right)/ photos: Vijay Verghese

Hong Kong has several duty free stores but it is worth noting that the city is essentially a free port without tariffs on a range of goods save for alcohol and tobacco. Perfumes should cost the same in town as at the airport. City tax-free shopping is available at the TST DFS T Galleria.

Thailand’s King Power  that dominates duty-free at Suvarnabhumi Airport has city centres too across the country including in Bangkok at Rangnam. King Power permits shopping up to 60 days in advance with airport pick-up. At Suvarnabhumi Airport Jim Thompson has shrunk to a tragically meagre presence as alcohols and beauty products take centre stage.

So which airport offers the cheapest duty-free prices for alcohol and perfume? Using a bog-standard Johnnie Walker Black Label 12-year-old blended Scotch Whisky (1 litre) and the Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet 50ml EDT as benchmarks, here’s how it breaks down. Prices are subject to change and specials are usually on offer so check the fine print.

Specials at normally expensive London Heathrow or in France may bring the price of a bottle down as low as US$27-$29. The UK tax-free rate of £23.27 saves an estimated £25.36 off the regular rate.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi duty-free price for JW Black Label (12 years, 1 litre) is US$33.90. At New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport a standard — and rather steep — price of US$53.88 is slashed by ongoing offers for a pack of two bottles, which brings the cost per litre down to US$33. And this thirty-dollar mark is where the Asian sweet spot rests by and large for JW Black. Again, with the regular specials at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, one litre of Chivas Regal Gold Signature (aged 18 years) drops down to just US$87 (compared with Hong Kong's US$127). A steal!

This is broadly where the price at Singapore’s Changi Airport hovers sometimes aided by specials. Unsurprisingly, as a transit hub with access to huge traffic flows, Singapore offers attractive discounts with volume making up for margins. One alcohol duty-free specialist told this magazine that “by contract, Singapore rates have to be the lowest anywhere.”

Hong Kong weighs in a tad more expensive at US$40.86, Manila is at US$40 (here the proud local favourite is Don Papa rum) with Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai at the US$44.50 mark. Of course, seasonal specials and bundled offers bring these rates down sharply at festive times.

At Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, one litre of Johnnie Walker Black (12 years) retails at a shockingly high US$59 with Beijing offering roughly similar rates.

And what of perfumes for the ladies? We picked a 50ml EDT bottle of Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet as the standard comparison. Tokyo scores cheapest at US$76.40 with Manila and Delhi at around US$85, Dubai at US$93, Bangkok and KL at US$100, and Hong Kong priced at a steepish US$118 (with Singapore at US$121).

Again with specials available, Heathrow offers a respectable rate of US$84 for a 50ml eau de toilette bottle of Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong International Airport is finding its stride slowly as traffic picks up. Some prices are a tie. A Zegna silk tie weighs in at US$344 in limited hues (a far cry from the vibrant colours and patterns 20 years back) and an Hermes silk tie with bright colour choices covering a wide spectrum starts at US$293. After all that Chek Lap Kok duty-free shopping you will need a refined litre of Chivas Regal Gold Signature (18 years) at US$127 (HK$995). Is it really worth it. Only you will know.

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