You’re stuck in the airport, waiting for your next flight. Why not do some Christmas shopping?
Many of Europe’s larger airports have more storefronts than the average shopping mall. Savvy shoppers can use their airport layover time to get ahead on their holiday shopping.
There are three advantages to airport shopping in Europe. First, small, unique gifts are easy to find. Many items sold as souvenirs in Europe are very hard to find or quite expensive in the United States. For example, in Italy, dainty Murano glass figurines sit in nearly every souvenir shop window. American mail-order catalogs sell the same glass animals and vases for more than twice the price you would pay in Italy.
Second, some airport shops have sales and promotions. If you shop carefully, you can find some real bargains. For instance, London’s Stansted airport contains a shop called Past Times, which specializes in gifts and jewelry related to various periods in Britain’s history. Past Times sells to American customers through its mail order catalogue. On a recent visit to Stansted’s Past Times store, the items on sale included stationery, silk scarves, jewelry, tea towels, and pub giftware. The prices were considerably lower than those in the American version of Past Times’ catalogue.
Finally, as you leave Europe you are eligible to shop in the airport’s duty-free area. Many items are much less expensive than they are in a European city because shoppers are not charged the value added tax (VAT). In the United Kingdom, for example, the VAT on alcoholic beverages is 17.5%. Buying liquor in the duty-free shop often yields significant savings. The catch? You can’t consume the liquor until you get back to the United States and clear Customs.
Tips for Airport Shoppers
Do some homework before your trip starts. Review last year’s holiday shopping list. Think about the kinds of gifts that appeal to your family and friends, and check some prices. If Mom loves crystal figurines, look online or in a local gift shop and get a feel for what these figurines cost.
Check airport websites and information booths to learn about shopping opportunities. Large airports offer the best selection. Most of the largest airports, such as London’s Heathrow, provide directories of their shopping areas. Heathrow even offers e-coupons! Many smaller airports have only one all-purpose souvenir kiosk; some have no shops at all.
Carry a small shopping list with you. Don’t rely on your memory alone, especially if you’ve already started your holiday buying. It’s no fun to come home and discover that you accidentally bought three ties for Dad-and they’re all blue.
Check the exchange rate before heading to the airport. If you find a good sale, you will want to be able to convert prices to dollars quickly. You might want to bring along a tiny calculator.
Pack wisely. Many airlines will give you a little leeway if you board the plane with a carry-on item and a plastic shopping bag, but some won’t. Leave some space in your carry-on luggage for last-minute purchases.
Look for seasonal gift items. Holidays are celebrated differently in every country. You can find holiday items, such as Christmas ornaments or Halloween pumpkin figurines, in many airports. Holiday decorations from abroad make great gifts.
A Sampling of Airport Shops
Heathrow Airport (London)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Clarks (shoes)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Glorious Britain
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Past Times
Ã¢Â?Â¢ World of Whiskies
Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Galeries Lafayette
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Escada Sport
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Folklore Zimmermann (folk costumes and gifts)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Gifts+++ (souvenirs and gifts)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ House of Champions
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Play & Fly (travel games and toys)
Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (Rome)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Emporio Armani
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Football Corner (soccer fashion)
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Omega-Swatch-Timebox by Nuance
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Sergio Tacchini (men’s clothing and accessories)
Don’t forget to prepare for your final shopping stop-the airport. Last-minute shopping can be the perfect end to a great vacation.