Should you buy Duty Free this Christmas?

With the financial pressures of Christmas mounting, finding presents at the most competitive price is important.


But where is the best place to shop to uncover that hard-to-beat offer?

A popular option for bargain-hunting travellers is to buy gifts in Duty Free shops. In fact, research by TravelSupermarket found that 80% of Brits have bought a Duty Free item and 62% of these people thought that the item was cheaper than it would be on the high street.

But, will shopping in Duty Free always save you money? We took a look at some of the most popular gift items to find out…

Classic food and drink

Who hasn’t received a Toblerone as a gift following a friend or family member’s travels? Well, the unimaginative staple of the Duty Free shop may actually be costing more than you think.

We compared the price of a 400g milk chocolate bar and found that in Duty Free the cost was £5.60, on the high street the sweet treat could be found for £4.16 and online, Toblerones could be snapped up for as  little as £3.

Even the offer in the Duty Free shop we visited - of three bars for £10 - worked out more expensive than shopping around and ordering three online.

If you are travelling home this Christmas, you may be tempted to pick up a bottle of something nice to take with you as you pass through Duty Free.

But we took a look at the price of a 70cl bottle of Moët & Chandon and found that Duty Free wasn’t the cheapest option.

The best prices again could be found online with Asda charging £30.72, the high street came second in our snapshot as bottles of the popular Champagne could be found for just £33.27. Duty Free prices, however, were slightly higher at £33.99.

But if your tipple of choice is a spirit with a mixer, this is where Duty Free came up trumps in our research. The most competitive prices for Smirnoff Vodka, Gordon’s Gin and Jack Daniel’s could all be found in Duty Free shops with savings up to £10.98 per bottle when compared to online prices.

The verdict: Just over half of the items we price-checked in this category were cheaper when bought from Duty Free shops. However, to make sure you bag the bargains, go armed with some knowledge on how much you should expect to pay.


Does your other half have perfume or eau de toilette on their Christmas list? If so, Duty Free is the obvious place to pick up cheap smellies…isn’t it?

Our research found that indeed it was in the majority of cases with perfume including Chanel No. 5 Parfum (15ml), Chanel Allure Homme Eau de Toilette (50ml) and Prada MAN aftershave (50ml) all being found at the cheapest price in Duty Free shops.

We also looked at some commonly-purchased cosmetics including YSL Touche Eclat, Shiseido Perfect Refine Foundation and Elizabeth Arden Eight-Hour Cream and found that prices varied more in this area. Half of the items we price-checked were cheaper in Duty Free while the other 50% could be found at a more competitive price elsewhere.

Duty Free bargains included Clarins Beauty Flash Balm at £23.40, compared to £28 on the high street and online, and Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion at £14.15, compared to £17 both online and on the high street.

The verdict: While most perfumes we researched were cheaper in Duty Free than elsewhere, not all were, so it is still worth doing a little price research before you set off. Cosmetics were more hit-and-miss, so make sure the deal you are snapping up really is a good offer by checking before you shop.

Electricals and gadgets

Increasingly, Christmas lists are dominated by gadgets and electrical items, and if you don’t shop around, costs can be eye-wateringly high. So, how does Duty Free fare when it comes to technology?

Out of the items we researched, just under half (44%) were cheaper in Duty Free, including the Apple Macbook Air 11” which came in at £759 in Duty Free, £760 online and £849 on the high street, and the HP Envy Ultrabook Laptop which cost £499.97 in Duty Free, £510 online and £579.99 on the high street.

But, again, you can’t just assume electrical items will be cheaper in Duty Free, so it’s worth doing your homework before you impulse-buy. For example, we found the 8GB iPod Touch for £129.75 online compared to £140 in Duty Free and £147 on the high street. And a Canon S100 camera could be snapped up for as little as £225.99 online whereas the price in Duty Free was over £100 more at £329.98.

The verdict: Again, there are bargains to be had in Duty Free, but not all products will be the cheapest available. As electrical items tend to be at the more generous end of the Christmas present scale, be sure to know the RRP of the product you wish to buy before you rush to pick one up from Duty Free.

Cigarettes and tobacco

While cigarettes aren’t the most conventional Christmas gift these days in many households, if you are a smoker, this is where Duty Free really stood out in our research.

All of the items checked – including 400 Silk Cut Purple, 400 Marlboro Red and 500g of Drum Rolling tobacco – were significantly cheaper in Duty Free, with many coming in at less than half of the price on the high street and online.

The verdict: If you are a smoker or are buying cigarettes and tobacco for someone else, prices in Duty Free are extremely competitive.

TravelSupermarket’s Duty Free shopping tips

As our research shows, while you can uncover some great bargains in Duty Free shops, it shouldn’t be relied on as the cheapest option. So, to help you shop wisely, we’ve compiled some Duty-Free shopping tips.

-When questioned, 34% of Brits admitted that their Duty Free purchase was an impulse buy. This is a dangerous tactic as, during the festive period, you may get carried away. Instead, write a list of what you need and stick to it.

-And, while you are making this list, do a little research online using a comparison tool such as MoneySupermarket’s shopping channel so you know that the price you are paying in Duty Free is competitive.

-Before you bulk-buy bargains, make sure you know your limits. On the whole there are two levels – one when you are travelling from the European Union (EU) and another from all other countries. The rules changed on October 1, 2011 so it is worth checking your limits even if you have bought Duty Free items in the past.

-And, remember goods that you bring back to the UK must be a gift or for your own personal use to qualify for you to bring them back tax-free. For further information, take a look at the table below or refer to the HMRC website.

Item Goods from the EU All other countries
Cigarettes 800 200*
Cigars 200 50*
Cigarillos 400 100*
Tobacco 1kg 250g*
Beer 110 litres 16 litres
Wine 90 litres 4 litres of still wine
Spirits 10 litres 1 litre or 2 litres of fortified wine - you are not allowed both
Fortified wine 20 litres 2 litres or 1 litre of spirits - you are not allowed both

*Only one item from this list can be brought into the country from non-EU destinations or your allowance can be combined - eg half the amount of cigars and half the amount of tobacco.

Please note: Duty Free prices were sourced by TravelSupermarket on October 12, 2012 at Manchester Airport Terminal Three and Gatwick North Terminal; food, drink, cigarettes and tobacco online prices were sourced through mysupermarket (Asda) on October 18, 2012; cosmetics and electricals prices were sourced through mysupermarket and Amazon on October 18, 2012.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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