Life Travel The cheapest products to buy duty free – and the most expensive

The cheapest products to buy duty free – and the most expensive

duty free
Don't be fooled by glossy mirrors and neatly stacked shelves - not all duty free shopping is worth your time. Photo: Getty
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Let’s be honest. ­­Once you’ve cleared airport security and immigration, those glittering duty-free shops with their high-end perfumes, designer-logo everything, latest tech gadgets and super-sized Toblerones are like a magnet.

And when you stagger back into the airport, often at dawn, bleary-eyed from a long-haul flight, rows of duty-free alcohol, perfume and more chocolate await you and your overblown credit card.

But are there really bargains to be had?

A survey by comparison site has turned up some figures that might make you think twice at Australian duty-free shops.

Choc horror!

Number one. Step away from the duty-free chocolates. Put those Tim Tams down.’s research showed Toblerone was priced up to 88 per cent more than retail ($16.90 for 360 g as opposed to $9 retail) and Tim Tams cost 72 per cent more.

That’s the spirit

When it comes to liquor, spirits drinkers are in luck. A one-litre duty-free bottle of Absolut Vodka was $34.90, or 33 per cent less than the standard retail price. Johnnie Walker Red was also 33 per cent less than the retail price.

But if you’re thinking wine, think again. A bottle of Mumm champagne cost 6 per cent more and a Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc was 14 per cent more than retail ­–­ and if you purchased a six-pack at your favourite local wine store you might save even more. (Don’t forget you are only allowed up to 2.25 litres per adult duty free.) 

No smoking

Traditionally, cigarettes have been heavily taxed, so removing that tax means a genuine saving. A carton of Benson & Hedges Fine Grey was 36 per cent cheaper than retail. That’s fine on the outward journey, but from 1 July this year, each adult traveller can only bring 25 grams of tobacco (about 25 cigarettes) duty free into Australia, so you can only save on one packet.

Looking good

Clinique’s 125 ml Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream should ease a few travel wrinkles, at 43 per cent less than retail ($60 duty free, but $105 retail). And Dior’s Addict Lip Maximiser Lipstick No 001 should make you smile, priced at 18 per cent less than retail.

Fragrances, however – a favourite duty-free purchase ­ – can be a little on the nose when it comes to price. Yves Saint Laurent’s 125 ml Eau de Toilette spray at $143 duty free was 59 per cent more expensive than retail ($143 rather than $53.01).

High tech

Adventurous types could pick up a GoPro Hero 5 for $504, a saving of about 11 per cent on the average retail price. If you’re thinking phone, iPad, camera and so on, spend time researching to avoid making a snap decision in a duty-free shop.

The GST and TRS

The introduction of Australia’s GST in 2000, which reduced many taxes and import duties, plus the growth of online shopping and flourishing discount stores have made discounted luxury goods more readily available, even without an airline ticket.

Also, under the TRS (Tourist Refund Scheme) you can spend up to $900 buying certain goods and claim back the 10 per cent GST at the airport.

Duty-free shopping overseas

Overseas bargains depend on the particular countries’ taxes and fluctuating exchange rates. For example, with the Australian dollar dipping almost to parity with the Singapore dollar, that former shoppers’ paradise now has few serious savings for Australians. You may well buy some goods more cheaply in Australia.

Our advice: do your research in shops or online before hitting the duty-free stores both here and overseas.

* Research carried out by in April 2017

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