Picture by ryanwick
When Lifehacker ran a guide to what to buy when shopping for duty-free at the airport a few weeks ago, several commenters suggested that buying alcohol at overseas airports was often cheaper, assuming you could either stash it in your checked luggage or weren't making any interim stops on the way home and so could take it as part of your carry-on luggage. (Restrictions on carrying more than 100mls of liquid mean that carry-on duty free doesn't generally make sense on, for instance, a London-to-Sydney flight.)
Despite flying overseas more than literally anyone I know, I've never actually purchased duty-free alcohol (I hate excess luggage on the way out, and I'm always in a rush to get home when I return), so I don't claim any expertise on the topic. As such, all these insights were very welcome.
However, reflecting on the issue soon raised a related question: just how much difference in price is there between on-departure duty free stores in Australia and the ones that lurk just before immigration when you land? Logic suggests that the latter are likely to be more expensive, but how much difference would there be?
I decided to check this by looking at the price of a one litre bottle of spirits when I flew out of Sydney in February, and the same bottle when I landed in March. (Duty-free stores often have 'buy 3 bottles for $70' style specials, but I ignored those for the sake of a more direct comparison. I also skipped wine since any decent wine purchase should be made in dozens anyway, and the range was more likely to vary.)
The results of my mini-survey suggested that the prices for booze are actually the same in most instances. A litre of standard Absolut vodka was $30 on the way out, but $29 on the way in. Everything else I checked — Bailey's, Bundaberg OP and Jameson Whiskey — were exactly the same price ($35, $35 and $34) in both locations.
That doesn't mean that you might not score a better deal overseas, but it does suggest that if you're buying spirits for home consumption from an Australian duty-free store, there really isn't much advantage in lugging them halfway around the globe first. It also suggests that buying in advance (to pick up when you return) won't net much of a saving, other than time in queuing up to buy if you're on a busy flight. Then again, if your luggage takes ages to emerge, you'll be waiting anyway.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.