In the next few days, airports nationwide will be flooded with travelers en route to see family or friends for the Christmas weekend. And if we're to believe the New York Times, they might be shopping for electronics while they wait.
The Times recently published an article that documented the recent growth of consumer electronics stores and kiosks in the airport, like Brookstone*, InMotion, and Best Buy vending machines. Some travelers will buy up headphones and chargers to replace broken or forgotten necessities, while others might be looking for a diversion or "treat" for their travels. It's also reasonable to think that, right before the holidays, travelers may also be looking for some last-minute gifts for anyone they haven't yet shopped for.
But how much will it cost you to do your shopping at the airport, instead of in advance? A consultant quoted in the Times article said that most of the items in these stores are available at prices equal to or within 10% of what you can find at other retailers. Considering a bottle of water could cost you around $5 at Newark Liberty, we weren't so confident in those supposed price points.
Thus, we rallied some dealnews staffers and gathered data on 32 different items — chargers, data cables, headphones of all quality levels, digital cameras, and more — from five different airports: JFK, Atlanta, LAX, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Then we looked online to find the lowest price available for each product, either at the moment or within the last week.
It may not shock you to learn that not one item of the 32 we price-checked was cheaper at the airport. However, only six (or 19% of the testing pool) were even within a 10% range of what you would pay for the gadget online — as the article suggested should be the case for all purchases. By our math, that means 81% of the electronics you could purchase at the airport will cost you significantly more than if you had bought ahead of time.
But again, that might not shock you. What probably will is just how much more you'll be paying in transit. The remaining 26 items were, on average, 34% more expensive at the airport than what we could find as the best price online. For some of the smaller items, that could mean a difference of $10 or $15. For some of the more advanced technology like digital cameras or high-end headphones, you could be overpaying by $50 to as much as $200. And although digital cameras were the most risky to purchase in terms of getting a good price, charging accessories and headphones too occasionally were priced up to 50% more than they would cost online.
Notably, the iPods we compared would have been reasonably priced, if it weren't the holiday season. Since Black Friday, we've seen numerous online deals that featured equivalent prices to the iPods we found at LAX — but most of those online deals have been bundled with gift cards or MP3 credits. Naturally, you won't find such an advantage in a vending machine at the airport.
So please, before packing for your holiday trip, make sure you have headphones, the proper chargers, and gifts for everyone on your list. Otherwise, you might get stuck paying 34% more than you should for electronics, gadgets, and the like, at your airport terminal.
*A note about Brookstone branded items: They largely followed the same prices that you would find for those items in a normal Brookstone store. However, because these items are mostly generic, like charging cables and USB hubs, there's usually no advantage to buying the Brookstone brand. For example, a Brookstone 4-port USB hub sold for $19.95, but we saw a Lenovo one with Ethernet for just $11 this week. We've even seen a Targus one for just $1. Therefore, we decided to omit their generic items from our data for this reason.