Duty free vs the high street

Duty-free shopping is usually the first activity of a holiday before we fly off. By definition ‘duty free’ implies a saving for the consumer, but with online and high-street stores offering staggering discounts to win us over, new research from Cheapflights.co.uk has looked into whether there are still bargains to be had once you’ve made it through security. Here are the duty-free winners - and losers.


Fragrances are a foundation of the airport retail-offering with World Duty Free (WDF), the UK’s leading duty-free retailer, selling around 500 perfumes and after shaves. Reduced prices and giant bottles have made fragrance a popular duty-free buy, with many of us stocking up on a year's supply of our favourite scents.

The research looked at two of the UK’s most popular fragrances, CK One by Calvin Klein (200ml) and Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Eau de Toilette (75ml). The products were on sale in duty free for £36.30 and £31.05 respectively. A quick search across high street and online retailers shows that both fragrances are available at a better price outside of the airport. CK One can currently be purchased at Boots for £24.99, while Le Male is available on Amazon.co.uk for £26.11.

Verdict: Duty-free loser. Buy fragance online or on the high street.


Many travellers choose to load up on their favourite tipple in duty free. With an abundance of fine and often exclusive spirits available, there is plenty to tempt us into parting with our cash.

Like fragrances however, there is no guarantee that savings on duty will be passed onto the customers. British supermarkets, perhaps in determination to outbid rivals, often offer discounted alcohol. A 1-litre bottle of Gordon’s Gin, the world’s bestselling London Dry Gin retails in World Duty Free for £17.99. However Morrisons will sell you a bottle for £17.

Verdict: Duty-free loser. The saving may be small, but with a 1-litre bottle of spirits a large and rather awkward addition to hand luggage, passengers may find it more convenient to do their booze shopping back home!


Chocolate is the go-to item for travellers looking for a last-minute holiday gift for loved ones. Duty-free shelves are stacked with staple favourites for UK passengers including Lindt and Milka and the obligatory giant Toblerone.

For those able to resist an airport purchase, big savings can be made on the high street. World Duty Free advertise a 400g Toblerone bar for £6 while retailers including Waitrose, Debenhams and Morrisons all price the same size bar below £4!

Verdict: Duty-free loser. Stock up on choc in the supermarket aisles.


As a consequence of the taxes placed on them, cigarettes remain the one item that we're guaranteed to make a duty-free saving on. The Cheapflights research showed that airport savings amount to as much as 50% on the high-street equivalent, with a 200-carton of Marlboro Lights selling at airports for £42. At high-street stores such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots you can expect to pay more than £44 for boxes of 100 cigarettes meaning you can pay half as much per cigarette by buying duty free.

If you are planning to buy smokes, be sure to follow the rules! Quotas in the UK on the import of cigarettes are strict and you can expect heavy fines should you exceed the limits and fail to declare your goods. Those travelling from outside of the EU are limited to 200 cigarettes while within the EU, it's 800.

Verdict: Duty-free winner. Buy at the airport.


Shades are an essential summer holiday accessory.  The iconic Ray-Ban range remains the in vogue sun-specs of choice for fashionistas internationally. The brand’s Wayfarer range sell in duty-free for £104.15, while the high-street price can be as high as £170. The lowest stores price offering came from Debenhams and John Lewis at £125.

Verdict: Duty-free winner. A departure-lounge purchase may prove to be a shrewd move.


Duty-free electronics and entertainment stores have faced a reshuffle in recent years with the digital revolution reducing their product offering to devices such as cameras, smartphones, headphones and tablets. Dixons appears to be one retailer switched onto the change with the company’s Dixons Travel brand now present in 12 of the United Kingdom’s major airports.

This year, three of the UK’s most popular consumer electronic offerings include iPads, Beats by Dr Dre and the Go Pro Camera:

  • The Go Pro Hero 4 is available in duty free for £274 with UK retailer Currys (part of the same group as Dixons) closest to matching that price at £279.
  • Beats by Dr Dre For those hoping to zone out en route to their destinations, noise-cancelling headphones from Beats by Dr Dre may be a useful addition to your list of travel accessories. The brand’s fashionable Studio 2.0 headphones are available for £149.92 in duty free, with high-street stores including Argos, Currys and Selfridges all offering the product for £169.
  • Apple’s 3rd generation iPad Mini, although marketed online for £299, the Dixons Travel store at Gatwick says that the mini is available in store for £270, this beats off competition from Amazon.co.uk which offers the product for £285.99.

Verdict: Duty-free winner. But shop around beforehand to be sure you’re getting the best deal.

Duty free prices quoted are for travel outside of the EU. Discounts on only some products are available for travel within the EU.

  • Fancy holidaying in Iceland? Then check out our guide here. Plus top tips to max your holiday cash here!