Much as the airport can be a money pit, with those too-high prices at the restaurants, bars and bookstores, that’s not to say you can’t find bargains. In fact, there are some freebies like meditation rooms, religious services and books, that can enhance the time you spend waiting for your flight.
Seven frequent flyers share their favorite airport finds.
• “I’m amazed at how many people still buy bottled water in throwaway single-use plastic bottles at U.S. airports at $3 to $5 a pop. Nearly all airports now have free filtered water dispensers by the restrooms, so if you bring your own refillable bottle, you can not only do Mother Nature a favor and keep plastic out of our grounds and waterways, but avoid paying inflated prices for hydration as well,” says Tim Leffel, author of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations.”
• Tatiana runs the Family Road Trip Guru blog. She weighs in on perks often overlooked. “Some airports have free museums and/or exhibits. They may not be located in every terminal but if you have time before your flight to move between terminals you can visit them. Two airports that come to mind are San Francisco and Phoenix. Some airports have free coloring books for kids at the information desk and some have playgrounds for kids. Again, not in every terminal, but check before you fly and then if you have some time you can move between the terminals. Two good examples are Tampa and Boston airports.”
• For sure airports are a point of pride for most cities. Nate Swick, communications manager for Visit Indy, touts the offerings at Indianapolis International Airport. The list includes fast and free Wi-Fi, complimentary water bottles in the Terminal Garage, vehicle assistance in the Terminal Garage and parking lots, umbrellas and windshield scrapers in case you forgot yours, 24/7 assistance to locate lost vehicles, jump starts and tire inflation, three nursing mother’s rooms, sensory rooms for those on the autism spectrum or those that need a quiet place to decompress located post-security, pet relief areas, and a $7 million art collection for your viewing pleasure.
• Alex Miller is founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, a travel site that provides analysis, data, reviews and in-depth guides to travelers, as well as personal finance advice. He says that many airports have free business centers, almost lounge-like experiences where you can work, plug in, and use the internet for free. “If you’re an eligible U.S. service member, many airports have a free USO lounge if you qualify and most major airports have some type of transfers aid or information service that can help you for free, from anything from lost items, missing passengers, items left onboard, etc.”
• If you have a long layover and you’re feeling knotty after being cramped in your seat, there may be relief. “Many people overlook that airports often have gyms and exercise facilities available for free to passengers. This is great if you’ve got an hour to kill before catching a connecting flight and you want to stretch before you’re cooped up in a plane. Some airport gyms are for members only, but free spaces are becoming more and more common since the pandemic,” says Darko Ivanoski, founder and CEO of ESTAForm, an online travel authorization company that works with airport authorities. Ivanoski says there are plenty of perks for international travelers. “European airports have some of the best freebies imaginable. Munich International airport has a free cinema for passengers to kill an hour or two between flights. Many airports have started installing sleep pods so you can catch a couple of hours of decent sleep before your next flight.” The best way to get some free perks from your airport is to look up which airports you will be using during your trip. Most advertise their free facilities prominently on their website to try and attract passengers, adds Ivanoski.
• Randall Kaplan is founder and CEO of Sandee, an app known as the “Yelp” of beaches. He flies in and out of Spokane, Washington a lot. What does he love? “They provide free car washes if you park in one of their parking lots. I also travel to San Francisco a few times a year, and they have a free yoga room that has yoga mats, cushions, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. If you have a long layover, it’s a great place to go to relax.”
He is a dog lover and applauds Denver International Airport’s DEN CATS, which stands for Canine Airport Therapy Squad. “It’s a team of over 100 dogs and one cat who roam around the airport with handlers who encourage travelers to pet them. If you’re traveling with your dog, Atlanta has a 1,000 square-foot dog park.”
• In the Far East in particular you can find free massage chairs. “Seoul Incheon Airport has them scattered around the terminals,” says James Crawford, co-founder of DealDrop frequent flyer. If you have time to spare before catching your onward flight, sample the area with a free city tour. “Many destinations now offer both guided and unguided tours if you have a long layover. Seoul comes out on top again, with the option to visit temples, palaces, villages and markets, all for free.”
For a shorter layover, find out if your airport offers tours to give you a behind the scenes look at how the airport operates.