9 Airport Hacks to Save Money and Improve Your Travels

Excited woman riding luggage cart in airport with man pushing her.

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With these tips, you'll look forward to going to the airport.

Believe it or not, I actually enjoy spending time at the airport.

That wasn't always the case. Going to the airport used to mean sitting around in a crowded boarding gate where food and drinks cost an exorbitant amount.

A few changes in your airport routine can make a big difference in whether you love it or hate it, so I'm going to share my favorite airport hacks.

1. Bring your own entertainment

The last thing you want is to be stuck waiting around with nothing to do. To keep yourself entertained, you can bring any of the following:

  • Shows and movies (many streaming services, Netflix and Amazon Prime included, let you download content to a laptop or tablet so you don't need an internet connection to watch)
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • An e-reader

Any of the above are great to have while you're waiting for your flight, and you won't need to spring for in-flight entertainment, either.

2. Take an empty water bottle with you

It's no secret that airport shops gouge you on the price of pretty much everything. Since you can't take liquids larger than 3.4 fluid ounces through security, people often assume they need to buy the overpriced water at the airport, but that's not the case.

Just empty out a water bottle of any size before you go. Then you can take it through security and refill it at a water fountain.

3. Keep anything you need easy access to in your personal item

Most airlines allow a carry-on and a personal item, and it's smart to take full advantage. I recommend using your personal item for any devices and other items you'll want to access while you're at the airport or on the plane.

A laptop bag or a backpack both work well as your personal item. You can put your laptop, tablet, and any reading materials you want in there, and then you won't need to worry about digging around through your carry-on at any point.

4. Choose a credit card with airport lounge access

If I had to choose one tip that improved my airport experience the most, this would be it.

I'm not going to tell you that airport lounges are always flawless. They can get crowded, and sometimes they reach capacity. But I've found them much more comfortable than sitting in the boarding area, plus they offer free food and drinks (including alcohol).

Several credit cards are offering this perk now, but here are a few of the best.

5. Research the airport ahead of time

One of the things people dislike the most about being at the airport is wandering around. It's tiring, it's confusing, and it's frustrating.

That's why I like to read up on any airport I'll be traveling through before I leave. Specifically, I find it helps to check out:

  • The gate where my flight will be departing
  • Airport lounges that I can access
  • Restaurants
  • Transportation

6. Sign up for Global Entry

Global Entry costs $100 for a five-year membership, but some of the top travel credit cards include a credit for that membership fee. When you're a member of the Global Entry program, you're also automatically part of the TSA Precheck program.

If you're wondering whether these programs are much help, the answer is a resounding yes.

The TSA Precheck lines can be significantly shorter than the standard security lines. Global Entry is fantastic when you're returning from an international trip, as you can skip the line at customs and at declarations. It turns a process that could take 30 minutes or longer into one that often takes under a minute.

7. Always check in online

It's simple, but a lot of people still don't bother with it. Check-in lines can get lengthy, especially when seemingly everyone ahead of you brought three massive checked bags.

You can complete the entire check-in process online up to 24 hours before your flight, including paying for checked bags. With how convenient it is, it doesn't make sense to wait until you get to the airport.

8. Pack a lunch

Considering how much food costs at the airport and in-flight, you could easily save $10 to $20 per flight just by packing your own food beforehand.

Most foods and snacks will be fine to take with you through security, although you can always double-check online. The rules are stricter regarding international travel, as you can't just take whatever food you want to another country, but that won't apply if you eat whatever you brought before your flight lands.

9. Stay overnight at the airport if you have an early morning flight

This may seem like a nutty idea, but it's worth considering if you want to save some cash and avoid a morning commute to the airport.

Let's say you have a flight departing at 7 a.m. You could rent a room for that night, get up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., and then head to the airport like normal. Or, you could enjoy your night, head to the airport, and then sleep, watch movies on your tablet, or read until the restaurants and lounges start opening.

I've done this before at Mexico City International Airport, and it was actually a fun way to end a vacation.

A better time at the airport

None of these hacks are particularly challenging to implement, so they're all simple ways to have a more relaxing, less hectic airport experience. You still may not want to hang out at the airport for hours, but if you end up stuck there on an extended layover, you won't hate it, either.

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