The last time I visited the airport, I shopped until I dropped. Not intentionally, mind you…but, well, I had a layover, and I was starving, and I forgot to bring my favorite necklace, and…. After chowing down on pricey breakfast favorites at Starbucks, I found a nice jewelry store, and then went into the bookstore and came out with that new read I'd been eyeing. It’s so easy to overspend when all you've got is time—and cash burning a hole in your purse. So the next time I travel via air, I’ll be prepared. These tips will stand me in good stead—and can help you cut down on the ever-rising costs of airport travel as well!

1. Bring your own meals and snacks

While it may not be as appetizing as a piping hot fresh whatever from whichever restaurant, at least you won't get indigestion from the prices you’ll be charged for in-airport (or—even worse—mid-flight) victuals!

Here’s an example:

In-airport lunch + on-plane snack + gum

  • Bottle of water: $2.99
  • Coffee latte: $3.85
  • Panini sandwich: $5.95
  • Banana: $0.99
  • Cookie: $1.99
  • Pack of gum: $1.99
  • Total: $17.66

Bring-from-home lunch + on-plane snack + gum

  • Bottle of water: $0.60
  • Plain coffee: $1.95
  • PBJ Sandwich: $0.64 (using this handy sandwich calculator!)
  • Banana: $0.17
  • Cookie: $0.45
  • Pack of gum: $0.99
  • Total: $4.80

Total savings: $12.86!

Note: Being a part of the KCL community, you no doubt have a nice stash of freebies and samples to grab on the go. You might even want to designate these free samples as "airplane snacks" to further cut the costs of airport meals and snacks!

2. If you can't find a free ride, scope out airport parking prices in advance

A free ride is always best, but it isn't always possible. I do a lot of early a.m. traveling, and even my husband looks at me sideways after a few too many “please drive me” requests in a row. So I’ve learned to scope out airport parking deals in advance.

Here are some tips to find the best deals:

  • Airport parking lots offer coupons on their websites: For instance, my favorite lot at my Houston airport, EcoPark, offers coupons by email if you sign up for their newsletter.
  • Lots often offer a "frequent park program": This can be a real saver if you go in and out of a particular airport frequently (here’s an example from EcoPark).
  • You can also sign up for mileage points with some lots: For example, my local lot, EcoPark, has ParkingPlus+ program. Check with your local parking companies.
  • If the lot offers both uncovered and covered parking, opt for the former: Unless there’s a weather-related reason to choose covered, selecting uncovered parking will be cheaper by the day by $2 or more.

3. Pay for your checked bag fees during your online check-in process

Many airlines now offer incentives to customers who pre-pay for their checked bags when they check in for their flight online. Typical savings are $5 per bag when pre-paid online. At $25/bag for the first bag (and $30 and up for bag #2), every little bit of savings helps!

4. If at all possible, carry your bags onto the flight

Not only can you skip the exorbitant checked bag fees by carrying your bags on, but even if the airline needs to check your bags at the gate due to space restrictions, you will not be charged.

Note: A small percentage of carriers now charge even for carry-on baggage—newer entrants Spirit Air and Frontier Air are the worst offenders, charging prices anywhere from $10 – $100 depending on the carrier and when/where you pay (the closer you get to the gate, the higher the price skyrockets).

5. Review the list of permitted carry-on and checked items before you pack

Nothing is worse than bringing a light carry-on, only to be told your 10 oz. bottle of $200 perfume is not permitted aboard! In the same way, if you bring toiletries, be sure they are 3.4 oz or less (TSA rules) or you will pay for them three times—once when you discard them before boarding, once when you buy them again at your destination, and then once more when you discard them again before flying home—yikes!

How to pack for TSA regulations and speed through airport security:

  • The TSA recommends using the "3-1-1 Rule”: Make sure all liquids are 3 oz or less; place them into a quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top sandwich bag; place each bag into the security screening bin—separate from any other bin items such as electronics, shoes, spare change, etc.
  • For necessary liquids that exceed 3 oz: This rule applies to breast milk, baby formula, baby food, diabetic juice, and similar items that may be medically necessary. The TSA wants you to declare these items before you begin the security screening. You do not need to place them into a zip-top sandwich bag.
  • Do not put anything sharp or pointed into carry-on luggage: This includes knives, swords, scissors, ice picks, and similar objects (these are okay only in checked luggage). Here is additional TSA information about items prohibited in carry-on luggage.
  • Do not bring food gifts on board as carryons: Jams, sauces, pies, soups, dressings, alcohol, and other items are prohibited, as are snow globes and other liquid-based gifts.

6. Bring your own entertainment

As my own experience demonstrates, a layover (expected or unexpected) offers an opportunity ripe for overspending. So now I pack my own entertainment. I bring my laptop, a new book (that I borrowed from the library), the latest magazine I just got in the mail, and a small blanket (for napping, of course!). So instead of browsing overpriced gift and book stores, I can just settle down and watch the layover minutes fly by.

7. Browse before you go, or tether your phone during layovers

Airport Wi-Fi Internet costs a pretty penny. While some airports (mostly smaller regional centers) still offer this service for free, most airports now charge for Wi-Fi, and the typical charge is around $9 per day or $5 – $8 for a monthly plan. So check with your cell carrier to see if you can tether your smart phone with your laptop (basically, you are borrowing your phone's Internet). If not, browse before you go so you don't end up paying through the nose to check your email.

Cut Down the Costs of Air Travel with These 7 Tips