The best places to shop for duty-free items

Most people don’t bat an eyelid when asked to show their boarding card for purchases in the departure lounge, assuming that it’s needed for security purposes. But that’s not the case. There’s no legal requirement to check boarding passes, unless you are buying duty-free goods, such as alcohol or tobacco. The reason shops ask for them for other items is because VAT is not payable on goods sold to travellers who are flying outside of the European Union – the boarding pass is required as proof.

As a result, airport shopping should cost less, assuming VAT savings are passed on. The trouble is, says The Independent, this isn’t happening in many cases. Instead, chains “are using the tax rebate to boost the profits of their airport franchises”. The likes of Boots, WHSmith and Dixons all charge similar prices at the airport to those charged in normal branches, reports The Guardian – with VAT at 20%, a retailer could potentially “pocket just under 17% of the price paid by every shopper travelling beyond the EU”.

According to, the average retail spend at Heathrow is £38.86 per buyer – so it’s a significant saving. What can you do? Well, apart from refusing to show your boarding pass if it’s inconvenient, until the airports pass these savings on to customers, you could go to the best places to buy duty-free items. We listed several of them in the box on the right.

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