Why travellers should avoid duty-free price comparison websites

Travel Retail Price Comparison WebsitesDuty-free price comparison websites are springing up everywhere. They sound convenient. If you are planning a big purchase such as a tablet computer or a vintage single-malt whisky, how handy to be able to compare prices at the airports you’re flying from to ensure you end up with the best possible price. We all love a bargain, don’t we?

Yes, we do, but sites such as dutyfreeaddict.com, and dutyfreeworldonline.com are misleading travellers. Comparing prices in just one domestic market is relatively straightforward. However, gathering up-to-date pricing information from duty-free retailers, airports and airlines around the world is a complex logistical challenge. Such a task would be difficult even for a large consumer research organization let alone start-up websites run on a shoestring budget.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the most visible price comparison sites, dutyfreeaddict.com. “We help travellers shop smart whilst abroad by ranking identical products by price, in frequently travelled countries, using a constant currency,” boasts the site’s home page.

That sounds great, but it turns out only 11 countries are listed: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the UAE, the UK and the US. If you are not travelling to one of these countries, then forget it.

Such a limited list is explained by the fact that very few airports and duty-free operators publish prices on the websites. Moreover, some of those airports and retailers that do actually show pricing information, do so only for a limited selection of products, usually the best sellers or items on promotion.

And why only show countries and not specific airports? A country such as the UK, for instance, has many different international airports, each with their own duty-free store and differing prices. To imagine there is just one duty-free price for a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label or Chanel No.5 perfume per country is plain crazy.

The phrase ‘duty-free’ also has to be treated with caution. If you are travelling within the European Union (EU), for instance, you won’t be able to buy anything labeled ‘duty-free’. Instead, you will buy goods at ‘travel-retail’ prices where in theory the retailer and the airport have absorbed the sales tax. Anything labeled ‘duty-free’ whether it’s cigarettes or Scotch whisky will be off limits.

Indeed at some airports such as Dublin international or Amsterdam Schiphol, travellers will see two prices: ‘duty-free’ and ‘travel-retail’. Is there any mention of this at dutyfreeaddict.com? No, nothing at all; nor is there any information relating to the current airport security rules in place at many international airports worldwide, which if ignored, can see transfer passengers have their liquid purchases confiscated.

At taxfreetravel.com we do things differently. In airport entries and product guides we limit the amount of pricing information we include and always try to include the date the piece was written. We know prices change regularly and always provide links to official airport and retailer websites so travellers can check prices directly.

Lastly, we also try to persuade travellers that today’s airport, airline and ferry stores often offer much more than a place to find the odd bargain. There are more and more exclusive products that you won’t find anywhere on the high street, as well as superb gifts and souvenirs for loved ones back home. We know all the latest lines and newest store openings and when you’re done shopping, a great place to wind down with a coffee before you fly.

You won’t find any of that on a price comparison website.