World of Duty Free Shopping – Shop Informed

What Happens if Duty Free Doesn't Show? | Duty Free Shop | Air Travel News and Deals

The World of Duty Free Shopping

Article Updated: July 3, 2012

International air travel brings the joys of duty free shopping. Duty free certainly doesn’t mean mark-up or profit-free, but the tax free shopping is one way to spend time prior to your flight. Some airports, such as Dubai (DXB), are known worldwide for their magnificent tax free shopping.

Items heavily taxed in some nations such as liquor, cigarettes, and perfumes are among the most popular tax-free buys. For example, a carton of cigarettes that may cost over $50 USD can often be obtained for a fraction of the cost in some locations — sometimes as low as $10 to $20 USD when purchased abroad.

Popular Duty-Free shopping locations include not only Dubai (DXB), but airports across Asia including Hong Kong (HKG), Singapore (SIN), Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Seoul-Incheon (ICN). Airports such as London Heathrow (LHR) and Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) are chock full of duty-free shop.

Some International Airports like London Heathrow (LHR) and Gatwick (LGW) are jokingly referred to as shopping malls with airplane gates with the sheer number of shops. The shops are a great way to spend time and many travelers will use leftover currency at the airport shops when departing as it’s a tempting way to use remaining foreign currency.

What Happens if Duty Free is Not Delivered to Gate

First, hope you paid by credit card; if it does not show or if there is a problem with your duty-free purchase, credit cards typically provide you with some protection.

Since duty-free is export only, it’s sometimes necessary to pick-up your purchase at the gate or in the jet-bridge as you’re boarding your flight, especially in the United States where domestic and international flights depart from the same areas. At airports where gate delivery is standard practice, when you march up to the cash register to pay for your duty-free, your goodies are bagged, tagged, and placed into a push-cart with your flight number on it.

Unfortunately, this push-cart “delivery” system doesn’t always work as planned.  Sometimes the duty-free cart isn’t at the gate when boarding begins, but it almost always arrives during the boarding process in these cases. Flight attendants will usually make an announcement to claim your duty-free at the boarding door and sometimes assist with the delivery of your goods.

On the rare occasion, the push-cart of duty-free delights gets lost.  As the plane starts to push from the terminal and the flight attendant confirms duty free pulled a no show, the feeling of being taken advantage of sinks into your stomach – even if a bona fida mistake.

The worst part is you have a long flight ahead and there’s nothing you can do at the moment, other than pray you didn’t pay cash.

Hopefully the duty-free shop will have acted in good faith either voiding the transaction or issuing a refund prior to you landing. However, it’s best to follow-up with either a phone call or e-mail. Typically they’ll have a telephone number on the receipt, but if they don’t, it can usually be found online. Worst case scenario, dispute the charge with your bank card issuer.

Now, if you paid cash, it gets a bit more tricky, especially if you won’t be returning to the airport where it was purchased anytime soon. It’s important to notify them immediately to start the refund process, which will often be in the form of a check with a cash payment.

International Tax Refund and Rebate Programs – Get your VAT or GST refunded

Shopping is even sales-tax in many nations which have established VAT or GST tax rebate programs. In most cases, your purchase or purchases must exceed a certain amount. When shopping, be sure to inquire about tax refunds when departing, as Value Added Tax (VAT) or Goods and Services Tax (GST) can often be account for 15% of your purchase amount. In nations with tax rebate programs, you can often obtain a tax refund at the airport prior to departure provided you meet the qualifications and your receipts and paperwork is in order.

Be Aware for Unwanted Dynamic Currency Conversions

The currency you pay for duty-free purchases in can make a significant difference in price.

When you use a credit card abroad, pay close attention to the credit card receipt before you sign it. Make sure it is in the local currency of the nation you’re in and not the currency of your credit card issuer. The best exchange rates are typically provided by credit card.

Some merchants, including duty-free shops, are quietly conducting dynamic currency conversions without giving consumers the choice. Without pointing fingers, this is being reported as a problem at some Asian Airport Duty Free Shops. Sometimes credit sales receipts will list the total cost in local currency in large print and hide the Dynamic Currency Conversion cost they are billing you at in smaller print – or in an obscure location. Merchants make money from Dynamic Currency Conversions and some will attempt to hide what currency you are paying in on your sales slip.

Typically these conversions are a bad news since they use a currency conversion rate profitable to the merchant and don’t be fooled you’re avoiding dreaded foreign transaction fees – many banks will still charge a foreign transaction fee, even if the merchant bills you in your home currency.

When given a choice of paying in your currency or local currency, it’s typically best to pay in local currency. When traveling abroad, you will almost always receive the best exchange rate with a credit/debit card.  Rule of Thumb is to avoid Dynamic Currency Conversions (DCC).

Some exceptions exist in nations where hard currency such as the US Dollar is preferred, but this is often the exception to the rule.

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One Response


You really need to catch out for Dynamic Currency Conversion scams in parts of Asia, like Hong Kong. When the receipt prints it’ll sometimes have Chinese characters in the same place as the dynamic currency conversion. You should always be given a choice. Some of these Hong Kong merchants and banks are terrible. They pull the same crap in China, so you need to watch what you sign.

Even in nations where it is common to use US Dollars you should have them run your card at local currency. I learned the hard way, all prices were in USD, sales slip was in USD, and I signed it assuming no currency transaction fees, boy was I wrong. Bank still charged it as a foreign / overseas transaction.

Do yer best to stay away from this currency scam even if u r in a place that seems legit.

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