Depending on how you travel and maybe your overall approach to finances, you may find yourself hungry in the airport and contemplating eating airport food. Personally, I have a “lion” personality where I can eat a big meal and then not be hungry again for a long time. Mrs. PWaC is the opposite, where she likes to eat smaller meals more frequently. But she also has a fear of being hungry, so she often packs lots of snacks whenever she is going somewhere. Recently, the idea of airport food and eating in the airport was in the news, so I thought I would share some thoughts on whether (and when) you need to eat at the airport.
The $78 Airport Meal
A week or so ago, columnist David Brooks tried to own a restaurant in Newark Airport by shaming them with a “$78 airport meal”. But it turned out that 80% of his meal was his bar tab…
This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport. This is why Americans think the economy is terrible. pic.twitter.com/1qeV9qOBL3
— David Brooks (@nytdavidbrooks) September 21, 2023
The restaurant pushed back and shared that 80% of his bill was actually his bar tab (some expensive whiskey perhaps), meaning that the actual cost of his burger and fries was probably not THAT much more expensive than you might find at a non-airport restaurant.
Eating In The Airport
Airport food has the stereotype of being much more expensive than food “on the outside”. There are a few reasons for this, such as increased rent in the airport, limited competition and the trickiness of bringing in everything that’s needed for a restaurant through security. And while some municipalities have laws on the books that are supposed to prevent price gouging (usually comparing the airport food prices to similar food nearby), they don’t always work. And McDonalds doesn’t even let you use their rewards points at airport stores! And that’s not even mentioning the preponderance of “tip screens” on to-go orders in the airport…
Alternatives To Airport Food
Still though, I think in most cases, it’s fairly easy to avoid spending a ton of money on airport food. Maybe the one exception would be a very long layover where you’re at an airport without access to a lounge. Here are a few ideas to avoid paying airport food prices. Personally, I almost never pay for airport food. The last time I remember paying for airport food was on our way to Hawaii, where we had a layover in the Denver airport and the 7 of us ordered McDonalds (without being able to use my 11,000 McDonalds points, as mentioned above!)
In a disaster you are not free to eat prior to the disaster as you are free to eat prior to getting to the airport
Eat before you travel or after you arrive where you are going or better yet bring a sandwich with you.. To complain about the well known high price of food and booze at the airport is silly.
Priority Pass And Other Lounges
The biggest thing that I do to avoid paying for airport food is use my Priority Pass Select membership, which comes with several different credit cards.
Of course, it doesn’t make sense to pay hundreds of dollars in annual fees on credit cards to save $50 in airport food, but for me at least, the other benefits on these credit cards already make up the cost of the annual fee, and the Priority Pass membership is just icing on the cake.
There are also some credit cards with smaller annual fees that offer a limited amount of lounge access. Generally, I find that it’s not worth it to pay the day rate for lounges unless there are extenuating circumstances (like a VERY long layover and/or trying to schedule around irregular operations)
You might also have lounge access if you have elite status with an airline or are flying in a premium cabin. And while most airport lounge food isn’t AMAZING, to me at least, it’s better than paying big bucks for airport terminal food (which, frankly, also isn’t that amazing). And some Priority Pass memberships give you a $28 credit that you can use at a variety of airport restaurants.
Just Pack A Sandwich (Or A Snack)
Another reasonable option is to eat before you go to the airport (just make sure to leave enough time!) or just pack a sandwich or a snack. Solid food is allowed to come through TSA, subject to being screened. So with a little bit of planning, I don’t think it’s difficult to arrange things so you can satisfy your hunger without an expensive airport meal. Plus, that puts you in more control over your eating, and reduces the risk that your spouse will just leave you at the airport!
The Bottom Line
I mean sure, if eating in the airport “brings you joy” and it’s worth it to you to pay a little more than expected to not have to worry about packing a snack or a sandwich (or being hungry), then absolutely go for it. You travel how you want to, and I’ll travel how I want to. Just don’t complain about the high cost of airport food when you’re choosing not to take steps to avoid having to pay for it.
What do you think? Do you eat airport food? Or do you use one of these alternatives? Leave your thoughts in the comments below
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