Things you should never buy on planes, according to a flight attendant

  • I worked as a flight attendant for 2 years and learned some money saving tips while traveling.
  • Don’t waste your money on food and water at the airport or overpriced snacks on the plane.
  • You’ll save more if you book with the same airline and buy mid-week flights.

When I joined the airline industry as a flight attendant, I thought we would learn all the secrets to getting the cheapest tickets. But, instead, I had to collect them myself or through my colleagues.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned for saving money while flying:

If you’re flying business class, you can usually save while waiting for an upgrade at the airport

I know it may sound strange, but I always advise everyone to buy an economy class ticket at home and upgrade at the airport.

Opting for an upgrade will drastically reduce the price of the ticket.

As soon as you purchase your economy class seat, you may start receiving email offers to upgrade your ticket, but don’t rush. Wait until you arrive at the airport and request an upgrade at the counter or at the gate.

Sometimes, if the plane is empty or if you have a loyalty program with the airline, the gate agent can upgrade you to business class at no additional cost. But even if you have to pay, it will still be much cheaper than buying online.

Just be extremely nice to the staff and arrive early so business seats are always available. But don’t wait to get on the plane – flight attendants usually don’t have much power.

Never waste money on bottled water at the airport

Inside JFK airport.

Inside JFK airport.

Sorbis/Shutterstock


Air travel is expensive. You’ve already paid for the ticket, taxi and luggage, so don’t waste your money on overpriced airport water.

You can’t take liquids through security, but no one said you can’t take an empty bottle.

Most airports are stocked with water fountains, and many even have a special pump to fill bottles quickly.

To keep your bottle full during the flight, just ask your flight attendant for a refill. If you’re lucky, they may even put ice in it.

The same rule applies to airport food

For some reason people are afraid to bring food through TSA security. But it’s a great way to save money, as long as it’s sturdy, like a sandwich.

There are even restaurants and stores before security that advertise TSA-approved foods.

If you are traveling overseas, it is best to finish food from your first destination before landing, as some countries do not allow fresh food to pass through customs.

Freeze your liquids to avoid checking a bag

If you have a large liquid over 3 ounces, but don’t want to pay to check in a bag, it’s worth trying to freeze it so it passes through the security scanner in solid form.

Even if it melts a bit on the way to the airport, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as it’s properly stored.

You can find better deals online than at the duty free shop

Duty free

You can find better deals online.


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Duty-free still attracts passengers to the airport, but the savings are not as great as they seem. Some airlines also have duty-free catalogs on board where you can shop in the air. But these prices are even worse.

You can find much better deals online if you take the time to look.

Some days are cheaper to buy tickets than others

There is no perfect recipe for booking the cheapest flight. But there are a few tricks that can help you stick to your budget.

The best days to buy tickets are Tuesday and Wednesday as prices tend to drop after and before the weekend.

If you have some flexibility, it’s also best to check different dates on the calendar instead of looking for a specific day to fly.

Purchases on board are too expensive

airplane food

Eat before boarding the plane or bring your own food.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images


Many onboard rules have changed amid the coronavirus pandemic, including some airlines suspending hot food during flights.

Try to bring food from home or the hotel before boarding. Otherwise, you will have to buy snacks on board, which are too small to be considered a meal and extremely expensive.

Parking adds up, especially if you’re away on a long trip

If you live far from the airport and have a lot of luggage, driving yourself may seem like the easiest option. But some people don’t realize how expensive parking can be.

In New York, parking at the airport can cost up to $70 per day. If you go on vacation for a week, it adds up.

Reaching out to family or friends for a ride is obviously the cheapest option, but a taxi is usually even cheaper than paying for parking depending on the length of your trip.

If you have time, another good option is to book cheaper parking near the airport and take a shuttle to the terminal.

It’s almost never worth changing money at the airport

Currency exchange

It is usually cheaper to exchange your money at a bank.

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Too often people land at an international airport and find they have the wrong currency. But the airport is the worst place to redeem if you want a good fare.

Most banks or malls have exchange offices with more stable rates if you remember before your flight. And if you forget, take just enough money for a taxi in town and go to a local bank.

It pays to stay loyal to an airline

It’s always a better idea to stick with one airline or group of airlines and open a bonus card with them.

In addition to collecting miles that you can use on a future flight, you can also get free checked bags, upgrades, and access to lounges with free food and drink.

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