Duty Free Perfumes & Cosmetics
Duty Free perfumes and cosmetics are by far the biggest product category, and you’ll generally find them online.
If you tend to buy these products in upscale department stores or specialty retailers like Sephora, Duty Free will usually be a good deal for you. But if you’re a real bargain hunter or generally buy them online, you should definitely do some research. The direct links in the Find Duty Free Online section will help you check Duty Free availability and prices at over 150 airports, airlines, and retailers. Unfortunately, contrary to wine and spirits, I’m not familiar with any global Domestic price comparison sites. But I’m sure you have your own local resources.
To give you an overall idea of what you’re likely to encounter in Duty Free, I’ve looked at prices of some popular brands at 24 locations in 20 countries. (See my selection criteria in the explanatory notes further down.)
By the way, Duty Free is technically a misnomer for fragrances. Originally, excise duty was applied to them because of their alcohol content, but that duty was removed many years ago. Today, they’re only Tax Free, as cosmetics have always been. That’s why all EU airports offer the same prices to non-EU travellers (Tax Free) or intra-EU travellers (Tax Discounted Travel Retail.) There’s no duty for them to worry about.
The number one selling perfume in the world is reported to be Chanel No. 5. However, Chanel brands are either not stocked or not shown online by most Duty & Tax Free retailers. In my review sample, only iShop Changi and World Duty Free (the retailer at Heathrow and Gatwick) show Chanel prices online. Chanel seems to be focusing on their own branded stores at airports, but the assortments and prices at these stores aren’t shown online. On top of that, Chanel withdrew from airline sales many years ago.
That leaves YSL Black Opium. The 90 ml. perfume version is the most widely available Tax Free fragrance I’ve found. It’s sold at all 24 locations. Below are actual prices, from cheapest to most expensive. The order of the converted currencies may look slightly off due to exchange rate fluctuations.
Click the dropdown menu to select your currency for conversion in real time.
YSL Black Opium EdP 90 ml. Duty Free
|Local Currency||Converted Currency|
|London HRW & GTW:||GBP 75.40||GBP|75.40|
|Moscow Domodedovo:||EUR 100.00||EUR|100.00|
|New York JFK T1, 5 & 8:||USD 113.00||USD|113.00|
|New York JFK T7:||USD 116.00||USD|116.00|
|Tokyo Narita:||JPY 14400||JPY|14400|
|Seoul Shilla:||USD 147.00||USD|147.00|
|Hong Kong DFS:||HKD 1350||HKD|1350|
Madrid and Barcelona had the cheapest prices, while surprisingly, Hong Kong was the most expensive. What’s really worth noting, though, is the big spread of prices for the same product. It reinforces the notion that you should do your homework.
I was also able to identify 8 products which were available in 19 locations. The average price of these products is reasonably indicative of the airport’s overall price level of Duty Free perfumes, although the ranking for particular products may vary. Sydney is a good example. It’s generally pretty inexpensive, except for Black Opium.
These are the airports with the cheapest average prices:
And these are the most expensive locations:
Some more surprising results here, with Hong Kong, Seoul, and Singapore being on the expensive side, although I’m not surprised about Switzerland. All the other airports are somewhere in between.
Cosmetics were a lot more difficult to evaluate given the wide range of brands and products. However, I was able to find one product which was available at 22 of the 24 locations. That was the 50 ml. size of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II. That’s quite a mouthful to remember, so here’s a picture:
The actual prices in ascending order are:
Estee Lauder Recovery Complex II 50 ml. Duty Free
|Local Currency||Converted Currency|
|London HRW & GTW:||GBP 63.50||GBP|63.50|
|New York JFK T7:||USD 88.00||USD|88.00|
|Tokyo Narita:||JPY 10800||JPY|10800|
|Hong Kong DFS:||HKD 830||HKD|830|
|Moscow Domodedovo:||EUR 108.00||EUR|108.00|
Heathrow and Gatwick were the cheapest while Rome was the most expensive. As with Black Opium, the price differences are pretty huge.
Contrary to fragrances, there were no particular trends in cosmetics among the various locations. Prices are all over the place, so you need to check each individual product.
At many airports, you can buy perfumes and cosmetics on arrival, either Duty Free or Tax Discounted. Some airport retailers offer home delivery as well.
Airline assortments are much smaller than airports and there’s little commonality, so it’s very difficult to make meaningful comparisons. In the few cases where there is commonality, airline prices are broadly in line with airports. Some airlines also offer home delivery.
Explanatory Notes Read More
All these Duty Free prices are as of February 2020.
I reviewed 24 airports which I chose as follows:
- I started with the top 30 international airports
- Of those, I took out Paris CDG, Amsterdam Schiphol, Munich, Doha, and Shanghai, which don’t put their retail offer online.
- I also eliminated Istanbul, Taipei, Abu Dhabi, and Antalya since they don’t have much commonality of assortments with the other airports.
- I also removed Kuala Lumpur since it has a very limited beauty offer.
- I added Nice Airport to replace Paris CDG.
- I added Moscow Domodedovo, Geneva, and Sydney to represent countries which are major sources of outbound travel and which have commonality of assortments with the other airports.
- In Hong Kong, I used the downtown store of DFS, a major operator of airport and downtown Duty Free shops, since it carries a much bigger assortment than the HK Airport Shop. Its prices are also Tax Free since Hong Kong has no VAT or sales tax.