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Guide to Airport Drinking

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Part of preparing for vacation includes not only developing an extensive list of yelp-reviewed-and-approved places categorized by location and price for the conception and gestation of your souvenir food baby, but any experienced gastro-tourist should also be sure to include a line item in that Excel file specifically for beverages. (Yes, it is totally normal to create a color-coded spreadsheet for leisure activities.) Average per drink cost will vary depending on your destination, but there’s one place where you can bet you’ll pay over-market price for booze: the airport. But since vacation starts as soon as you breeze sweatily away from that TSA checkpoint, here’s some tips to imbibing richly with a modest budget.

Before You Go:

Besides an extra pair of clothes, be sure to stash a few miniature bottles in your carry-on — sized under the TSA approved 3 oz., of course. Pack as many mini vodka bottles as your quart-sized zip lock bag can handle and party on, Wayne.

HOWEVER, any quick Google search can tell you that while your bag-o-booze can make it through the checkpoint no questions asked, it is actually against federal law for you to consume said beverages on a plane. So unless you love the thrill of thwarting a possible $3000 to $5000 fine if caught by your flight attendant, maybe skip the traveling mini bar and find a cheaper (and significantly less illegal) path to intoxication at some terminal options.

In the Terminal:


You may be under the misconception that you’ll spend more money at an airport bar than you would at one of the many crowded, overpriced and generic restaurants that line the terminals. Don’t be fooled — once you’re halfway through that Applebee’s Perfect Margarita, you’ll be elbow deep in those $22 Baby Back Ribs faster than you can say “barbecue sauce.” Airport bars seldom have food, which is really just an obstacle that stands in the way of you and your rightful buzz anyway.

And while you perch on that barstool knowing that under normal circumstances you’d never pay $13 for a well gin and tonic, the tantalizing glow of vacation has blinded you to the absurdity of paying the price of a pint for a single glass. Avoid the cost of two drinks and all that unnecessary sugary tonic and bring on what you really came here for. Maximize your purchase by upgrading to the double, while simultaneously shelling out half of what you’d pay for two identical G&T’s.

That being said, avoid cocktails entirely — stick with booze straight up, neat or with a single mixer. Not only will you save a few bucks in the process, the bartender (who is already miserable because they WORK IN THE AIRPORT) will appreciate your low-maintenance approach.

Traveling with friends or just stuck with a really long layover? The biggest pro-tip to drinking at an airport bar is to just order the entire bottle. Most bottles of wine will run you $10/glass, but you can find an entire bottle (easily 5 glasses) for around $40. Treating the airport bar like it’s your own personal champagne room is optional.


If you’d rather skip the bar chit-chat and standard 15% tip, opt for picking up your adult beverage from a grab-and-go kiosk. Your options will be limited to beer or wine, but don’t be picky. You can usually save a dollar or two per beverage (which will still run you about $6 a pop) and enjoy it in your gate, so you can make sure you’re the first person standing in the boarding line that won’t move for another 15 minutes.

Airline Lounges

If you’re looking at a considerable layover (6+ hours), the bougiest option to get your airport drank on may lie inside an airline lounge. If you’re a frequent traveler, feel free to shell out the $450 – $600 yearly membership fee for access to free wi-fi, snacks, a reprieve from all those slow walkers and, of course, complimentary alcohol. Or you can opt for Delta’s Day Pass ($59) and post up by the self-serve bar until you have to stumble to your terminal. If you’re in need of sobering up before the gate agent has to ask you ONE. MORE. TIME. to have a seat until the plane has been properly deboarded and cleaned, some lounges even come equipped with shower stalls in their private restrooms.

In Air

Congratulations! You’ve managed to maintain your sobriety (or at least the appearance of it) long enough to have your carry-on safely stored in an overhead bin, your seat belt fastened and safety demonstration thoroughly ignored. If you’re lucky enough to be flying internationally, most airlines offer passengers a complimentary alcoholic beverage. And while the allotment of beverages per person is usually one, getting in good with your flight attendant by offering her some high-end chocolate (I hear it’s less seedy than tipping with cash money.) never hurts.

Maximize alcohol by volume

While onboard, most alcohol is lumped into the same budgetary category, so if you’re torn between a Sam Adams and a Screwdriver, choose the latter for higher octane drink for the same cost. Or if drinking from a miniature plastic wine bottle is more your style, opt for red wines over white, as their alcohol content is usually slightly higher.

Obtain an airline credit card

If you’re lucky enough to have a credit card operated by the airline of your choice, you’re usually entitled to a discount for in-flight purchases.

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