Low-quality T-shirts, key chains and shot glasses emblazoned with slogans from your hometown are a sure-fire giveaway that your holiday shopping was a last-minute gift-grab at the airport newsstand.
If you’re heading to the airport this holiday season with that same routine in mind, do your friends and family a favor: Once you get past the security checkpoint, look around.
Shopping is easier than ever, and airports offer kiosks and shops that offer presents far more desireable than previous years.
Early flight or late-night red-eye? No problem. Most airport shops keep travelers’ hours.
Worried about price-gouging? Don’t be — many airports have a street pricing policy, which means items for sale inside the terminal must cost no more than they do at the mall.
Been too busy to shop? We have you covered. Here are some fun, locally-themed airport items:
Any holiday tree surely has room for one more ornament. At New York’s JFK Airport, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Shop in Terminal has New York City-themed ornaments, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, New York taxi cabs and Rockefeller Center. Plus, travelers can buy one and get another (of equal or lesser value) for half-price.
Shops in Central Terminal B at New York’s LaGuardia Airport include Discover NY and InMotion Entertainment and all but a few retail outlets (and restaurants) there are honoring the universal 20 percent off coupon available on the Food & Shops website.
At Phoenix Sky Harbor International, fliers can purchase area-appropriate gifts such as Arizona Prickly Pear chocolate bars and taffy or bundles of holiday tamales (both El Bravo and Sir Veza’s Taco Garage offer them) that are cooked, packaged, frozen and ready for travel.
Full bottles of wine don’t make the cut at airport checkpoints these days, but Vino Volo has 14 post-security branches with retail sections offering quality local and national selections. The branch at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, for example, has several wines in stock made and only marketed in Michigan. Rather bring chocolate? Gayle’s Chocolate based in nearby Royal Oak, sells chocolate Model Ts, Corvettes and other car models, as well as chocolate motorcycles (prices vary from $16 to $45) at Detroit Metro Airport as well.
Travelers flying south from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska can pick up reindeer meat jerky ($10.05/12 ounces) at Moosellanous or stop by Alaska Luggage and Seafood to get halibut, salmon, shrimp crab or scallops packed for travel in carry-on boxes. A branch of Silver Gulch, a brewery near Fairbanks, opened at the airport this month and offers growlers ($10-$14) and six-packs of Epicenter (named in honor of the 1964 earthquake) and other beers to go.
In Oregon — where there’s no sales tax — even locals with no flight plans head to Portland International to shop on the pretty, pre-security, indoor street filled with branches of name-brand local shops. The Pendleton shop has roll-up motor robes with nice leather carrying straps ($88) and the Made in Oregon store stocks conversation-starter T-shirts and caps that say “Keep Oregon Weird” (under $20).
Genuine alligator heads and claws ($12.95-$34.95) as well as locally-made, hand-rolled cigars ($8.95) are popular items at the Gifts to Go stores at Miami International Airport while, up north, the AMERICA! stores in Newark Liberty, Dulles and Reagan National airports stock Commander-in-Chief hats, jackets, cufflinks, pens and other items as well as many First Lady-themed gifts.
And if you are one of the last-LAST-minute shoppers who find yourself seated on your plane but still without gifts, there’s one last-gasp option: buying gifts on the plane. In-flight Wi-Fi usually provides access to shopping sites — even for travelers who don’t pay for Internet access.
In other words, if you’re flying Christmas Eve, you can buy gift cards and other e-deliverable items that should arrive just about the time Santa and his reindeer head back to the North Pole.
(My story about holiday shopping at the airport first appeared on NBC News Travel)