Captive Audience: Which US Airports Charge the Most for a Beer?

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The holiday travel season is upon us. But instead of visions of sugar plums and elves in our heads, it’s the certainty of flight delays and cancellations to come.

Americans head home for Thanksgiving this week, kicking off what will be one of the busiest holiday travel seasons in years. From now until January, airports will be filled with travelers looking to kill time before boarding, during flight delays and during long layovers.

Many of us will find ourselves spending hours in airport bars and restaurants sipping alcoholic beverages over a beer. You can even have a beer and bet on which airline and airport will cancel the most flights. But how much will that cold beer cost you?

Researchers at personal financial advice consultancy FinanceBuzz dug into data from the 50 busiest U.S. airports to discover which airports have the most affordable brews — and the fewest. They found that the average price for a beer at America’s 50 busiest airports is $7.42. The pricing details are for a regular size “domestic macrobrew”, a draft, can or bottle of Budweiser, Coors or Miller, not a fancy IPA. The hardworking researchers checked the prices of at least three bars or restaurants per airport.

Unfortunately, we can’t yet book flights based on the beer price at the airport, but it’s good to know where you stand.

New York’s LaGuardia (LGA) has the most expensive beer prices of any airport, with a regular domestic beer costing $12.33. (Someone has to pay for all those renovations.) A beer at LaGuardia costs 30% more than the second most expensive location on the list, Detroit Metro Airport (DTW). A beer at the Motor City airport costs $9.36.

The three airports serving New York City (LGA, JFK, EWR) are among the five most expensive to drown your sorrows. A brew at Newark costs an average of $9.31, while a beer at JFK costs “only” $8.80.

“Beer can bring in huge amounts of money for airport bars and restaurants, so it’s no surprise that most airports find high prices. In most cases, cities with a reputation for being expensive, such as New York, saw high beer prices at the airport,” said Chris Lewis, Director of Digital PR for FinanceBuzz. “Most people who visit cities like New York understand that it won’t be a cheap trip, so they also need to realize that those high prices don’t stop when they get to the airport.”

This also applies if you are waiting for a flight from Harry Reid International Airport (LAS). Even if you’ve had a lost weekend at the tables or the slot machines, Las Vegas will still take a bite out of you. At $8.86, Las Vegas is the fourth most expensive US airport to buy a beer at.

Texas, where thousands of Californians are moving for greater affordability (the median home price in California was $893,000 in June 2022) is not immune to high costs. At Dallas Love Field (DAL) and Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW), beer prices are $8.32 and $8.30, respectively.

On the bright side, you can take a break in smaller US cities. Portland International (PDX) has the cheapest beer among major US airports ($4.33). Despite its dry reputation, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) not only sells beer, but won’t break your bank for $5.00 for a brew. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) in North Carolina follow with $5.32 and $5.50, respectively.

You can also affordably get the party started – or ended – in a few party city airports. The Music City, Nashville, Tennessee, (BNA) is said to be a destination for bachelorette parties. Be that as it may, BNA only charges $5.83 for an airport beer, the sixth lowest on the list. Fittingly, the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, (MSY), has the seventh most affordable airport beer price ($6.08).

So how can you beat the high cost of airport drinks? You could wait until you get on the plane; Airlines have started serving drinks again. Customers of the Southwest Rapid Reward program, for example, are very attached to loosening their free drink coupons.

Or if you travel more, it might be time to get a travel-oriented credit card. “Many travel credit cards also offer convenient perks, such as airport lounge access,” says FinanceBuzz Travel & Credit Card expert Ben Walker. “You can easily avoid high beer prices if you have access to a lounge that serves free alcohol.”

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