China’s duty free shops are actually good value, does anywhere else top them?

Duty free shops are an impressive feat of convincing people to overpay for items by creating a perception of value and urgency for items often otherwise available for better prices and at more convenience.

No one says ‘duty free’ means ‘good price.’ Mark-ups seem to more than compensate for any tax alleviation.

Heading out of Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) this morning I was reminded of years shuttling between China and the US where friends lined up for me to sate their appetites at China prices, regardless of airport. I would then land in Tokyo Narita and seee significantly higher prices for the same items. To this day I have not seen any duty free shops in other countries come close.

Sunrise Duty Free PVG

I am not much of a drinker and never a smoker, so picked some well-known brands to give sample prices (c0nverted to USD), all are cartons or the standard bottles, generally the variations are the same or similar price:

Gauloises Blondes: $15.34

Marlboro: $18.24

Sobranie Black Russians: $29.55

Johnny Walker Black: $31.97

Baileys: $21.31

Absolute Vodka: $19.86

I am not with the times, the prices seem to have not gone up much in several years so I think they are probably still good value.

Readers, are China’s duty free shops worth your spend? Any other countries better?

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  • PedroNY

    1L or 750ml bottles? If 1L, then it seems reasonable.



  • eagertraveler

    absolut is a decent price for 1 litre

  • Shannon

    I am willing to pay a little bit more at other airports like NRT. I don’t feel comfortably to support a country that treat her own people and environment so badly. I understand Shanghai might be a paradise for international business executives…but also this is the same place with 16000+ dead pigs in the Huangpu River and people have to wear mask on the street to fight for PM 2.5. China also keeps sending people to the labor camps. Not sure if you are aware this update behind the Great Firewall… Finally, my mom always say “buy cheap, buy twice”.

  • Mike

    I fear for fakes.

  • Mike

    DEL is comparable. It has amazing cigarettes prizes and also for (some) alcohol. Tea and sweets are actually cheaper than outside the airport and European sweets are about half prices in Germany.

  • @PedroNY – those were all 1L, I guess I only am used to seeing them in airports so assumed 1L is the normal size.

  • @Shannon – those are excellent points. I lived in China for 8 years, from student to unpaid intern to full-time job and I am even more conflicted about the country and its government than ever. The achievements of the past 3 decades in lifting people out of poverty, in health, education, economy have been on a scale unparalleled in human history for speed and scope. Much of that has been aided by interaction and trade with the wider world. On the other side are the tremendous injustices committed by the government and associated entities, despoiled environment, corruption, etc that ruin and hurt many lives. In those areas, engagement by the outside world has produced much less effect.

    China is a very difficult market for international businesses, some executives do party though it is not the hedonistic orgy of some more open locales. For me, it was great to spend time with family and friends.

  • RestlessLocationSyndrome

    From what I’ve see for US residents, alcohol is never worthit but cigarettes are. The case may be different for places that have high taxes/duties on alcohol.

  • Big Al

    Grand Cayman I think had Absolut for $12… Crazy cheap

  • DaninSTL

    The worst duty free shopping I see is either US domestic airports or cruise ships, however….cigarettes are always cheaper than street prices in countries like the US that have high taxes. Doesn’t help me much since I don’t smoke however.

  • nagarajan

    Bit scary ..the repute the country carries and the image there of.