(Photos and video by Beth Hollerich)
Duty-free stores are a staple of airports around the world, places for international travelers to buy products without worrying about excise taxes and other surcharges that vary from country to country.
But behind every shop is a strategy on what to sell, tailored closely to where the airport’s international flights are headed.
“We looked at passengers from seven different countries and we identified the top products that they purchase,” said Kim Kitko, vice president of business development at Pittsburgh International Airport.
For example, passengers from the U.K. seem to like tobacco products – specifically, Marlboro and Benson & Hedges – as well as fragrances like Dior, Clarins and Bvlgari. Canadians, who account for nearly half of the international travelers at PIT, love Grey Goose vodka and Crown Royal whiskey. Chinese passengers go for cosmetics first, such as Lancome and Estee Lauder.
In some airports, the duty-free stores are in areas accessible only to people flying to or from other nations. But at PIT, a new 3,500-square-foot store in the Center Core. dubbed The Galleria Duty Free/Duty Paid, opens this week for everyone.
“We wanted it in the Center Core to emphasize our focus on the international market and the growth opportunities there,” Kitko said. “But we also wanted this great product offering available to all domestic passengers as well.”
So can domestic travelers and visitors take advantage of the duty-free merchandise? Well, sort of.
PIT’s store sells four items that often come with high taxes in the U.S. and around the world: alcohol, tobacco, candy and perfume. (Shoppers can also find travel accessories there.)
Domestic travelers can purchase candy and perfume from the store, but they will still pay the same taxes they would anywhere else in southwestern Pennsylvania. However, PIT’s street-pricing rules still apply, meaning the retail cost is the same as anywhere else in the area. Domestic travelers cannot purchase alcohol or tobacco.
International travelers can purchase anything in the store without worrying about local taxes.
The different rules mean that store employees have to scan every customer’s boarding pass. The register identifies travelers’ travel status, computes if they can buy the product, and if so, how much they have to pay.
People who have no boarding passes – such as airport employees or visitors using the myPITpass program – are treated the same as domestic travelers.
One complicating factor for international travelers: If you have connecting flights but buy alcohol at PIT’s Duty-Free Store, you are not allowed to open that bottle or pack of cigarettes until you reach your final destination and show it to customs agents.
Whatever you buy, the clerks at Duty-Free will put in a sealed bag and deliver it to your departure gate. If you open it at the gate or onboard, airline staff will confiscate your purchase, empty the liquor or perfume and throw out your candy or tobacco. Your goods will meet the same fate if you show up at your final destination and a customs agent sees that you’ve opened the bag or its contents.
Another quirk of the Duty-Free Store: Liquor is sold on the metric system. Most American liquor stores carry “fifths,” which are 25.6 fluid ounces, equal to three-quarters of a liter; or half-gallon bottles, which are 59.2 fluid ounces, equivalent to 1.75 liters.
The Duty-Free Store sells liter bottles, which hold about 33.8 ounces of liquor.
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