Answered: Are Duty-Free Alcohol & Cigarettes on a Cruise Really a Deal?

If you’ve never taken a cruise before, then you might be surprised at how much duty-free shopping there is for passengers.

Your ship will have a duty-free shop where you can buy all sorts of goodies like alcohol and cigarettes or perfume and expensive watches. That’s just the start. When you hit the port, you’re going to see more duty-free shopping. In fact, some ports even make passengers walk through the shops when you exit the ship.

If you’re a drinker or a smoker, seeing all those bottles and cartons can make it tempting to splurge. After all, if they are sold in a duty-free shop, they have to be a good deal, right?

We recently did some research into that question. Here’s what we found…

Understanding What Duty-Free Shopping Means

If you’re not familiar with what exactly duty-free shopping is, don’t worry. It’s a little confusing at first. Basically, countries and states place taxes on good for sale. Usually, this includes higher taxes on vices like cigarettes and alcohol.

But special areas like cruise ships, airports, and international piers can get around these taxes (also know as duty). Since people shopping in these spaces will be taking whatever they buy out of the county, duty-free shops are given special permission to sell their good with no taxes added. That means they can sell their goods for supposedly cheaper than you can get back home.

Not all duty-free shops have the same prices, just like no two stores have the same prices. So while what you pay may vary from shop to shop, they should all have lower prices than what you’d normally pay back home.

So how much are the savings?

How Much You Can Save on Alcohol

Here are some recent photos taken of the duty-free shop aboard a Carnival ship. They give you an idea of the kind of prices you’ll pay and how much savings you’ll see versus buying cigarettes and alcohol back home. Keep in mind that you often get considerable discounts buying multiple bottles versus just one.

duty-free alcohol
Bottles of Jim Beam and Absolut were priced 2 for $30

In this shop, we found a mix-and-match deal of Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and assorted Absolut flavors priced at two bottles for $30. In addition, these were one liter bottles instead of the 750 ml bottles normally sold at liquor stores. So you actually get 33% in these bottles versus what you’d buy back home.

But is 2 for $30 a good deal?

Compare those prices to what we found for some liquor stores online. The same brands, but in the smaller 750 ml bottles, run between $14-18. So you’re paying about the same amount but getting a larger bottle. Turns out, it’s a pretty good deal.

Duty-free alcohol prices
These online prices show that duty-free shopping is a decent deal.

What about other spirits?

The Carnival duty-free shop also had bottles of Bacardi rum and Fireball whiskey priced at 4 for $40, or $10 each. Once again, these were in one liter bottles.

Duty-free alcohol
These bottles, including Bacardi rum, were priced 4 for $40.

Turns out you are saving here as well. Bottles of Bacardi and Fireball run about $12-14 for 750 ml, which translates to around $16-18 if you were to find a one liter bottle. In other words, you are saving about $6-8 a bottle.

Note: This is just a sample of options. Most major brands of alcohol were available for sale, including rums, tequilas, vodka, Hennessy, and much more.

Savings on Cigarettes in a Duty-Free Shop

In addition to alcohol, cigarettes are a big seller in duty-free shopping on a cruise ship. Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to get a handle on how great of a deal the ship’s pricing is because taxes vary so much on cigarettes from state to state. How much you save will depend on where you live. According to FairReporters.net, the average price of a pack of cigarettes is $5.51. However, that price varies from a low of $5.25 in Virginia to $12.85 in New York.

Duty-free shops are much cheaper. For example, cartons of Marlboros run 2 for $66, or $37 if you only buy one carton. With each carton holding 10 packs, that means a pack of Marlboros can cost as little as $3.30. That’s huge savings over the cost of cigarettes on land.

Other brands were also available. Pall Malls cost $23 per carton. Newports ran $45 per carton.

Duty-free cigarette prices
Marlboro ran 2 for $66. Pall Mall was prices at $23 per carton, and Newport & Camel cost $45.

Final Advice: Watch for Import Taxes

It’s pretty clear that you can save some decent cash by shopping duty free on a cruise. But before you decide to go wild in the duty-free shops, keep in mind that some homeports don’t let you get back home without taking their cut.

For example, Galveston, Texas has a policy of charging import taxes on any alcohol or cigarettes that you bring back. The rate varies with what you bring, but is $3.75 for a liter of liquor and $1.50 per pack (not carton) of cigarettes. These extra taxes can bite into any potential savings you might get from shopping in a duty-free store.

Thankfully, most ports don’t have this sort of policy, allowing you to save some cash while getting your favorite adult beverages abroad.

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