$28 Beer, $11 Fries, Airport Restaurants Flouting “Street Pricing” Rules To Gouge Customers

Airlines and retailers pay airports. There are facilities charges remitted by passengers as part of airline tickets (a ‘head tax’) but those are regulated by the government. As a result passengers aren’t an airport’s customers, they’re the product.

However airports in the U.S. are mostly owned by governments, and managed by politically-appointed boards. So customer outrage matters, too, and that’s why many have rules that require vendors to charge only a little more than ‘street pricing’. It’s common for prices to be capped at 10% more than you’d pay outside the airport, but that’s not always enforced – especially, it seems, by the incompetent Port Authority of New York New Jersey which manages several New York-area airports.

Take, for instance, the $27.85++ Sam Adams Summer Ale at New York LaGuardia that also incurs a 10% Covid charge that’s “not a gratuity for employees.”

When called on it the airport concessions company argued that this pricing was a ‘mistake’ but also a better value than they’re being given credit for.

An OTG spokesperson told THE CITY the prices on the beer at LaGuardia and fries at Newark were “incorrectly posted” and “quickly corrected” — to $18.15 and $8.45. One of OTG’s senior executives is Larry Schwartz, a longtime lieutenant to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Because of these posted-pricing hiccups, our in-house menu teams have been diligently working to ensure pricing across all restaurants are, in fact, rendering correctly,” said the spokesperson, Michael Marchese.

Customers who have been ‘overcharged’ will not be refunded, of course. Embarrassed by the call-out, the Port Authority has instructed companies to audit their prices to ensure compliance with street pricing rules.

However, in addition to being bad it’s not at all surprising that airport food vendors are expensive,

  • Rent is often far more expensive at the airport than anywhere else nearby. Labor costs are too, whether because of the need to find people who can pass background checks or because local laws often mandate higher minimum wages (New York airports are going to $19 in 2023). Bringing supplies and ingredients into the airport is also costly, because it involves using separate vendors and bringing goods through security. That’s the cost side.

  • Meanwhile passengers are a largely captive audience. The government forbids them from bringing liquids through the security checkpoint, “no outside beverages” isn’t just a movie theater rule it’s the law. And in many airports there’s limited competition across vendors, since so many of the businesses that have familiar names – be it Wendy’s or TGI Friday’s – are really the same management company like OTG or Delaware North licensing the brand. Customers, facing long lines and little time during connections, often don’t have much time to comparison shop in any case.

Price aside, has there ever been anything more depressing than ordering off an OTG iPad at Newark Airport CBGB’s?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Two small salads, a fruit cup, and a hummus bowl with four sodas from the fridge for my family of four cost $58+ this weekend at the “convenience store” in Terminal D of MSP this weekend.

    Convenient — for them — indeed.

  2. Flew thru JFK less than 2 weeks ago. $132 for breakfast for 3 people (basic bacon, eggs, toast) AND got hit with that 10% covid surcharge.

    Almost as bad as the $4 charge for a bag of Lay’s potato chips that’s 99 cents most any place but the TWA Hotel food hall.

  3. Vote with your feet. We owe you nothing.
    Let’s put these price gouging scumbags out of business.
    Restaurants have been complaining they can’t hire employees (hint: good employers with benefits are having NO problem)

  4. I feel bad for the people of new york and new jersey that have JFK/EWR/LGA as their home airport and have to deal with some of the worst airports in the world. No, wait, no I don’t. Bunch of suckers thinking raising taxes and regulations is actually going to improve the standard of living.

  5. Anyone ‘needing’ a $30 beer has much larger issues. Concur with the sentiment to let these price-gougers all go out of business, and soon.

  6. On the flip side, we were at PDX a while back. I sat at a bar there and had two beers (in addition to the food we had gotten at the market there for free with Priority Pass). When I got the bill it was just over $11. Without looking at more than the price, I mentioned to the bartender that she seemed to have missed adding one of the beers. She said, “no, that’s both. Street pricing.”

    Cheers.

  7. So the cost of the $18.15 beer really means $24.15 when you include the Covid surcharge, 8% sales tax and 15% gratuity.

    next, TSA will be instructed to halt all outside food through the checkpoints becasue its “not safe.”

  8. They only get away with it because 95% of American’s are lazy ignorant selfish morons who can’t be bothered to make the personal sacrifice of eating before they get to the airport until the vendors change their ways. Same goes for the completely nonsensical and idiotic ban on liquids that has no basis in reality for improving the security of air travel, like pretty much everything the TSA does. Same goes for the airlines and their atrocious treatment of passengers and their employees. If American’s would stop being such selfish lazy people, they could change all of these things in short order. Unfortunately asking the typical american to sacrifice even the smallest amount is a massive waste of time because despite the fact it will benefit them in the long run, there is nothing in it for them now…..so why should they bother.

  9. I have walked by the EWR airport locations recently and they are always busy enough and people are drinking beer. If you are willingly paying $30 for beer, they will charge you. And if your company reimburses you, you dont care. So who really is the moron here?

  10. Not a bad idea to price gouge alcohol at the airport. It’ll deter passengers from getting “overserved” before boarding their flights……

  11. Airport parking is completely fair priced compared to normal parking in major metro areas. The food in this post is worthy of all executives involved going to hell.

  12. At a restaurant at EWR a few years ago everyone was just standing around, doing nothing. Their iPad ordering system was down. I was talking to the waitress and the chef and I asked if I could just order a meal while they tried to reboot it. Nope. If the system is down they aren’t even allowed to take an order. So that was that — no meals that night.

  13. In the final “Bar Wars” episode of Cheers, Sam tries to sabotage Gary by changing Gary’s Old Town Tavern’s 50-cent-beers St Patricks Day sign to $5.

    Norm later reports that Gary is making a killing on St Paddy’s day: “What do you expect, the guy’s charging five bucks for a beer…”

    Somebody needs to call Harry the Hat on the NYC airports…

  14. “our in-house menu teams”???

    How big is this company to hsve menu TEAMS that still screws up the pricing!

    Free enterprise system is back in action again after taking all these government handouts!

  15. @Don – the new LGA is amazing, and is probably 5x nicer than whatever rural southern EAS airport you fly out of

  16. @RJB IF there is a mandatory surcharge that too is also subject to sales tax. This is he same when there is a min 18% surcharge on parties of 6 or more since the surcharge goes to the house and the customer CAN NOT change the amount NOR designate which waitstaff gets the tip.

    @Arthur. Lounge access cost $700 per person a year with SO then that can be worth it to get free booze and food for a year.

  17. LOL. Just flew into EWR with ~3 hours to kill until the train home. Starbucks was $8, bottled water was $3.5 and a small — small — cup of lemonade was $6. Husband was starving, so we got a “rice bowl” from the Mexican place for $16. Seriously considered trying to get uber eats delivered to the terminal.

  18. @gary having personal experience, the rent is actually not higher than outside of airports. They are more often than not straight percentage rent deals, which at the volumes that they can do, works out to the operators advantage.

  19. It absolutely is “street pricing!” Their local comparison at LGA is Citi Field and at Newark it’s MetLife Stadium… 😀

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