$8 Water Bottles? New York Airports Promise Fair Prices, Gouge Passengers Anyway

A passenger at New York JFK airport shared that they were charged $7.66 for a single bottle of water on Thursday at the ‘Downtown Market’ store near the airport’s gate two inside terminal 1, which houses mainly the international airline partners of Delta-led SkyTeam and United-led Star Alliance. The payment tablet at the store asks the customer to tip on top of this.

After a passenger’s story of being charging $28 plus tax and tip for beer at Newark airport by concessionaire OTG went viral, the Port Authority of New York New Jersey launched a year-long investigation to determine that this violated the airport’s ‘street pricing’ rules.

OTG, famous for making you order everything via an iPad, quickly claimed the pricing was a mistake, corrected it, but still argued that it really wasn’t such a bad deal after all because it was a big pour. Several members of Congress sprung into action for the attention.

The Port Authority, which oversees New York JFK and LaGuardia airports as well, committed to “proactive enforcement” of street pricing rules to make sure that passengers aren’t charged $28 for beer in its airports. Apparently that proactive enforcement extended to beer, but not to $8 water?

Despite lip service to enforcement, it was clear they weren’t actually going to be proactive at all, since at the time they called on passengers to tag their airports on social media when concessionaires charge exorbitant prices in the terminal.

In fact here’s what proactive enforcement by the Port Authority of New York New Jersey looks like. It made then-Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey look petty and mean, and it led to the ouster of the Chairman of United Airlines amidst a corruption scandal. But it clearly doesn’t keep commitments to customers about the price of water.

Passengers aren’t an airport’s customers, they’re the product. The Terminal One Group is a consortium of Air France, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and Lufthansa. Redevelopment is being financed by Carlyle Group and others. They take a slice of every transaction and benefit from prices that are as high as passengers are willing to pay.

While it’s common for prices to be capped at 10% more than you’d pay outside the airport, airport food is generally bad but also 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. 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.

You can bring your own bottle of water and fill it up inside the terminal. At least some terminals at New York JFK have hydration stations. I’m not confident of the cleaning and sanitization standards for most airport filling stations. I genuinely wouldn’t want to see photos of what they look like inside.

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. The tweet describes the bottle as a liter. That’s 2x larger than the more common 16.9oz/500ml water bottle, which is often $3-5 at US airports, even in low cost of living areas. In that view, $7.66 is consistent with airport pricing.

    That said, outrageous pricing is rampant across NYC, moreso than other expensive global cities. Multiple factors are at play, and we could have a full discussion later, depending on how this comment section plays out. Let me just say Biden and Democrats are not to blame.

  2. The brands of bottled water sold at airports are often Dasani or similar- ie filtered tap water, and you don’t know the cleaning and sanitation standards for those either…

  3. Yeah, in May I bought a can of coconut water at JFK, before my inter-continental flight: $5.49 + 8.875% sales tax = $5.98. Took a cellphone photo of my paper receipt as a weird souvenir.

    I’m not buying a crateload at CostCo in the suburbs, I’m at JFK where I pay full price + full tax for self-scan shopping. Yeah, the big shake-down, near-extortionate NYC.

  4. Of course the prices are crazy but I wouldn’t blame the retailer. They are no doubt paying crazy high rents and they probably have to pay staff in the neighborhood of $20 an hour.

  5. And yet, he still chose to purchase it.

    That’s not excusing the pathetic pricing.

  6. Seattle used to have ‘street pricing’ that was quite fair. About the same time they replaced most of the vendors with ‘equity-based’ chosen businesses (for instance, chasing out Seattle-institution Ivar’s for a startup), the street pricing got.forgotten.

  7. OTG has a captive audience, so they can provide the most miserable service and mediocre food for high prices, and passengers can’t do anything about it. The Port Authority cannot be bothered to do anything meaningful for change because that would require more work on their side. Basically, as passengers we have to suck it up buttercup because nothing is changing.

    One can of course choose to not connect or consume at these airports, but we know that people with a corporate credit card will go for convenience and the NYC catchment area is too big that they won’t miss a few passengers protesting.

  8. I fly 50+ flights a year… I’ve yet to get sick from years of taking an empty bottle through security to fill up with the hydration stations. At the same time saving dozens of throwaway plastic bottles every year at the same. I’ll eat either before getting to the airport or on the plane if I’m lucky enough to be in premium. Side note a litre bottle is basically 2x the size of a regular so it’s not quite like paying $7.66 for a “normal” water but yes the airport prices are horrendous. I’ve noticed the food prices are in some regards worse, $15+ for a sandwich, no thanks!

  9. Why are you worried about the filling stations? Like me, I’m sure you’re dropping by the lounge. I fill my reusable bottle with either fruited or sparkling water in the lounge and move on with my life.

  10. Typical Leff rant, heavy on outrage and random tangents, light on actual facts.

    What’s a one-liter bottle of smart water cost at a Manhattan walgreens or 7-11? Pretty close to 7 bucks i’d guess.

  11. And the prices will stay high if people support them.
    Stop buying crappy airport food.

  12. The price of bottled water in US is significantly higher in USA vs Europe or Asia. This has nothing to do with the actual cot but rather ability of population to pay. You can simply stop paying $7.99/bottle and prices will eventually come down. In airports there is typically a choice of water fountains or one can ask for a cup of water at Starbucks.
    Note that water purchased at JFK was Smart Water 1 liter. The same single water retails for ca. $2.19 at Target or $3.19 at Office Deport. Then the markup in % is comparable to that of inexpensive wine in restaurants.

  13. Many of the European airports have now allowed beverages to be carried through security.

    It is shameful that a bottle of water is 5-9$. When I asked why a soda was less, the manager at a store at AUS said that healthy drinks are intentionally more expensive that unhealthy.

    Time to regulate pricing or update technology to stop ripping off people.

    A family of 4 spending $25 for 4 waters (valued at $0.50 each) is outrageous, while trying to pay for checked bags and seat assignments.

    Since 9/11 this rip off has been a bonanza for vendors preying on passengers and airline/airport employees.

  14. The water bottle refilling stations are probably more sanitary than the old public park water fountains that used to exist in my childhood hometown of Chicago, Illinois, USA.

  15. I lived in NY state for eight years. The politicians there are notorious for talking out of both sides of their mouth and their rear end!!
    While I was there, assemblymen were charging expense accounts for the most outrageous items. Grand Petty Thieves!!

  16. The sellers should be told max 10% profit on all costs and they will be audited/ checked as they have a captive market.

    Anyone caught above that level gets thrown off the airport estate.

    Enforcement must have teeth.

  17. I got the same price at IAH airport. I returned it and got free water at starbucks instead.
    Nyc at least has a more decent salary…unlike Texas and its poverty-level minimum salary.

  18. On Nov 30 2023, I lost an AirPod bud going through security at Terminal 1. I found a Hudson News selling replacement sets, but was charged about $100 over the retail price — and for a product version that Apple no longer sells.

    Tell me again how PANYNJ has price gouging under control….

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