“It’s not a bargain if it’s not what you want,” my husband said as buyers remorse rushed over me for not purchasing a duty-free Hermes handbag I’d seen at the Istanbul Airport. By the time I realized how much less I’d pay for it in Istanbul versus California, we had already cleared the gate security check for our flight to London and it would have been a pain to exit and walk back to the duty-free shopping area.

Buying Hermes in Istanbul was something I’d wanted to investigate while there but our sightseeing focused on the peninsula around the historic sites and not on the side with luxury malls.

I prefer to purchase handbags overseas like both Louis Vuitton and Goyard in Paris. In addition to VAT refunds and exchange rate advantages, I enjoy the sentimental value of knowing they were purchased while on vacation rather than a department store at home.

Luxury Goods for Less in Istanbul

I’d read that the Turkish Lira exchange rate to the euro plus applicable VAT refunds meant that luxury brands can be less expensive in Turkey than in Paris or elsewhere in the EU. While I don’t think this was the case during our 2020 visit, these same luxury brands are significantly more expensive in the United States no matter where I purchase in Europe.

The beautiful new international departures terminal at Istanbul Airport (IST) is full of duty-free shopping from Turkish delight to cosmetics, to a wide variety of luxury brands. A handful of brands that I saw include Moncler, Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and, of course, Hermes. While the shiny new airline lounges are fantastic, avid shoppers may want to give them a skip for some retail therapy. I wish I had more time to explore.

Short on time before our flight and in the market for a Hermes handbag, I headed into the Hermes store. It’s not a big store, so the selection of shoes, jewelry, clothes, scarves, and small leather goods was good but not robust. I saw about five different types of handbags (a stunning black Garden Party also), but was looking for an Evelyne III 29.

Duty-Free Hermes Handbag Math

One display was an Aline Mini Bag that I’d considered in the past though in a different color. The airport Hermes shop stocked it in blue, green, and pink for a price of EUR 1200 (all items in the store were priced in euro and not Lira). With my husband and daughter waiting (impatiently) outside, I decided against it in a rush and left.

But then, I did the math. 

At a current USD to EUR exchange rate of 1.12, the bag would have cost USD 1344, all in. In the United States, the current price for the same Hermes handbag is USD 1875 plus state sales tax which in my case is 7.75%.

USD 1875 + USD 145.21 (7.75% CA sales tax) = USD 2020.21

USD 2020.21 – USD 1344 (EUR 1200) = USD 676.21 savings

I would have paid USD 676.21 less for the Hermes Aline Mini Bag in the Istanbul Airport than I would at the Hermes store in San Diego. Hopefully, you won’t make the same mistake if you’re looking for a Hermes handbag.

I also stopped into the duty-free Hermes store at Heathrow Terminal 5 since we were also flying from London to San Diego. While there were no handbags on display, Americans can still save significantly on the purchases of small leather goods, shoes, and jewelry though not as much as within the EU or Turkey. I didn’t memorize pricing but Oran sandals were about USD 100 less at the Heathrow duty-free shop than in San Diego.

Last Minute Duty-Free Shopping Thoughts

We’re always in a rush at the airport or perhaps tired and not thinking clearly. When duty-free shopping it pays, perhaps literally, to know your exchange rate and the price at home of the item you’re after so that you can punch in a quick calculation while in the store to estimate savings.

It’s risky to wait for your airport departure (due to limited inventory in airport stores) to make a purchase but the beauty of duty-free at the airport is that there is no need to process a VAT refund because prices are already calculated without VAT. As you may know, when claiming a VAT refund on an in-town purchase, there is a small processing fee subtracted from your VAT refund.

You’ll also need to declare items in your home country that have a value greater than your customs allowance. Be sure to know what your limitations and declare if necessary as, at least for U.S. citizens, it’s not at all worth risking the loss of Global Entry for a handbag.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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