Feature Hitting the airport stores just before you fly home has to be the ultimate example of Christmas gift-buying procrastination, but with so many bargains available, it may not be such a bad idea.
Doing your duty
Normally last-minute Christmas shopping is risky at best. But for those going home through Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the duty-free outlets in these airports offer a diverse, albeit exhausting, one-stop option. At this time of year, even with a credit crunch, retailers are almost as giddy as the children bounding down the aisles. "Now with Terminal 3 having opened in October we're seeing even more profits," says Chester Pinto, the manager of Dubai Airport Duty Free who added that the holiday season has been good to the business, helping it to meet its annual target of Dh3.67 million. "This holiday season starts in October and goes on until the end of December. We have Eid, Christmas ? lots of shoppers," he adds. Last Saturday, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary with a 25 per cent discount on products throughout the store. The shop was transformed into a sea of Santa-hatted salespeople and travellers pushing at least three times their bodyweight in luggage through the brightly lit aisles - grabbing discounted products off the shelves along the way. One woman had come from Sharjah with her 22-year-old daughter, to take advantage of the sales in what she says has become an annual tradition. "I'm shopping for myself," Fatima says with a wink. "Perfume, make-up, food. Maybe I'll buy some clothes next." Her daughter made her way through the Vera Wang perfume collection, throwing boxes and bottles into her mother's cart. After quickly exhausting this section, the pair headed off down the aisle in search of more bargains. Last-minute shopping is never for the faint of heart, especially in an airport. Not everyone enjoys buying gifts with the last call for boarding blaring out of the airport PA system. However, while duty-free may be the last-chance saloon of gift buying, there is still plenty of great shopping to be had. Here is the best of the bunch?
While not exactly something for anyone inclined to subtlety, one style in Rolex's Datejust range is particularly striking, with an eye-catching blue dial, standard numerals and an Oyster bracelet. Available at Dh18,470 for men and Dh17,500 for women - this is just the ticket if you are interested in fooling your friends and loved ones into thinking that the economic crisis has had no effect on the UAE yet. It may not be sunny and warm in whatever city you are heading back to, but, rest assured, sunglasses will always be a necessity in the UAE. At Dh1,090, Christian Dior's black-plastic-framed shades for men with polarised lenses have been flying off shelves since October. Also wildly popular are Dior's metal-framed sunglasses for women with light grey plastic lenses, available for Dh1,045. A new digital SLR camera may not be the cheapest gift for the budding David Bailey in your family. But, as most photographers are gadget-obsessed people, the Nikon D700 DSLR, costing Dh13,999, is a sure-fire winner. With a maximum continuous shooting speed of eight frames per second and two new live-view modes that allow shooting while watching the subject in the LCD monitor, it will take a while before the recipient of this gift loses interest.
While Abu Dhabi's airport doesn't have quite the same reputation for glitzy, gold-scattered duty free as Dubai, its smaller shopping area is ideal for last-minute shopping. There's a lot to be said for a limited choice, when you only have half an hour before boarding and the myriad shops in larger airports have left you suffering from terminal indecision. Small or not, there are still some excellent high-end bargains to be had. A recent trawl uncovered a rather glamorous little brown bowling bag at Bally that was reduced from Dh4,260 to Dh3,515 - the label's excellent craftsmanship and classic style make this a very good investment purchase. Other fashion-savvy purchases included a black leather bag from Givenchy reduced by 30 per cent, from Dh2,740 to Dh1,729 and watches from Cartier, Rolex and Omega all reduced by 10 per cent. Cosmetics and perfumes are the bread and butter of Duty Free, which means that it's the best place to stock up, but there are always good gifts to be found in this area too, with limited editions and airport specials that look far more expensive than they actually are. Current bargains a set of Yves Saint Laurent's Touche Eclat (the make-up item no woman should be without) and Touche Brilliance (the lip equivalent) for Dh150 - that's less than the cost of Touche Eclat on its own.
One of the main problems with airport shopping, though, is carrying it around. But even that can be avoided if you buy on the plane. Etihad, for example, sells an extensive selection of perfumes, toys, jewellery and gifts in its online catalogue, while the Emirates High Street onboard catalogue is superlative. Taking careful aim at its wealthier demographic, the Emirates catalogue is all about extraordinary experiences and fine objects. For example, a one-day golf experience for three people, with the legendary pro Gary Player, at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, including a private lesson with the man himself, 18 holes of golf and dinner, costs Dh1,212,090. It may seem implausible that, halfway through a long-haul flight, you will impulsively buy a Frauscher 909 Benaco motor yacht - a snip at Dh1,652,850 - or a personal submarine for Dh697,870, but one can dream. And it's not as though you have to carry it home. Emirates will organise delivery to 60 countries. Needless to say, these high-end duty-free offerings are not about saving money, and whether their extravagance is recession-proof remains to be seen. But the theory that, in an economic downturn, people buy less but better seems to be holding true. More realistically, if you want to buy the archetypal fine fountain pen it would be the Montblanc Meisterstück 149, and here it goes for 178,100 miles (frequent flyers only, alas). Similarly, when thinking of buying a coffee maker, the one item available here is the Siemens Porsche Design Coffee Machine, one of the best on the market, and the top seller in the collection at Dh793.
Singapore Changi International With a Balinese swimming pool, spa and cinema among its attractions, it can be hard to fit in the shopping at Singapore, but it's definitely worth it: fashion, electronics, jewellery and cosmetics are all well represented, with Kiehl's, Tiffany, Bottega Veneta, Fendi and lots more. More to the point, Singapore claims to have the cheapest duty-free in the world, so you're guaranteed a bargain. Hong Kong International As a duty-free port Hong Kong offers bargains outside the terminal, but for those who are only passing through, the airport offers a selection that would be superb in a normal mall. Terminal 1 is packed with designer fashion and jewellery, from Celine, Loewe, Prada and Chanel to the more exotic Shanghai Tang, while Terminal 2 has a less spectacular but more approachable selection of high-street clothes, gifts and local crafts. The prices are good, if not exceptional, but the selection is peerless. London Heathrow Terminal 3 Perfectly targeting the passengers of Terminal 3's upmarket long-haul destinations, the shopping here is - for those with money to burn - exceptional. Although all the airport regulars, such as Chanel and Hermès, are there, the best shopping to be had is from those classic English brands such as Smythson of Bond Street, Jo Malone and, of course, Harrods. The weak pound and some desperation discounts mean that some excellent deals can be found. Rome Fiumicino Airport Most people heading to Italy have shopping in mind, but the sheer brilliance of the art and architecture can leave little time for browsing. Luckily Rome's duty-free area, while not enormous, has a choice collection of fine Italian brands, including Loro Piana, Furla and the men's tailors Boggi Milano, not to mention all sorts of beautiful leather goods and some fine delicatessens. Quality not quantity, that's what we say. Paris Charles de Gaulle As you'd expect from one of the most glamorous cities in the world, Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport - sprawling and hard to navigate though it is is a haven of luxury and high-street shopping. Even better, at @email:www.aeroportsdeparis.fr you can check out some of the exquisite goods in advance - together with comparative price information. Top pick is the Colette for Aeroports de Paris range at Beauty Unlimited and the archetypal Parisian department store Printemps, at Terminal 1.