Periodically when buying something from an airport shop (in various European terminals), I'll be asked to produce my boarding card to be scanned by staff.

It's not 100% of the time for every purchase, but there doesn't seem to be any logic to it (e.g. type of item bought, total purchase value, etc.). It also seems never to happen within restaurants or bars, just shops.

Is it random selection? & is this a security process or a marketing initiative? Can you opt-out?

EDIT: Just to clarify that in any instance I've experience personally, it has been flights internal to the EU and not related to restricted products like cigarettes or alcohol

  • 1
    Probably tax-related in some way. May 5, 2015 at 17:32
  • 2
    Is this at airports where flights go to both EU and non-EU destinations? If so, they probably want to know if they'll be charging you VAT or not
    – Gagravarr
    May 5, 2015 at 18:13
  • 1
    There's a long discussion on flyertalk, which has the answer in there mixed amongst lots of unrelated and side discussions...
    – Gagravarr
    May 6, 2015 at 5:12
  • Probably related to taxes. I guess the boarding pass is considered evidence that you are not going to simply leave the airport with the purchased item. This also explains why you haven't been asked to show it when purchasing food which you are going to consume before leaving the airport. One doesn't have to posses a boarding card in order to be inside the secured area. You could be there because you came on a plane arriving at that airport. Or you could even be let in for reasons not related to you flying.
    – kasperd
    May 6, 2015 at 11:41
  • 2
    A related news: independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/…
    – Him
    Aug 9, 2015 at 1:27

6 Answers 6


I don't find any relevant EU regulation at the moment and the practice may even be based on national law, but the purpose is to determine if the purchase is subject to VAT or other taxes.

At least in Germany, purchases from shops in international airport terminals are not subject to VAT if the customer is a foreigner (not German citizen) and is bringing the items to a destination outside the EU (UStG § 6 Abs. 1 Nr. 2). Hence in Germany, the shops usually ask for both passport or id and the boarding card.

Restaurants and bars usually don't care, since their products are intended for immediate consumption (not for export) and hence are subject to VAT even if you e.g. are a foreigner and intend to travel outside the EU.


In the Dutch airport shops there is the rule that only outbound passengers may buy goods in the 'duty free' shops. They are not really duty free anymore but the rule still stands. All outgoing passengers are allowed to buy, so it is not nationality nor destination.

I guess that those airports where they do not have that restriction use the boarding cards as marketing tool, that is the only rule I see.

You can buy food in airport restaurants as incoming and outgoing passenger, so they do not need to ask for boarding cards. I have never tried to buy a bottled drink or a small snack as incoming passenger, but on some airports they even ask for your boarding card for those.


I am not sure how universal the VAT argument is, as this process is applied at Dubai Airport as well (where this is no concept of VAT).

At Dubai, they scan your boarding card for the following:

  1. To know your destination country; in case there are any customs restrictions on the goods you are buying. Usually done for spirits/alcohol/perfumery/tobacco products; but also done for electronics at times.

  2. To make sure you are a passenger in transit and not some contractor, etc. who are restricted on the purchases they can make (they have to show special passes to carry goods out of the terminal).

  3. To gather statistics on the types of goods people are purchasing by destination; however this sort of data gathering is not restricted to duty-free shops it is almost universal across any retail business.

I have only noticed this at the duty free shops; and not at the restaurants/food service businesses.

  • "nd not some contractor, etc. who are restricted on the purchases they can make" - if there's no VAT, why would it be restricted?
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 31, 2016 at 15:16
  • 1
    @JonathanReez alcohol Jan 2, 2017 at 4:45

It's to do with vat. All the stores charge you the full price as they would on the high street. You pay the vat. They claim it back. Big fiddle. You lose. They win. You can refuse to show your card though.

  • Saw that piece in today's paper too :) Aug 8, 2015 at 21:48
  • If you refuse to show your card they refuse to sell. They claim they are not allowed to sell at all without scanning the card.
    – Willeke
    Aug 9, 2015 at 9:44

Without knowing exactly which shops and items, it is hard to tell.

I would suspect it has something to do with duty-free shopping, where you have to show proof that you are actually leaving and taking the items with you. Duty does not apply to everything you might purchase, and certainly not to food or drink you are going to consume on the spot.

  • 3
    Ah, good distinction! All times I can think of have been within the EU & innocuous purchases. A recent example being a Tracker bar when travelling from London to Dublin. May 5, 2015 at 17:32
  • You would think so, except the places I usually see it happen are after security clearance. May 6, 2015 at 14:11
  • By after, do you mean inside or outside of the secured g?ate areas
    – cdkMoose
    May 6, 2015 at 14:20

At least in some airports, this is unrelated to duty-free or other taxation issues. Airlines get rebates from the airport based on the amount that their passengers spend in airport shops.

Many European airports have a very large proportions of low-cost flights, and most or almost all flights are within the EU. While the sticker price of the flights is very cheap, passengers spend proportionately large amounts on food and drink, gifts and souvenirs, travel necessities and services within airports. This represents lots of revenue for airport concessions, which often sell at markups compared to non-airport branches, or have more expensive goods available. They in turn have to pay large rents to the airports.

Airlines see some of this money, in the form of rebates against airport charges. Scanning boarding cards is done to allocate this money. Airlines which bring in higher-spending passengers get back more money, this is considered fair, since the net cost to the airport of these passengers is lower.

I believe the reason that passengers go along with it, is that like many of the respondents above, they assume that it has something to do with tax or duty.

  • 5
    Do you have a source for this?
    – arved
    May 6, 2015 at 11:07
  • It does have something to do with taxes and duties. I even linked to the relevant German law. May 6, 2015 at 22:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .