Why beer drinkers love Salt Lake City’s airport

A flyer-friendly pricing policy lets travelers save money when they kick back with a cold one in the terminal.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A glass of beer at Market Street Grill at Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Beer-drinking jet-setters, rejoice: The brew you’re slugging at Salt Lake City International Airport is among the cheapest in the nation.

So says a recent study by FinanceBuzz.com, which found the airport offered the second lowest average domestic beer price among the 50 busiest U.S. airports.

Roberto Delgado, a bartender at Market Street Grill within the airport, said his customers notice the price difference, especially if they’re traveling from more expensive places such as New York or California.

“You give them their bill,” he said, “and they’re just like, ‘Holy cow, I got time for three more now.’”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roberto Delgado working the bar at Market Street Grill at Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

According to the study, the average cost of a regular-size domestic draft in Salt Lake City’s new airport is $5. Only Portland International Airport in Oregon has a cheaper average beer price, ringing up at $4.33.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport claimed third place on the list of airports with the least expensive beer, logging an average price of $5.32, followed by North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport at $5.50, and San Antonio and Nashville international airports, both at $5.83. The national average is $7.42.

The website did not study prices of the craft beer offerings.

Travelers coming through Salt Lake City have the airport’s street-pricing policy to thank for hefty savings when they’re sipping suds. Vendors are barred from jacking up prices above what they charge in locations outside the airport.

That means a Bud Light costs the same in the airport’s Market Street Grill as it does in the restaurant’s downtown location.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Beer on tap at Market Street Grill within Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Portland International Airport pioneered street pricing decades ago, Salt Lake City Department of Airports Executive Director Bill Wyatt said. He is only aware of Portland and Salt Lake City requiring that level of pricing.

“Even though the margins are a little thinner,” Wyatt said, “the volume is heavier.”

That’s because passengers traveling through those airports get used to the idea that they won’t be gouged after they pass through security.

“If you charge people a reasonable price, something that they would experience somewhere else … they’re going to consume that product,” Wyatt said, “whether it’s a glass of beer or a sandwich or a hot dog, or whatever it happens to be.”

Wyatt said he understands why concessionaires want to charge more for products. After all, it’s spendy to operate a business within an airport. But the evidence shows street pricing is successful, he said. Travelers simply feel better about spending money at the airport and may be more likely to show up early for a meal before their flight.

Allen Lessly, a frequent flyer who was sipping a beer at the airport’s Roosters Brewing before heading off to Houston, said prices are noticeably better in Salt Lake City than places like John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport or Los Angeles International Airport.

“It’s not as bad here in Utah,” he said. “You go somewhere like LAX and you buy a burger for nine bucks. It’s just ridiculous.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

New York’s LaGuardia Airport has the highest average beer price on the list at $12.33. Detroit Metro Airport is second most expensive with an average price of $9.36, followed by Newark Liberty International Airport at $9.31, Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport at $8.86, and New York’s JFK at $8.80.

So while Utah’s liquor laws may be difficult for newcomers to navigate, airport patrons have no qualms when quaffing a beer.

While prices may be better here, Lessly said, it still seems the price of products in Salt Lake City’s airport are inflated.

That’s not the case, Wyatt said.

Compliance with the pricing policy is a requirement of the lease agreement vendors sign, he said, and the airport uses strategies such as employing secret shoppers to ensure shops and restaurants aren’t gouging travelers.

“You have to enforce it,” he said, “because once you lose credibility on something like that, then you might as well not have it at all.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.