Israel expects that every person will do his duty free. It is the rare traveler who departs from Ben-Gurion Airport without taking advantage of its 24/7 buying opportunities.
My husband and I traveled on an early morning flight to London recently. "I don't think we need anything at all from duty free, apart from a bottle of gin," I said, as we made our way from passport control to the departure lounge. We had left the house at the crack of dawn, so the thought of a leisurely cup of coffee and croissant before boarding was a lot more appealing than chasing supposed bargains.
We found the bottle we required and noticed a "2 for $35.90" sticker on it. Fair enough, we thought. May as well buy two bottles if they're on offer.
We walked past the Dead Sea products on our way to the checkout. "Come to think of it, I'm a bit low on hand cream," I said, picking one up.
A sales assistant was at my shoulder instantly. "Buy three products, get one free," she informed me.
We were about to visit family in London. My sister really likes the hand cream, and my sister-in-law is a fan of the body spray. I picked up two creams and two sprays and we continued toward the checkout.
My husband proffered his credit card. "Because you are using that card, we are giving you a voucher to spend today on perfume to the value of $50," the checkout girl informed us. We looked at her blankly. "It's a gift to be used today only," she explained, speaking slowly so we would understand. "You can buy any perfume or after shave for $50 and it won't cost you anything."
We checked our watches. We hadn't had breakfast yet. Coffee and a croissant beckoned, and soon our flight would be called. But now that I thought about it, my perfume supply was running a little low. How long would it take just to buy one bottle? We headed quickly to the perfume section and found both a large and small bottle of my favorite brand. Strangely, both were priced at $35. I called an assistant to check.
"It's a mistake," she said. "The large bottle should be $55."
"$55 is perfect," I said. "I'll add $5 to my voucher." "It's our mistake," said the assistant. "So you can have the large bottle for $35."
"Will passengers traveling on El Al flight 316 to London please proceed to Gate D7."
"No, really, I insist on paying the full amount," I countered, desperate now simply to get out of the store.
The saleslady was even more insistent. "You still have $15 to spend on perfume or after shave."
A quick search through the after shave range yielded nothing costing less than $30. To add more than a few dollars of our own money would have defeated the object. Suddenly my husband held up a bottle priced at $16. We hadn't heard of the brand, but it was within our imposed price limit. We ran to the counter. The checkout girl swiped the bar code, and informed us that there was yet a further discount on the after shave so we still had $5 left from our voucher - and we could spend it on anything.
"We don't care," we answered in unison.
"How about some batteries, or some miniature bottles of whiskey, or chocolate?" she asked, pointing at the items displayed at the checkout.
I picked up a $5.50 bar of Swiss chocolate. "4+1 FREE!" screamed the label. "Before you ask, I only want the one," I told the checkout girl.
I added the chocolate, perfume and after shave to the four Dead Sea products and two bottles of gin we had bought earlier. We were finally out of the store. Was there still time for that coffee?
"Will the last remaining passengers for El Al flight 316 to London please proceed immediately to gate D7..."