Best Affordable Airport Transfers
“Hey, buddy, you need a limo into the city? Seventy bucks.”
Arriving at a strange airport can be unnerving, especially when some unsavory character with a chauffeur cap sidles up to you at the baggage carousel, looks furtively around the terminal, and whispers something like that.
Most of us are smart enough to give guys like him a wide berth and look for safer, more legitimate means of transportation. But that’s also when many travelers throw in the towel and head for the nearest taxi rank. “It may be a lot more expensive to take a cab,” they say to themselves, “but at least it will get me to my hotel fast.” Fast? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Expensive? Usually. That’s why conscientious travelers—at least, those not schlepping a lot of baggage—always consider whether public transit is a practical alternative.
And sometimes it is. Coming into Chicago from O’Hare? A taxi to the Loop is going to set you back as much as $40 and take up to 30 minutes. Hop on the CTA Blue Line train, though, and it’s just $2.25—and the scheduled trip is only 10 minutes longer. Newark to New York City can be an even bigger bargain, especially if you’re traveling alone. For $15, the AirTrain links up with New Jersey Transit’s trains for the 30-minute trip. A taxi shaves just five minutes off that time, and costs $55. (Of course, that does get you door-to-door service.)
Internationally, nothing makes an air traveler feel more like a local than taking public transportation to the city and avoiding long and expensive taxi rides. That’s especially true in Tokyo, where a taxi from Narita costs an eye-popping $220. Our suggestion: take the plush Narita Express, where a ticket is less than $35. And in Shanghai, skip the 45-minute taxi trip. The ridiculously fast magnetic levitation train is a thrill ride in itself, whisking you downtown in just eight minutes flat.
No matter which city you’re visiting, you can check the air-rail service, where available, at Airport Railways of the World. Still, of course, public transportation isn’t always the right choice, so decide for yourself if the convenience of a taxi outweighs the additional cost.
Our opinion? It rarely does.
Best Taxi Alternative: Heathrow Express train.
Time to Downtown: 15 minutes to central London.
Drawback: A London cab ride can be a great experience.
Taxi Facts: Averages between 30 and 60 minutes and costs $60–$120.
Bottom Line: Not only is this the fastest way to get from the airport to central London, but the trains even have free Wi-Fi. They depart every 15 minutes, from just past 5 a.m. to nearly midnight. Take the train to Paddington Station, where you can also check in for your return flight and avoid the lines at the airport counter.
Best Taxi Alternative: The Trinity Railway Express, known locally as the T.
Time to Downtown: 50 minutes to Dallas’s Union Station.
Drawback: Shuttle buses between the terminal and the T station add 20 minutes onto your total travel time. No train service on Sunday.
Taxi Facts: $40 flat rate for the 20-mile, 25-minute ride.
Bottom Line: A taxi will save you 25 minutes of travel time. The T will save you $73 round-trip.
Best Taxi Alternative: MARTA, a direct airport-to-downtown train.
Time to Downtown: 18 minutes to the Five Points Station.
Drawback: The slightly longer trip to the popular Buckhead neighborhood requires you to change trains at Lindbergh Center Station after 7:30 p.m.
Taxi Facts: $30 flat rate for the 12-mile, 20-minute ride, plus $2 for each additional passenger.
Bottom Line: MARTA will save you a few minutes in each direction and $28 each way.
Best Taxi Alternative: SkyRide express bus service runs seven days a week, nearly 24 hours a day.
Time to Downtown: 45–60 minutes to Market Street Station.
Drawback: With four stops in downtown and many more beyond, SkyRide doesn’t have any major drawbacks, but if you don’t buy a ticket at a kiosk before boarding, you’ll have to pay in cash—exact change only.
Taxi Facts: $50 metered fare for the 25-mile, 45-minute ride.
Bottom Line: If you’re traveling solo, take SkyRide. If you’re with several people, a taxi may be cost-effective.
Best Taxi Alternative: Narita Express.
Time to Downtown: As little as 53 minutes.
Drawback: Expensive—until you hear how much a taxi costs.
Taxi Facts: A whopping $220 for the 36-mile trip.
Bottom Line: Each terminal has its own station, so the train is easy to reach with your luggage in tow. New cars are being put into service; the fleet will be all new by June. The roomy reclining seats have foldout worktables, power outlets (don’t forget your converter plug), and adjustable headrests. There are also antitheft cameras in the luggage areas, multilingual display monitors overhead, and Western-style bathrooms in each car.
New York (JFK)
Best Taxi Alternative: New York Airport Service bus to Grand Central, Penn Station, or Port Authority.
Fare: $15 (one child free with each paid adult).
Time to Midtown: 60 minutes to Grand Central Terminal.
Drawback: Departures only every 30 minutes.
Taxi Facts: $45 flat rate, plus tolls, for the 17-mile, 35-minute ride to midtown Manhattan.
Bottom Line: If you’re traveling with two other adults, the cab fare is competitive. Otherwise, the bus is the way to go. Another alternative that some New Yorkers swear by: the AirTrain JFK. You must take the luggage-unfriendly subway to the AirTrain station, where you make a connection to the airport train. The price is $7.25, including the subway fare, for the 50–65 minute ride.
Best Taxi Alternative: The Metro light-rail train.
Time to Downtown: 20 minutes to Central Station.
Drawback: You must take a (free) shuttle bus from the terminal to the train stop, which adds about 10 minutes.
Taxi Facts: $15–$19 metered fare, plus a $1 airport surcharge, for the 7-mile, 15-minute ride.
Bottom Line: If you’re staying downtown, use the train. If you’re heading off to one of the suburban resorts, take a taxi.
Best Taxi Alternative: The FlyAway direct buses.
Time to Downtown: 30–50 minutes to Union Station.
Drawback: Limited destinations (including Westwood, Van Nuys, and Irvine).
Taxi Facts: $46.50–$49 flat rate for the 19-mile, 30-minute ride.
Bottom Line: If you’re staying in an area where the bus stops, you’ll save $80 round-trip by using FlyAway. The LAX website has a long list of other alternatives, include Metro light-rail and subway lines, shared-ride vans, and rental cars.
Best Taxi Alternative: Airport Express train.
Time to Downtown: 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island.
Drawback: The fare is on the steep side for public transit.
Taxi Facts: $45 for the 40-minute ride.
Bottom Line: Airport Express is the fastest and most direct route to both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. You can even take it to Hong Kong Disneyland. Trains depart every 12 minutes and operate from 5:50 a.m. to 1:15 a.m. Compared with a taxi, Airport Express is almost always the best option.
Best Taxi Alternative: AirTrain Newark.
Time to Midtown: 30 minutes to New York Penn Station.
Drawback: Must connect with New Jersey Transit train (included in fare).
Taxi Facts: $55 flat rate plus tolls for the 16-mile, 30-minute ride.
Bottom Line: If you don’t mind making a connection, you’ll save $80 round-trip by taking the train.
Best Taxi Alternative: The CTA Blue Line train, which runs 24 hours a day.
Time to Downtown: 40 minutes to the Loop.
Drawback: Frequent repairs and long-term construction plans may cause delays. Add an hour to be safe.
Taxi Facts: $35–$40 metered fare for the 18-mile, 30-minute ride.
Bottom Line: Figure on possible delays whatever you choose, whether due to traffic or track work. But you’ll save a minimum of $65 round-trip by taking the train.
Best Taxi Alternative: Shanghai Maglev Train.
Fare: $7.30 one-way, $11.70 round-trip.
Time to Downtown: 8 minutes.
Drawback: If you’re not staying in the modern Pudong business area, you’ll need to take a taxi or Subway Line 2 to your final destination.
Taxi Facts: The 45–50 minute ride will average around $20.
Bottom Line: George Jetson would feel right at home; Shanghai’s magnetic levitation train may be the most heart-pumping way to enter a city ever devised. As much a thrill ride as public transportation, the Maglev train goes from zero to 180 mph in just two minutes and can reach top speeds exceeding 250 mph as it almost silently shoots along the raised track to its one and only stop, the Longyang Road subway station in the city’s financial district.
Best Taxi Alternative: BART light-rail system.
Time to Downtown: 30 minutes to Embarcadero Station.
Drawback: Trains and interiors have not been updated and are not always pleasant.
Taxi Facts: $37 average metered fare, plus $2 airport pick-up surcharge, for the 14-mile, 20-minute ride.
Bottom Line: A taxi is slightly faster, but you’ll save more than $60 round-trip by taking BART.
Best Taxi Alternative: The Link, the nation’s newest light-rail airport-to-city service.
Time to Downtown: 32 minutes to Pioneer Square.
Drawback: Almost twice the travel time as a taxi ride. The transfer to the train is a 5–10 minute walk on a covered sidewalk and over a sky bridge.
Taxi Facts: $40 average metered fare for the 15-mile, 20-minute ride.
Bottom Line: With 11 stops to choose from en route to the terminus at Westlake Center, the Link is a sure bet for most travelers. The ride may be a bit longer than a taxi trip, but you’ll save about $75 round-trip.
Best Taxi Alternative: Aeroexpress train.
Time to Downtown: 35 minutes from Sheremetyevo Airport; 42 minutes from Domodedovo Airport.
Drawback: Changing from the Aeroexpress to the Metro subway system to reach your final destination is confusing, with almost no signs in English and almost no English-speaking customer-service assistants.
Taxi Facts: $35–$100. The ride to Red Square can take up to 90 minutes.
Bottom Line: Trains from the airports to Belorussky Railway Station run every 30 minutes from early morning to just before midnight. On Aeroexpress you will find cushioned seats, snack-and-beverage service, and wireless Internet. But if you really want the old-fashioned Moscow experience, you can still go to the taxi rank at a terminal entrance and haggle with the cabbies.