The 5 Best Transportation Options from NYC Airports

Getting off an airplane in New York City can induce a mix of emotions; at the forefront is likely excitement, but -- particularly for those who are not used to the frenetic pace of a city of 8.4 million people -- stress can be a part of the mix, too. Once you've sorted out the question "Which black roller suitcase on the luggage carousel is mine" (this will likely be the most panic-inducing aspect of your arrival), the next thing to tackle is figuring out how you're going to get to your hotel.

There are several factors to consider when making this decision -- cost, traffic, taxi queues, etc. Luckily, travelers coming to the Big Apple have plenty of options, especially with the influx of ride-share options; still, numerous options can make the actual decision-making process a bit trickier. Well, we here at do a lot of traveling through NYC (after all, you can find our headquarters in Manhattan!), so we calculated the prices and weighed the pros and cons of each transportation option (considering all three airports) and here’s what we found to be the best. The only thing left for you to do is jump on a plane and come visit! 

1. Taxi Cabs

Thanks to countless movies and shows through the decades ("Taxi," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and "Sleepless in Seattle," to name a few), this is probably what most people coming to New York imagine themselves doing: jumping into an iconic canary-yellow taxi (also known as medallion taxis) and whisking away. But as many people know, the taxi stand line -- at all three airports -- are often dozens of people deep, causing an annoying inch-by-inch forward movement with luggage (impatient types, beware). Not only that, but you never know if a cab is going to smell like an armpit, if the driver will be gruff, or if he or she will drive like a maniac -- or a turtle. Still, taking a taxi makes for a quintessential New York experience. And there's plenty of them. According to Statistic Brain, there are more than 13,000 taxi cabs in New York operated by 42,000 different taxi cab drivers, so it's always a reliable and adventurous option. Here's the breakdown -- cash or cards accepted:

  • JFK: The 15-mile flat rate to Manhattan is $52, plus tolls and tip. 
  • LaGuardia: LGA enjoys a location closer to the city, so the average metered rate to Manhattan is $20 to $30, plus tolls and tip.
  • Newark: The 16-mile mile trip from this New Jersey airport to Manhattan will differ by taxi company but they fall to approximately $52 to $75, plus tolls and tip. 

2. Ride-Sharing Apps

Photo Credit: Flickr, Jason Tester Guerilla Futures

Like the word Google, as in "Just Google it," Uber is quickly becoming the transitive verb, “Let’s Uber there.” There are actually two rivaling ride-sharing apps that dominate the industry: Uber and Lyft, which are at an ongoing price war. But Uber started it all in 2009, and it still dominates. In fact, it operates in 380 cities in more than 60 countries, and in 2015 valued at $51 billion. Uber also lets you split the cost of ride between several people, for a 25-cent fee. And now there is UberPOOL, where riders can opt to share the car (and cost) with anyone going the same route. There's also UberX, the low-cost private service, and UberSELECT, for luxury sedan service. Guests who wish to avoid those taxi lines will be told where to go for pick-up. Look for the license plate, confirm the name of the driver, and off you go. 

For its part, Lyft launched in 2012 and operates in 200 cities (Lyft has also formed an alliance with Uber rivals in places like China, India, and Southeast Asia). The San Francisco-based company works similarly to Uber. Within the smartphone app, users see a map with a pin at their location, and are given an estimate of how far away the nearest ride is. Also like Uber, Lyft offers multiple levels of service: Lyft Line (a shared ride option that can save users up to 60 percent on fare); Plain Lyft (a ride for solo travelers or groups up to four); and Lyft Plus (larger cars and SUVs perfect for those traveling with suitcases and boxes, or if you want to ride with a large group). Unlike Uber, you can also choose to add a tip if desired. 

Other companies have tried their hand but are not always are successful. Sidecar was supposed to compete with Uber and Lyft, but has since shut down their operations. Another one to look out for, though, is Juno, which will be starting its beta program in NYC this year, offering 35 percent off all rides. Juno sets itself apart from Uber and Lyft by offering its drivers equity in the company and taking a smaller cut off every ride -- 10 percent, compared to Uber's 20 to 25 percent. Until Juno is off the ground, stick to Uber and Lyft. 

Here's a price breakdown to Manhattan, but beware, prices are subject to change and both companies operate surge pricing during peak travel times. 

  • JFK: Uber rates to Manhattan can get as low as $35 and as high as $163 depending on the service. Flat rates apply to direct trips between specified locations. Lyft, on the other hand, starts at $48 and can get as high as $76 for Plus. 
  • LaGuardia: UberPOOL is $23 to $29,UberX is $30 to $39, UberXL is $44 to $57; Lyft is $26 to $40.
  • Newark: UberPOOL is $45 to $46, UberX is $43 to $50, UberXL is $55 to $66; Lyft is $28 to $42.

3. Public Transportation

Photo Credit: Flickr, NYCUrbanScape

Traveling by bus or train with heavy luggage may seem like the least pleasant option in a big city, but this route is guaranteed to be an adventure. And think of that extra money you can save for the nearest rooftop bar once you land. Not only that, but taking public transportation can actually be quicker than a cab or Uber during peak travel times. 

  • JFK: Passengers heading to Manhattan will need to use the AirTrain JFK system to connect to LIRR from the airport for a $5.00 ticket fee, and then transfer to the MTA Subway for $2.75. 
  • LaGuardia: Snag a MetroCard from the machine outside the terminal and jump on the the M60 bus. It costs a mere $2.75 to get to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue;then transfer to the MTA Subway towards Manhattan for no extra charge.
  • Newark: The Airtran connects to NJ Transit and Amtrak trains on the Northwest Corridor, which will bring you into Penn Station in Manhattan for $11.55 one way. Consult the schedule for train times, especially those late-night arrivals, as trains do not run after 2 a.m. 

4. Private Car Service

Photo Credit: Flickr, Michael Summers

Ever walk out into the arrivals gate and see a sea of uniformed drivers with their signs up -- and want to be one of those people with their names on it? Despite stiff competition from Uber, there are several companies that still offer private car service (usually via a black Lincoln Towncar) and it's much more affordable than people think. Plus, the driver will assist you with your luggage -- not always the case with cabs and ride-share apps. NYC companies like "Dial 7" (212-777-7777) have been in business for over 30 years and have rates starting at $48 for non-peak hours. 

  • JFK: Rates to Manhattan start at $48, plus tolls and tip. 
  • LaGuardia: Starting at $34, plus tolls and tip. 
  • Newark: Starting up to $48, plus tolls and tip. 

5. Zipcar

Photo Credit: Flickr, 5chw4r7z

Renting a car in NYC doesn't make sense for most travelers, but having flexible access to a set of wheels might seem enticing for those who want to explore, say the Hamptons. This American car-sharing company (owned by Avis Budget Rental) has over 900,000 members and 10,000 cars in the U.S. (3,000 in NYC). Once approved online as a member, you can book a car by the hour or day, or for up to a week at a time. Zipcar members pay a monthly or annual membership fee in addition to car reservations charges. So that adds up to a one-time application fee, an annual fee, and a reservation charge, which includes fuel, parking, insurance, and maintenance. Members can reserve Zipcars with the mobile app, online, or by phone at any time, immediately or up to a year in advance. 

Zipcar offers four vehicles at Newark Liberty Airport, four vehicles at LaGuardia Airport, and five Zipcar vehicles at JFK Airport (Honda Civics or Nissan Sentras). Prices start at $12 per hour, or $89 per day (180-mile maximum per day).  

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