One of the wonderful attributions New York has to offer is its’ ease in transportation. There are a plethora of options to choose from to get in and out of The City, mostly taken advantage of by the locals. If you’re a tourist landing in La Guardia for the first time, you are most likely to either A. Take a Yellow Taxi or B. Uber (thank you, technology). Both modes are fast[ish] and [somewhat] efficient, yet they both cost a significant amount of money, depending on your destination, and who wants to begin a vacation by throwing away all of their money at the airport? Not I.
Alas, on my first trips to New York, with and without adult supervision, Taxi or Uber were the go-to guys. I am in no way saying that you are a “tourist” for using these services, nor bashing the use of them. In fact, I still use Uber every now and then to get to the back to the airport from Manhattan, if I’m in a hurry. However, I would love to enlighten you, the reader, on some cheaper alternatives to get to and from the major NYC airports. Because who doesn’t love to save money?
These alternative forms of transportation are the ones that I have experience using. There may be more options out there that I do not know of- I am not the know-all of NYC transportation! However, I do know some tricks, and I hope you find these useful in your next trip to The City.
La Guardia Airport
Uber and Taxi fares from La Guardia to Midtown, Manhattan usually range from $28-$50. While these two services are efficient, here are some trustworthy options to get you into Midtown on a dime.
- The MTA Bus System
After I had gone to NYC by myself a couple of times, my parents quickly realized that a lot of my money had been eaten up by cab and Uber fares. After doing some research, my mom told me about the MTA bus system. Think of it as an above ground subway, because that is basically what it is. There are about four different buses that run to La Guardia and take you on different routes, usually to central subway stations in Queens. If you hop on any of these buses, you can get to NYC in about an hour for under $3- the bus fare is bought with a MetroCard, and once you exit the bus and enter the subway station, you automatically get one free transfer on your card. This means that you do not have to pay another $2.75 to get on a train to The City; just a one time payment. That’s right!
Here are the different bus options that I have taken before:
A. The M60 Select Bus
Tickets: For this bus you must purchase your ticket beforehand at a machine right next to the bus stop, using your MetroCard. You MUST actually purchase a ticket- sometimes when the bus stops at locations, MTA Police will hop on and check every passenger to make sure they have purchased a ticket. If not, they owe a $350 fine. This bus was supposed to help you get into Manhattan for cheap, not for $350!
- On this bus you can get to the Astoria Boulevard subway station with N and Q trains into Manhattan. The stop to get off of is usually about 30 minutes after you’ve hopped on the bus. Landmarks you must pass: the Queens Cemetery, a hookah bar called Hookah. (Or at least these are the landmarks I look out for…)
- If you are staying on the East Side of town, I would suggest riding the bus until you get into Manhattan on 125th street, and hopping off at the 125th and Lexington subway station. Here you can take the 4,5, or 6 train up and down the east side.
- If you are staying on the West Side of town, you can ride the M60 bus all the way to 125th and Broadway, the terminating stop, and hop on the 1 train that runs up and downtown.
Summary: The M60 Select Bus offers a longer bus ride than subway ride, yet is about the same length in total as the other bus routes from La Guardia. Bus runs every 15 minutes.
Total Cost: $2.75
B. The Q70 Bus
Tickets: No ticket purchase necessary, just a swipe of the MetroCard as you board the bus. (This means your MetroCard must have at least one full fare amount on it!) Once you swipe the card, you will have one free transfer to use for the subway; again a one time payment!
- Roosevelt Station has plethora of train options to get into The City. You could take the E or 7 train, depending on where in Manhattan you would like to go. Roosevelt Station is the first stop on this bus route after leaving the airport.
Summary: Taking the Q70 Bus means a shorter bus ride but a longer subway ride. It is a smaller bus than the M60, yet not as many people take it, so it may be a better option! Runs every 15 minutes.
Total Cost: $2.75
C. The Q72 Bus
Tickets: Same as above
Subway Stations: I have yet to take this bus, but I do know that it will take you to a subway station where a 7 train is located.
Summary: Even shorter bus ride than the Q70 and M60, however the longest subway ride of all. Bus runs every 15 minutes.
Total Cost: $2.75
Overall Travel Time for Each Bus: About an hour, sometimes 45 minutes and sometimes an hour and 15 minutes, depending on the day.
* One tip I learned recently is that you should hop on the first bus that you see, since they all take you to a subway station*
- Airport Express Bus
I have only taken this bus once, and honestly I regretted it, however it is cheaper than a cab or Uber!
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased right outside the exit doors of baggage claim- look for an employee wearing an Airport Express Jacket. It costs $13 a person.
Travel Time: Depending on where you get off, this bus can take up to 2 hours to get to your destination in Manhattan. The first stop is Grand Central Station, which comes about 45 minutes into the ride. I would suggest getting off here and transferring to the subway to get to your final destination. Otherwise, if you want to go all the way to Midtown at Port Authority, you will be on that bus for 2 hours.
Summary: In my opinion, this option is good if you are traveling alone but are too scared to try the MTA bus/subway system. However, if you are traveling with someone else, each ticket is $13, and you could have just split a cab with the other person for the same price and faster arrival.
Total Cost: Traveling Alone- $13, Two People- $26, etc.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
An Uber and Taxi from JFK into Midtown, Manhattan will cost you a flat rate of $60, usually rounding to $72 with tax. Don’t worry! There are other options:
- The AirTrain/ MTA Subway
The AirTrain is a train that runs to the different terminals in the JFK airport, similar to the Plane Train at the Atlanta airport.
Tickets: You do not have to have a ticket to get on the Air Train, however when you get off at the subway station, Jamaica Station, you must go to the machines and buy a MetroCard at an MTA machine, before you can enter the subway station.
Subway Station: Jamaica Station is the subway station you must get off at; it is the last stop on the Air Train. At Jamaica Station, you will get on the E train and ride it all the way into Manhattan.
Travel Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes (including Airtrain time)
Total Cost: $7.75- $5 for the Airtrain fare and an additional $2.75 on top for the transfer to the subway.
Summary: Taking the Airtrain/Subway is much cheaper than taking an Uber, however can be a little time consuming. If you have the time to spare, I say go for it!
2. The Airtrain/ Long Island RailRoad (LIRR)
Another option once you reach Jamaica Station by Airtrain is to take the LIRR train into Penn Station.
Tickets: Same as above, although instead of heading to the MTA machines after exiting the Airtrain, you must find the LIRR machine. There is only one, and it will be to the right when you walk into the station.
Train Station: The LIRR trains are at the same station as the subway, Jamaica Station. Just follow the signs that say LIRR, look for Penn Station on the schedule, and head to the track where that train will be. Choosing Penn Station as your destination is the best option for getting into Midtown, for Penn is on 34th St. and 7th Ave.
Travel Time: 45 minutes (including Airtrain time)
Total Cost: $13
Summary: While this route is double the cost of the Subway option, it is half the time, and still 4x cheaper than taking an Uber or Taxi. This is the most cost and time efficient mode of transportation to Manhattan.
Newark International Airport
Sometimes if flights are crunched to New York, I will end up on a plane to Newark, New Jersey! An Uber or cab from here to The City is about $75- WAY too much for me! Thankfully, there is another mode of transportation that is fast and thrifty!
- Airtrain/ New Jersey Transit
The New Jersey Transit is another train system that runs like the LIRR, yet is mainly based out of New Jersey. There is a station directly linked to Newark Airport!
Tickets: Once you deplane in Newark, you follow the signs to baggage claim and then look for New Jersey Transit. Once you get in that designated area, there are two machines from which you can purchase a ticket to Penn Station, and once purchased you are good to go on the Airtrain and the Transit!
Train Station: After the Airtrain takes you through all of the airport terminals, the last stop is Newark Station where you will get off to head to the Transit.
Travel Time: 40 minutes
Total Cost: $15
Summary: Taking the New Jersey Transit to Penn Station is a quick and cheap alternative to a pricy and lengthy Uber ride. The signs are more difficult to read, so be careful when using this mode of transportation- stay aware and follow directions clearly!
All of the above options of travel were foreign to me until I experimented and had the courage to try them. At times it was nerve wracking to try new modes of transportation alone and under a time crunch, however it was exhilarating as well. Life is dull if we never have the courage to try something new- and once you do, you may end up discovering something that you wish you had tried a long time ago. My first time using each of these routes, I had to stay aware and pay attention to the people around me- sometimes asking for help or clarity, but mostly trying to use my natural instincts and sense of direction. There is no shame in asking for help, but there is also no harm in deciphering it out on your own. Sometimes, you may know more than you think.
Last April my best friend and I went up to The City for one day to attend the Opening Night of the Broadway show “Gigi”. Because neither of us had auditions or appointments that we had to be at, we decided to take the M60 bus from La Guardia into the City. I had become familiar with this route, however I had never taken the bus past the Astoria Boulevard stop. When we hopped on the bus, we decided to try a new route together- we would ride the bus all the way into Manhattan and get off at the last stop, 125th and Broadway, because it was the closest stop to our lodging for the night.
We were a little nervous to go on an unfamiliar path, but thankfully we were together and excited for the adventure! And what an adventure it was…
Once the bus made it into The City, the driver stated that the first stop in Manhattan, 125th and Lexington, would be the terminating stop on this route for today.
We were dealt a card that we had no intention of playing with.
You may think that this is not a big deal, but we were two teens, 17 and 18 at the time, and if you know anything about Lexington and 125th, it is a VERY sketchy neighborhood. If you look to your right, you will see a drug deal happening, to the left there are homeless men blabbering and walking like zombies on the streets, taking over the entire block. I’ve been around homeless people before in Times Square, but this was a whole new level. Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
The only thing to do was get off the bus. We hopped off and noticed the subway entrance right away, so we walked side by side and did not say a word or looked up until we entered the underground station. As mentioned above, the 125th and Lexington station has 4, 5, and 6 trains, running on the East Side. We had always stuck to our home base on the West Side, and did not know these subways at all.
At first, our hearts were pounding about as loud as a street performer drumming in the middle of a crowded New York City. The good thing was that we were together, and after we entered the subway we decided to make this situation a game and a test- How Well Can We Navigate The City Without Using The Internet or Maps For Help?
We huddled together and used every bit of knowledge about the subway as we could. Kaley told me that one time she had taken the green line to Grand Central Station and then transferred to a 7 train from there to get into Midtown. So, we decided to hop on the first 4,5 or 6 train that arrived and go from there.
Once we got to Grand Central, we had to walk around the entire station before we found the 7 train. I remember standing on that platform for 5 minutes, waiting for the Manhattan bound train and feeling proud that I had followed my gut and natural instincts to get us there.
We arrived in Times Square and squealed with pride at the fact that we used no technology or even ancient paper maps to arrive at our destination. Then we did what any teens would do- we both called our moms and told them the whole story. They were shocked, relieved, and also a little frustrated that we had not told them earlier that we were potentially in trouble in East Harlem NYC. We explained that we wanted to do this on our own, to prove that we are smart and mature young women.
That night if you had scrolled through your Instagram feed, you would have seen a picture of Kaley and me with the caption “Miss Independents”. That was the first time we truly realized that we could actually live in the concrete jungle and fit in, and it was an overwhelming, incredible feeling.
Although the easy way out is, well, easier sometimes, see what happens when you take a risk or dare to adventure. Welcome new opportunities. Welcome your intuition. Welcome to New York;
It’s been waiting for you.
-The Fly Girl