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Finding Cheap Airport Transfers From Australian Airports

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NOTE: This guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version. There’s something really stupid about paying $80 for a flight and then paying another $80 for a taxi when you land. Lifehacker rounds up the public transport options from Australia’s capital city airports.

NOTE: This guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version.

By definition, anyone landing at an airport hasn’t got their own transport. Unless you’re returning home and being met or planning on hiring a car, you’ll need an option to get you to your accommodation. Taxis are an obvious choice, but they’re expensive and the queues in some Australian cities (Sydney in particular) are horrendous at peak periods.

As part of the Hand Luggage Only project, I’m checking out the options for getting to and from the airport at (relatively) minimal cost. Relatively is an important term; with the exception of Perth and Adelaide, all these options are more expensive than comparable-distance public transport journeys elsewhere in the city. For solo travellers, this will be the cheapest choice, but if you have three or more people travelling at once, a taxi may end up costing much the same.

I’ve tried out (or will be trying out in the case of Perth) all the options listed here, with the exception of Darwin. Combine this list with our previous post on free capital city transport and you can save a fair whack getting around.

This list has a fairly specific focus: regularly-scheduled services that get you from capital city airports to the centre of the relevant town. I generally haven’t included the many shuttle services that either go to regional destinations or offer to-the-door services to particular hotels, unless they’re the only option available in a particular city. However, if there’s a service that you think deserves inclusion, share the details in the comments — it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed bus options for cities I’m less familiar with. Costs are for a single airport-CBD trip.

Sydney

Cost: $14.60 (domestic), $15.20 (international) Sydney’s AirportLinktrain turned out to be a bit of a political disaster after effectively sending its private backers broke, but it does offer regular services (generally around every 15 minutes) and has the advantage of not being disrupted during peak hour traffic. The journey time is around 10 minutes. Even if you have a regular daily or weekly ticket, you’ll need to pay a platform access fee to exit at either the International or Domestic stations. Don’t make the mistake of exiting at Mascot, which is a suburban station (which really should have been given a different name). You can’t buy open returns, which is annoying. Transferring between the domestic and international terminals costs $5.

A potentially cheaper option which I haven’t tested is the 400 bus, though as this finishes in Bondi Junction you’d then have to spring for another train ticket to get into town.

Melbourne

Cost: $16.00 Until a commenter pointed it out recently, I hadn’t realised that you could catch a standard Melbourne bus (the 478) from the airport and transfer at Essendon station for a city train. In theory, that would let you use a standard 2-hour Zone 1+2 ticket, priced at $5.80, to get into town. However, that bus only runs to Essendon four times a day, so it’s not really a practical general solution (and the once-a-day 479 is even less useful).

For most purposes, the Skybus service is going to be the best option. The buses run every 10 minutes at peak periods, and even in the middle of the night there are scheduled services. The Citylink freeway means that journey is also pretty reliable even in peak periods, which is useful given Melbourne Airport’s distance from the CBD. Buses can get pretty crowded; at busy times, you’ll be better off boarding at the first stop (Virgin/Rex/International) rather than the second (Qantas) if you want any chance of getting a seat. Open returns cost $26 and are valid for three months.

Brisbane

Cost: $14.00 Brisbane’s Airtrain offers connections not just to the Brisbane CBD but to the Gold Coast, which is a useful option if you fancy Qantas over Jetstar. Admittedly, that does add 90 minutes on the train to your journey. An open return to the CBD (valid for 3 months) costs $26. The minor downsides are the relative infrequency (every 30 minutes outside peak times) and the inexplicable fact that it stops dead at 8pm every night. Prebooked online tickets attract a 10% discount, though last time I did this you still had to pick up an actual ticket at the station, which is a disadvantage when racing for a once-every-30-minutes train.

Canberra

Cost: $10.00 The Canberra Airliner A1 drops passengers at the main city bus interchange, which is the hub of public transport options for the capital. A return ticket costs $15. There’s no service after 7pm, so it’s not a good option for late (or delayed) arrivals.

Adelaide

Cost: $4.20 Adelaide wins the prize for the best-value airport transfer in Australia, since its airport JetBus lines are part of the regular system and don’t charge any extra for airport access, meaning you can travel for a standard single daily fare (which drops to $2.60 outside peak hours). Even with other stops on the way, the journey doesn’t typically take more than 20 minutes.

One thing to watch for: the bus is on the departures level, not arrivals (as is the case pretty much everywhere else we’ve discussed here). Also check the bus destination, as the stop is also used by buses arriving from the city and continuing to other locations. (Adelaide bus drivers are generally happy to tell you where they’re going, which is more than can be said for some cities!)

Perth

Cost: $3.50 Perth also offers regular bus services to the city from its airport on the 37 line — the only thing that makes Adelaide look a better deal is a more frequent service and a less lengthy journey. General frequency is every 30 minutes, and the journey to the centre of town takes around 40 minutes. (I’ll be testing this service out later this week so I’ll update with any relevant observations.)

Hobart

Cost: $15.00 The Hobart Redline Airport Shuttleis a to-your-hotel service, but we’ve included it here because there’s really no other option, and the airport’s far away enough to make a taxi a painful prospect. A return fare costs $25.

Darwin

Cost: $10 Like Hobart, Darwin only has a hotel bus option: the Darwin Airport Shuttle. Return fare is $18.

Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will be travelling throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


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