NOTE: This guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version. Cheap airfares don’t look so cheap if you have to spend a fortune getting to the airport in the first place. Lifehacker rounds up the public transport options to get to and from Australia’s capital city airports.
Picture by superciliousness
This is an updated version of the guide we published last year, incorporating price changes and many reader suggestions. We’ve included information for each of Australia’s capital city airports, covering regularly scheduled services which offer transport from airports to the centre of each city. We haven’t included door-to-door hotel shuttle services (unless there’s no alternative offered), or looked at taxis. (As well as being more expensive, taxis often involve major queues, especially at peak times.) Costs are for a single airport-CBD trip, though I’ve tried to note the availability of return options where available. Some (but not all) services will offer student or senior concessions. Many will also offer discounts for smartcard users, but that won’t apply to most one-off visitors.
No matter which city you fly from, using airport public transport will generally offer the cheapest option, but there are limitations. Such services often lose their financial appeal if there’s more than two of you travelling at once: at that point, a taxi may well be cheaper.
In several cities, there’s a further choice between a cheap general bus service and a more specific airport service. The latter is often more costly, but can make up for that with more frequent services and more dedicated luggage-carrying space.
Also beware of the early morning cheap-flight trap. Many airlines offer their cheapest domestic seats with early (think 6am) departures, but the public transport options for getting to the airport at that time are often limited. If you’re looking to move between domestic and international terminals at Australian airports, check out our separate guide on the available changeover options.
Cheapest option: The 400 bus between Bondi and Burwood via the domestic airport doesn’t attract any premium. It doesn’t pass through the centre of the city, but it’s easily the cheapest option if you are departing from somewhere along its route. A single myBus fare costs $2.00 or $3.30, depending on your starting point. (Unless you purchase a $20 MyMulti Day or already have a weekly MyMulti ticket, you’d need a second ticket to travel on a train to Bondi Junction, Burwood, Banksia or Rockdale to connect with the service, so that’s not necessarily an economical choice.)
Most convenient option: Sydney’s AirportLink train runs every 15 minutes or so, with stops at both the domestic and international terminals. A single ticket to the domestic or international station from Central costs $15; tickets from other stations on the CityRail network cost a few dollars more, and there’s no option for an open return.
Notes: Don’t try exiting the train at Mascot, which, despite the airport-like name, is a suburban station (with warnings plastered all over the platform about this very issue). If you’re already travelling on a MyMulti or other weekly ticket, buying a single, return or weekly gatepass when you reach the airport via train is a cheap but little-promoted option.
Cheapest option: There’s a handful of public buses which leave Melbourne Airport and connect with various train stations allowing a connection to the city: the 478 and 479 go to Essendon, while the 500 goes to Broadmeadows. None are particularly frequent, though, so whether they’re useful to you will depend on your arrival time. A single 2-hour trip covering these services will cost you $5.80. All relevant buses depart from bus zone 2 on the arrivals level.
Most convenient option: The SkyBus service runs at 15 minute intervals most of the day, but is available 24 hours. An open return costs $26 and is valid for three months. The journey rarely takes more than 30 minutes even in peak periods.
Notes: If there’s a crowd at the Skybus Qantas/Jetstar boarding point, try taking a short walk and boarding at Virgin Blue instead.
Cheapest option: No public buses in sight, sadly.
Most convenient option: The Brisbane Airtrain runs to the Brisbane CBD and onwards to the Gold Coast. An open return ticket to the city, valid for 3 months, costs $28 (buying online attracts a discount, though you’ll still need to collect an actual ticket at the airport ticket office). The one big problem? It only runs every 30 minutes most of the day, and it doesn’t run at all after 8pm.
Cheapest option: The 37 bus runs regularly to the city, but takes almost an hour to do so. The 36 bus makes a quicker journey to Midland station, where you can board a city-bound train. In practice, catching whichever one appears first after you arrive would seem to be the best bet. A single journey to the city costs $3.60.
Most convenient option: If you don’t fancy the long bus journey, you’ll have to pay up for a taxi or point-to-point shuttle.
Notes: The bus stop is near the Virgin Blue end of the domestic terminal, but isn’t very obviously signposted.
Both options only cover the domestic airport — the best option for international seems to be the 298 bus, but even that involves a walk of more than several kilometres and only runs three times a day. A standard 2-hour fare costs $3.60. Thanks Andrew for the Perth bus notes!
Cheapest and most convenient option: Adelaide’s JetBus service is part of the regular transport system, so you won’t pay any premium. Buses run every 15 minutes for much of the day, and there’s a handful of early options. A single fare is $4.40, or $2.70 outside peak times.
Notes: Catch the bus on the departures level, not arrivals. Check that the bus you’re boarding heads to the city — there are also services to several Adelaide suburbs.
Cheapest option: Canberra’s Airliner A1 bus runs from the airport to the main city bus interchange. A return ticket costs $16.20; a single is $9. There’s no service after 7pm and limited service on weekends.
Darwin doesn’t have any public transport options; the Darwin Airport Shuttle costs $12 for a single, $22 for a return.
Missed a useful option? Let us know in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman breaks out into a cold sweat when contemplating the Sydney Airport taxi queue. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.