You've planned carefully to score yourself a cheap airline ticket — why jack up the budget by spending a fortune getting a taxi from the airport? Instead, check out Lifehacker's comprehensive guide to public transport options for Australian airports.
Picture by NateCull
This is the 2011 version of the guide we've published before, incorporating new service options, price changes and other details. We've also timed it as part of our Earth Month coverage; using public transport is an obvious but still often overlooked way of reducing your impact on the planet.
With that said, it's still apparent that the main reason why most people choose public transport is because it's the cheapest option. That isn't invariably the case. As we've noted several times before, taking a taxi will probably work out cheaper if you have more than a couple of people travelling. In those cities with a train service, one thing to bear in mind though is that a train may offer a faster journey, especially during peak hour, and that queues for taxis can sometimes be substantial. Airport public transport almost invariably concentrates on travel to the centre of town; if you're heading somewhere entirely different, then a taxi or a door-to-door airport shuttle may be a more practical alternative.
In the list below, we've included options 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 or shuttle services (unless there’s no alternative offered) or taxis. Costs are for a single airport-CBD trip, with return options noted when they're available. Some (but not all) services will offer student or senior concessions. Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane will also offer discounts for smartcard users, but that won’t apply to most one-off visitors.
In several cities, there’s a further choice between a cheap general bus service and a more specific airport service. The latter will usually cost more, but can make up for that with more frequent services and more dedicated luggage-carrying space.
A final point: if you're planning to use public transport, you'll need to think carefully about the timing of your flights. Cheap flights are often available first thing in the morning or late at night, but public transport options are usually limited at that point. If you really want to travel on a budget, factor in the total cost, not just the flights themselves.
Also, if you’re looking to move between domestic and international terminals at Australian airports, check out our guide to 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, and departs every 20 minutes or so (30 minutes on weekends).
A single myBus fare costs between $2.00 or $4.30, 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 Airport Link 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. There’s no option for an open return, though you can buy a same-day return (minimum cost $25).
Notes: A recent change means that there's no extra charge for exiting at Mascot station, which is about 20 minutes walk from the domestic airport. That makes it a potential option for cheaper travel, though in poor weather or with lots of luggage the bus is still going to be more appealing. 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 number of public buses which leave Melbourne Airport and connect with various train stations allowing a connection to the city. By far the most frequent of these is the 901, which runs every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. This connects to numerous train stations, of which Broadmeadows is the first you'll reach. In addition, the 478 and 479 go to Essendon, while the 500 goes to Broadmeadows; these are substantially less frequent, however.
The arrival of the 901 has made taking buses from Melbourne Airport much more practical, but has one disadvantage: all the buses now depart from a stop opposite the Toll building past the Tiger terminal (turn right when you exit the airport). Previously, the 478, 479 and 500 operated into the main airport bus area, but that's now exclusively used by shuttle services.
A single 2-hour trip covering these services (all the way to the city) will cost you $6.00.
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. Coachtrans offers a bus service which is marginally more expensive than the Airtrain ($30 for a return), but worth noting because it continues to run after the train option has stopped.
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 major 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 to the city every 30 minutes, 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 $3.70.
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.
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 $4.60, or $2.80 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.
Cheapest option: The 702 bus now runs directly from the airport along the Gold Coast Highway to Southport, with services every 30 minutes.
Darwin doesn’t have any public transport options; the Darwin Airport Shuttle costs $13 for a single, $18 for a return.
Hobart doesn’t have any public transport options; the Redline Airport Shuttle costs $15 for a single, or $25 for a return.
Missed a useful option? Let us know in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has tested every option on this list, except the Darwin Airport Shuttle. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.