Using public transport to get to and from the airport saves money, cuts down on traffic and stops you cursing at the price of airport parking. We've rounded up the options for every Australian capital city to help you start your trip on the right note.
Picture by Charles Haynes
For the 2012 version of this guide, we've stuck with the same format we used in previous years, but have updated the information to reflect changes in price and service availability. Pricing is a key focus: ultimately, most people who choose to use airport public transport will do so because it's the cheapest available option. That said, it can also be the fastest (taking the train to Sydney or Brisbane airport is often much quicker during rush hour, for instance).
Whether it's actually the cheapest will depend largely on how many people are travelling. As a solo traveller, public transport will invariably beat a taxi, and even private airport bus services will normally work out less as well. Once you have two people involved, a taxi may well be cheaper, and if you have three or more, a taxi will nearly always work out to be the best bet. Most airport public transport options concentrate on getting to the CBD; if you need to travel elsewhere, public transport can become quite time-consuming.
In the list below, we've included options for each of Australia’s capital city airports, covering regularly scheduled government-funded 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. Costs are for a single airport-CBD trip, with return options noted when they're available. Some services offer student or senior concessions; Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane also offer discounts for smartcard users, which is useful for residents of those cities but unlikely to be a consideration for casual visitors.
In Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, 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. The cheapest flights are often available first thing in the morning or late at night, but public transport options are often limited at that point. If you really want to travel on a budget, factor in the total cost, not just the flights themselves. Saving $20 on your ticket won't help if you have to spend $50 on a taxi.
Cheapest option: The 400 bus between Bondi and Burwood via the domestic airport doesn't include any premium airport charge. 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 $2.10 and $4.50, depending on your starting point. (Unless you purchase a $21 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 from Central costs $15.40, and to international costs $16.20; 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 $25.80, more for outlying stations).
Notes: There's no extra charge for exiting at Mascot station, which is about a 20 minute walk from the domestic airport. That makes it a potential option for cheaper travel, though in poor weather or with lots of luggage it's less 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 are several 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.
All these services have one big disadvantage: the buses depart from a stop opposite the Toll building past the Tiger terminal (turn right when you exit the main airport). A single 2-hour trip covering these services (all the way to the city) will cost you $6.50.
Most convenient option: The SkyBus service runs at 15 minute intervals most of the day, but is available 24 hours. An open return costs $28 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 more expensive than the Airtrain ($38 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 $29 (buying online attracts a discount, though you’ll still need to collect an actual ticket at the airport ticket office). Our previous biggest complaint about the Airtrain — a ludicrously early stopping time — has eased slightly, with trains to now running until 10pm. That said, it still only runs every 30 minutes most of the day.
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 $4.00.
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 $4.90, or $3.00 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 Airport Express bus runs from the airport to the city centre. A return ticket costs $20; a single is $10. There’s no service after 7pm and limited service on weekends.
Cheapest option: The 702 bus 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 $15 for a single, $27 for a return.
Hobart doesn’t have any public transport options; the Redline Airport Shuttle costs $16 for a single, or $28 for a return.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is happy with the bus option most of the time. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.