Lifehacker’s Complete 2012 Australian Airport Public Transport Guide

Lifehacker’s Complete 2012 Australian Airport Public Transport Guide

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.

Gold Coast

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.


  • Why is it that only Adelaide seems to get this right?

    Airport public transport is part of the rest of the public transport system in the vast majority of European and north Asian cities. Makes no sense that one location in a city should cost vastly more to get to, particularly when there is only a bus service being provided (Melbourne, Canberra) as opposed to a train line funded by a PPP (Sydney, Brisbane).

    • I assume there is a reluctance to subsidise transport to the airport. The ticket prices reflect the actual cost of running the service. Regular public transport fares only cover about 25% of the cost, which explains why airport transport seems to be about 4 times higher. A big justification for subsidising public transport is that it reduces private car use. People already have a huge disincentive to drive their own cars to the airport which reduces the need for a subsidy.

      Although I do note that at all airports in this list where transport is provided by the regular public transport provider, the standard, subsidised fare is charged. It is only where a private company runs it (either by providing buses or building the train line) that higher fees are charged.

    • Sydney’s airport link train is a part of the Cityrail network. At least part of the problem though is that those stations and track were built by a private firm, who then controlled fares. Up until fairly recently those high prices applied to all four stations on that new link, not just the two airport ones.

    • it’s even cheaper if you’re a regular traveller. Just buy a 10-trip ticket for $31.90 peak and $17.50 interpeak. (although the 10-trip ticket is likely to change soon when they phase out tickets and have a swipe card, but prices will remain the same. Then $3.19 or $1.75 will be deducted at the time of boarding depending on the time, as long as you have a card)

  • You will need to change the Canberra option to the most convenient option. The cheapest option is to take the ACTION Bus route 10 from the city to the nearby Brindabella Business Park, which operates only on weekdays. The airport is only a 5-10 minute walk from the nearest bus stop (depending on how much luggage you are carrying.)

    From the airport you can catch it from between 9:30am to 4:30pm, and from the city 8:15am to 3:45pm, and the trip takes about 40 minutes. The one way fare is only $4 for two trips within 2 hours.

    Other buses that run that way are the 28, from Woden town centre (between 6:25 to 8:10am to Brindabella, 4:15pm to 5:45pm from Brindabella), and the express peak hour routes 737 (6:30 to 8:15am, from city to Brindabella, 4:30 to 5:55pm reverse), 757 (6:30 to 7:25am, from Gungahlin town centre to Brindabella, 4:30 to 5:40pm reverse), and 786 ((6:45 to 7:20am, from Tuggeranong town centre to Brindabella, 4:45 to 5:45pm reverse). The fare is as above.

  • FYI for Cheap Brisbane options :

    — Train Central to Eagle junction
    – Bus from Eagle Junction to Airport Village (not sure what happened here but the bus I was supposed to connect to may have gone early)
    – T-bus from Airport Village to Domestic airport

    Cost = $0 as I had already paid for 9 trips for the week. I think peak fare is $3.56 and off-peak fare is $2.87.

    • I do the same, but catch the bus from Toombul Shopping Centre (for which the timetable should be a little more reliable, as it’s the major bus interchange from which the route departs). I forget what route number it was, but I’m sure they called it the DFO and Aviation Precinct or something.

  • Brisbane – if it is money you wish to conserve – the T-Bus to the airport DFO shopping village (free, runs about every 20 mins, takes about 10 mins) then the 369 bus to Toombul Shops (or Eagle Junction), cross the road and take the train into the city. $4.24 on a GO Card peak, $3.40 off peak, $6.20 paper ticket. The journey time will add up to well over an hour even with good connections. The airtrain takes about 25 mins and runs half hourly. Depending on CBD destination (and outside 4 to 6pm on a Friday!), for 3 or more people travelling together a taxi should work out cheaper than the train – and is fast now the airportlink tunnel has opened.

  • Perth: the 36 bus doesn’t go right into the domestic terminal any more (politics…), so it’s a 1.3km walk to catch one.
    Mind you, if you’ve only got one wheeled suitcase, or a backpack, and the weather’s nice, it might be worth it! Don’t go out to Midland Station and then train in, though; just catch one of the three bus routes that go straight into the city from there.

  • FYI – There is another bus from Sydney airport. What I did was leave the domestic terminal and go for a nice pleasant walk for 20 minutes to this bus stop outside the post office and then you can take a 309, 310 or M20 into Central and the City. If you only have a carry-on and are fit, and not in a hurry, and of course a cheapskate, then it is not a bad option to consider as you save over $10. Good choice if you are on your way to a backpackers.

  • I work as concierge at a famous hotel located in the Bondi Area of Sydney. I honestly recommend for $15 each way to take Sydney Eastern Shuttle. I am in no way affiliated with them but for the price – it’s cheaper than the trains and leaves Sydney’s eastern Suburbs every hour. Well worth it – i fly to melbourne every 3 weeks and this is the way to go.

    • Strongly advise that you pre-boom eastern suburbs shuttles prior to arrival in Sydney as they are notoriously hard to organise for an airport pick-up at the last minute.

  • If you’re not in a hurry or don’t have much luggage you can walk to Mascot station from Sydney airport to get a normal train ticket in about 20 minutes. In Adelaide I’ve had nothing to do for a day and walked to the airport from the city to kill time. Melbourne there are alternative little shuttle busses from different suburbs but increasingly I drive to the car parks that are 5 minutes from the airport and pretty cheap if you pre book. They then drive you to the airport. At least Melbourne has a proper place to pick people up now if you’re circling waiting for someone. Pretty sure there is a normal bus that goes to Melbourne Airport from Mooney Ponds.

  • Once again, the Canberra option absolutely sucks. Last time I needed to look at bussing from the airport, there were buses about every hour in the morning and about every hour in the afternoon, starting late, ending early, and with a seemingly random large gap at lunchtime. I guess most of the people flying into Canberra are public servants who get hire cars or can afford to taxi everywhere 🙁

  • Also if you’re going to be doing a lot of airport train trips in Sydney, you can buy bulk packs of tickets online from the airport link website. Takes it down to $13.80 or so, and then always have them in your wallet

  • In Brisbane if you are a southside resident you can catch a Bus from Garden city to the airport DFO and then catch a airport shuttle the one way fare from garden city to the DFO is about $4.00 am not sure the shuttle price and this bus runs from about 5am to about 7pm so if u have a late get away could be a cheaper option, I have used the bus a 590 to the DFO but have not used it to the airport not many people use it so carrying luggage on would not be a major problem.

  • I use the 901 bus to Tullarmarine (Melbourne Airport) it stops just near the Tiger terminal. The route starts in Frankston via Dandenong, Rowville, Ringwood etc, but I use the train to Broadmeadows, change to the bus outside the station on Pascoe Vale Road. It is only a 10 min journey and departs around every 15 minutes. All VLine country trains stop at Broadmeadows for this reason.

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