John F. Kenney International (JFK) is New York’s largest airport and one of the busiest airports in the world. There are multiple transportation options to get from JFK to a final destination in the Greater NYC area. To select the best option, travelers must consider their budget and their tolerance for inconvenience.
Below is an easy reference guide to help navigate (pun intended!) this decision.
To make comparison easy, my analysis assumes a traveler wants to get from JFK to Manhattan. Actual costs and routes will vary depending on destination and time of travel.
The ‘No-Thinking-Required’ Option: Yellow Taxis
Cost: ~$60 + ($52 flat fee + tolls, surcharges, and tips). Credit cards accepted
Time: 45 – 60 minutes
Best when: You have luggage and don’t mind the possibility of traffic. Taxis are a great option when the line is short and the wait for an Uber or Lyft is longer than you’d like.
Taxis are readily available – though you will likely have to line up. Fortunately, the lines usually move quickly. Look for giant yellow signs after exiting baggage control.
The ‘I’m On a Budget’ Option: Airtrain + Subway
Cost: $7.75 + ($5 AirTrain + $2.75 subway). Credit cards accepted. Lowest cost option
Time: 60 – 90 minutes. Reliable, but slow.
Best when: You’re on a budget and traveling light, your final destination is near a stop on the ‘E’ or ‘A’ line, or you want to avoid traffic.
JFK arguably has some of the best public transportation links of the three major NYC airports. That said, it’s still not quite as seamless as what travelers might find at many European and Asian airports that feature direct rail links to city centers.
If taking the subway, I strongly recommend using a service like Google Maps or CityMapper to figure out your route to your final destination and look schedules and route changes. If you don’t anticipate having mobile data service on arrival, be sure to look up directions in advance. In general, the steps are as follow
1). After exiting baggage claim, look for signs directing you to the AirTrain. At the AirTrain station, pick a train heading to the stop you need as follows
- Jamaica Station Line – To catch the E or J line and also the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road)
- Howard Beach Line – To catch the A line
2) When you arrive at Jamaica Station or Howard Beach, you will need to purchase a MetroCard with a minimum of $7.75 on it to exit the AirTrain and transfer to a subway line. There is a $1 fee if you’re purchasing a new card. Hold on to this card as you can refill it and use it on any NYC subway or bus.
3) Follow the route Google Map provides. It may be necessary to transfer to another subway line to reach your final destination. For example, to travel to Grand Central, you would transfer from the E to the 6 train at Lexington – 53 station.
The ‘Best of All Worlds‘ Option: Airtrain + Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)
Cost: $15.50+ ($5 airtrain + $10 LIRR) on weekdays. Save $5.75 on weekends! Credit cards accepted.
Time: 35 minutes.
Best when: You’re traveling light and headed to Midtown Manhattan
The fastest option to Manhattan is to transfer from the AirTrain to the LIRR. The LIRR is a more comfortable ride than the subway and drops off at Penn Station, from which a traveler can take many other subway lines or a taxi to their final destination.
To use this method, follow steps 1 and 2 above, heading to Jamaica Station. At Jamaica Station you will have to pay $5 for the AirTrain and then a separate $10 for a LIRR ticket. You can buy your ticket via the LIRR eTix app.
Pro tip: The LIRR offers a discounted CityTicket on weekends that costs only $4.25 for oneway travel between JFK/Jamaica Station and Penn Station. Unfortunately the ticket machines won’t automatically prompt this option and you have to specifically search for and look for the CityTicket fare or ask at a ticket window or via the LIRR eTix app.
The ‘It Depends’ Option: Uber & Lyft
Cost: Varies – see your app (can be significant when surge pricing applies).
Time: 45 – 60 minutes. Pickup time is usually between 5 – 15 minutes.
Convenience: Medium. Great when pick up times are quick, but frustrating when drivers cancel and pick up times are longer than the app forecasts.
Best when: The taxi line is too long or when taking advantage of an Uber/Lyft promotion
App-based services such as Uber and Lyft are available and popular at JFK. In 2018, both services enhanced their apps to enable travelers to input their airline and terminal and be directed to a numbered pickup point to meet their transport. However, in my experience, service quality can be spotty. When wait times are short, an Uber or Lyft can be a great way to skip a long taxi line. More often – the wait times are double what the app predicts, and it can be frustrating to try to coordinate pickup on the phone with a driver at a noisy airport.
That said, it can often be worthwhile to use one of these services in the following scenarios
Cardholders of The Platinum Card by American Express can take full advantage of their monthly $15 Uber credit for rides from JFK.
Delta passengers who have linked their Lyft accounts can earn SkyMiles at a rate of 2x per dollar spent on rides to and from the airport.
Additionally, both Uber and Lyft often run great discount promotions that can make these rides less expensive than a Yellow Taxi when surge pricing is not a factor.
For those who want the convenience of a car without the full cost of a Yellow Taxi, consider a shared service such as UberPool or Shared Lyft to split a ride with other passengers.
Cost: ~$25 per person. Credit cards accepted.
Time: 45 – 60 minutes + significant waiting time for the van to fill up
Best when: You’re traveling alone and have all the time in the world.
Shared van services are available from SuperShuttle and Airlink. If traveling alone, these options are cheaper than a taxi or app-based service, but do require waiting for a van to fill up and may require you be very patient while the shuttle drops other passengers before arriving at your destination. I personally find these services to be the worst of all words and rarely worth the small savings.
The ‘Meh’ Option: Direct Bus
Cost: $19 per person
Time: 60 – 90 minutes. Busses run every 30 minutes
Best When: You’re traveling alone and departing from Terminals 1,4, or 8 and heading to Grand Central Terminal (best for east side of Manhattan) or Times Square (best for west side of Manhattan)
NYC Express Bus offers a direct route to Manhattan.. The bus is a viable option for those traveling alone and heading to Midtown Manhattan. If you arrive at a terminal other than 1, 4, and 8, you will have to use the Airtrain to switch terminals first and then catch the direct bus at the curb. You also may have to transfer to a subway or taxi once you arrive in Manhattan if your destination is not walking distance from Grand Central or Times Square
The ‘Money is No Object’ Option: Helicopter Transfer
Cost: $~295 per seat
Time: 5 minutes
Best When: You’re traveling alone and departing from 1,4, or 8 and heading to Grand Central Terminal (best for east side of Manhattan) or Times Square (best for west side of Manhattan)
If you’re really in a hurry and not particularly price sensitive, consider using Blade’s Bounce helicopter service. Using the Blade app, book a pre-scheduled helicopter that aligns with your flight time. On arrival, you will be escorted to your helicopter which takes about 5 minutes to travel to Manhattan’s far west side. On arrival, you’ll have access to a BLADE lounge where you can freshen up or grab a drink.
The Blade Lounge location is fantastic if you need to be on Manhattan’s west side near Hudson Yards and Penn Station. However, if you are traveling to the East side, you may actually be better off in a car from JFK that doesn’t have to run into cross-town traffic.
The ‘Really Bad Idea’ Option: Taxi Touts
Unfortunately, illegal taxi touts are very common at JFK. Some of them are legitimate drivers going rogue, but others are complete strangers looking to make a quick buck. They usually approach uninformed travelers immediately after exiting baggage claim and offer rides. Some even call themselves ‘Uber’ drivers. Do not take one of these drivers. Besides being incredibly unsafe, many of these drivers actually charge more than official transportation options, are less likely to accept credit cards, and require walking a greater distance to a vehicle parked in a lot.