The Complete Guide To Get From JFK To Manhattan

by Sanjay

John F. Kennedy 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 New York City 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

Waiting for taxi at JFK

Image by Sergio Calleja | Wikimedia Commons

Cost: ~$60 + ($52 flat fee + tolls, surcharges, and tips). Credit cards accepted

Time: 45 – 60 minutes

Convenience: High

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.

Taxi stand at JFK

Image by T4 JFK International Air Terminal

The ‘I’m On a Budget’ Option: Airtrain + Subway

JFK's AirTrain Service

Image by Ad Meskens | Wikimedia Commons

Cost: $7.75 + ($5 AirTrain + $2.75 subway). Credit cards accepted. Lowest cost option

Time: 60 – 90 minutes. Reliable, but slow.

Convenience: Medium

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 – 53rd St station.

Head to Howard Beach station to catch the A train into Brooklyn and Manhattan

Image by Nadia Chaudhury | Wikimedia Commons

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.

Convenience: High

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.

Long Island Rail Road Station at JFK

Image by Travis Wise | Wikimedia Commons

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. Back 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:

Related: JFK To Manhattan: Quick Hack To Uber Rides For Less

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 a shared Lyft to split a ride with other passengers.

If you don’t currently have an account, you’ll want to set one up in advance. Use my referral link to get $5 off your first ride with Uber or Lyft.

The ‘I Love Pain’ Option: Shared Vans

Cost: ~$25  per person. Credit cards accepted.

Time: 45 – 60 minutes + significant waiting time for the van to fill up

Convenience: Low

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 worlds and rarely worth the small savings.

The ‘Meh’ Option: Direct Bus

Direct bus service to Midtown Manhattan

Image by nybuspics | Flickr

Cost: $19 per person

Time: 60 – 90 minutes. Busses run every 30 minutes

Convenience: Low

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: From $195 per seat

Time: 5 minutes

Convenience: High

Best When: You’re traveling alone and want quick, convenient service to Manhattan (with views!) and have limited luggage.

Image by Neo_II | Flickr

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.

> Related: Airport Helicopter War Heats Up: Uber To Take On BLADE

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.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

22 comments
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22 comments

Offtonewyork January 30, 2019 - 4:35 pm

Thank you! Regarding the LIRR option, how late does that run in the evening and what is considered “weekend“?

Reply
Sanjay January 30, 2019 - 4:45 pm

The LIRR runs 24/7, but the schedule may be slower during off-peak hours. I would check the schedule first using CityMapper to determine if it makes sense to wait for the LIRR or take the subway. The weekend CityTicket is available on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Reply
phoenix June 30, 2019 - 9:58 pm

I rode the LIRR after my very-delayed flight arrived past 1 AM. I hope that answers your question.

Reply
derek January 30, 2019 - 6:19 pm

There’s a cheaper way between JFK and Manhattan.

Q10 bus at either Terminal 5 or Lefferts Airtrain station to Kew Gardens subway station on the E train line. Essentially, one is taking the bus instead of the Airtrain and saving $5 as a result. Total cost $2.75

Reply
Sanjay January 31, 2019 - 4:18 am

Good to know! Thanks for sharing.

Reply
Jyoti January 31, 2019 - 5:07 pm

@Derek, how long does the Q10 option take?

Reply
derek July 1, 2019 - 1:08 am

The Q10 LTD takes 35-37 minutes according to their published schedule. There are 4-5 buses per hour.

Reply
Joey January 30, 2019 - 8:38 pm

If you live in NYC and travel via the airtrain route, I suggest getting the MTA 10-trip Airtrain card for $25. That’s a 50% discount so each airtrain ride would cost $2.50 instead of $5.00. That’s what I do since I generally travel light and live near the E train stop.
@Derek, I’ve always heard about that Q10 bus and hope to ride it someday just to experience it!

Reply
Sanjay January 31, 2019 - 4:19 am

Also a great tip! You just have to be responsible enough not to lose that 10-trip card in between trips. I’ve proven unable to handle that responsibility.

Reply
Mike jones January 31, 2019 - 12:23 am

If you get to Jamaica station from the air train and need to buy a metrocard buy it at the little convenience store before the gate. They do not charge the $1 for a new metrocard that the metrocard machines do.

Reply
N. S. Fusco January 31, 2019 - 9:54 am

NYC is the only major world city that does not have direct, rapid train transit from the center city to its airports. Don’t start with excuses. Cities as populous, as crowded, with real estate costs as dear, with right-of-way problems as big as anything NYC faces have made the investment and developed the transit connections. NYC, the MTA and the State should be shamed by this.

Reply
James January 31, 2019 - 12:17 pm

Hi guys. How about doing a blog about transferring from JFK to EWR and vice-versa? I do this route once a year and constantly have to depend on friends/ family to help me out. I would love to have an option, where I do not disturb anyone because of my travel plans.

Reply
Sanjay January 31, 2019 - 12:27 pm

Sure. Adding that to the list!

The easy option is obviously a taxi or uber. However, the public transport option isn’t as bad as one would think. You could take the LIRR or subway to Penn Station and then switch there to a New Jersey Transit train heading to EWR-Newark.

Reply
phoenix00 June 30, 2019 - 10:09 pm

Option #2 is transfer to/from PATH at either Newark Penn or NY Penn. Might be an option for getting into south Manhattan.

Reply
Balazs January 31, 2019 - 3:45 pm

Maybe by plane… ex. JFK-BOS-EWR by Jetblue/Amwerican/etc. from apx. 150usd

Reply
Mick February 1, 2019 - 7:49 pm

Ha!

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Mick February 1, 2019 - 7:50 pm

Funny enough I just flew from jfk to Ord for the first time in years. Middle of the day took 30mins from midtown. And I loved the airport. Big empty and spacious.

Reply
Jeannine Roman February 4, 2019 - 12:15 pm

N.S. Fusco: Apparently you’ve never tried to get to LAX from ANYWHERE in the greater Los Angeles area. Best major world city for train access–Sydney, Australia. Train directly from Circular Quay/CBC to inside of airport!

Reply
Stephanie Woods June 30, 2019 - 3:25 pm

I’ve done the JFK-AirTrain-LIRR back and forth about 3-4 times with 2 pieces of luggage, 1 large and 1 carryon. It’s fine with luggage. If you are coming in from Penn Station, it’s even easier since LIRR is just one floor below. Even I, a non-New Yorker managed this. It is SO MUCH BETTER than the Airporter- way faster and much cheaper. It’s taken me three hours before with the Airporter before. As for as taxis; just be aware when taking them; if they sense you are from out of town-they may try to scam you. I took one from JFK to the Crowne Plaza which was 2 miles away. He turned off the meter and charged me $20 and complained when I refused to tip him. As I charged it, I had a record of his badge number and reported him to the Taxi Authority and he was fined $400-I did not get any of my money back, but I bet he won’t try that again. The same thing happened to me in Honolulu this past May-the taxi driver turned off the meter and tried to overcharge me. I just threw some money at him and walked out and took a bus back to avoid scammy taxi drivers.

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Justin January 19, 2020 - 2:04 pm

If you fly a lot, Blade sells annual passes for $295 and you get $50 off each blade trip, so if you use it 6 times, it is paid for. Also Blade now flies to the east 34th street heliport from JFK and EWR. I’ve seen Uber/Lyft be as much as $110 from the upper east side during major rush hours so to me $145 is well worth the extra $35 to take the helicopter.

Reply
samra saghir January 26, 2020 - 1:26 am

Thank you for this article I am using Nyc united limo where you are in Manhattan, but for my money:
– LIRR from Penn Station to Jamaica,
– Air Train to JFK.
It’s a very low-cost and good services

Reply
Iqbal June 5, 2020 - 6:49 pm

AMazing Post 🙂

Reply

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