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Choosing the Best Method for Airport and Hotel Transfers

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An important part of maximizing your travel is making sure your vacation time doesn’t get used up in transit. In this post, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen offers his tips for how to get around once you’ve reached your destination.

There are a lot of considerations that go into trip planning. Points and miles enthusiasts naturally focus much of their efforts on crafting the perfect award ticket and finding the best free hotel room. However, it’s important not to let the finer details slip through the cracks. Unless you’re planning an airport vacation, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is how to get to your accommodations in the first place. Today I’ll cover some strategies for figuring this out ahead of time so you can hit the ground running and make the most of your travels.

Finding transportation options to the Andaz Amsterdam (and its tulip chairs in the lobby) was a breeze thanks to its detailed website.
Finding transportation options to the Andaz Amsterdam (and its tulip chairs in the lobby) was a breeze thanks to its detailed website.

Where to Begin?

You can start your research in a variety of places, but I personally always go to my hotel’s website. You’ll find that some are more thorough and accurate than others, but I’ve found that most provide decent information. For example, I recently completed a stay at the fantastic Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht. The hotel’s site had great information regarding transportation from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as well as the city’s central train station.

A second place I usually check is the arrival airport’s website. This helps you confirm that the hotel is showing you all of your options and that the information is up to date. Again, I’ve found some variability in the quality of information on these sites. Some offer detailed information on all available options, while others just list links to the various transit providers.

Other sources can also give you some great information. Reviews on TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk can provide detailed first-hand accounts, and I’ve found that Google Maps can be a great tool for verifying the closest metro/bus stops or train stations. While you can currently use a limited portion of this app without a live connection, Google plans to make navigation and GPS functions available offline by the end of 2015.

Riding in one of Tahiti's famous "Le Truck" buses was our most interesting airport transfer to date! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Riding in one of Tahiti’s famous “Le Truck” buses was our most interesting airport transfer to date! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A final (and often illuminating) option is to simply type a search along the lines of “Transfer from X to Y” into Google and see what pops up. When my wife and I visited French Polynesia a few years ago, we booked a six-night stay at the Hilton Moorea and knew we needed a ferry to reach the island from Tahiti. However, we stumbled across an online forum describing the island’s “Le Trucks” (which I am sad to say have since been replaced), and we used those to get from the airport to the ferry dock. Waving down and then riding a rickety old “bus” at 6am after a red-eye from Los Angeles with two giant suitcases was quite the cultural experience!

TPG only had one option for transfers to the Conrad Maldives, but that's usually not the case.
TPG only had one option for transfers to the Conrad Maldives, but that’s usually not the case.

Compare the Options

In some rare cases, you may have only a single option — during TPG’s visit to the Conrad Maldives back in 2013, it was seaplane or … seaplane! You also may find resorts that include transportation in the room rate. For example, the Scrub Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands (which made my list of awesome Marriott redemptions) provides complimentary boat service to the property from the Trellis Bay ferry dock.

However, most other hotels give you a variety of options for your transfers:

  • Taxi
  • Uber/Lyft/other
  • Limousine
  • Public transportation (train/subway/bus)
  • Charter bus
  • Hotel-provided transportation
  • A combination of these methods

One of the great things about the vast majority of these methods is that you can use a points-earning credit card for the purchase. Which one you swipe is entirely up to you, but top options include the Citi ThankYou Premier Card (3x points on travel expenses), the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x points on travel purchases) and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (points can be redeemed to cover travel expenses with a 10% rebate). Each of these cards also waives foreign transaction fees, offering you additional savings on these transfers.

You should also keep double-dip opportunities in mind as you investigate these options. For example, Uber has partnered with both Starwood Preferred Guest and Capital One (for holders of the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card), allowing you to earn Starpoints and/or enjoy discounts on these transfers. You’ll find that many airport transportation companies partner with various loyalty programs, including SuperShuttle (partners with Delta, Frontier, United and Southwest) and Carmel (partners with Alaska, American, Delta, El Al, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United).

Public transportation from the airport will likely be the cheapest option. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Public transportation from the airport will likely be the cheapest option. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Not surprisingly, limousines and hotel-provided options tend to be most expensive, while public transportation is likely the cheapest (especially bus transfers). When my wife and I visited Nashville for our alma mater’s bowl game back in 2011, we were psyched to come across a local bus route that cost less than $2 per person and dropped us off two blocks from our hotel in just 25 minutes!

However, sometimes cost takes a backseat to convenience. For our stay at the Andaz in Amsterdam, our flight arrived at 9:30pm. While public transportation would’ve been the cheapest option, it would have required a train ride, a tram ride and a walk. Doing that with two large suitcases and a six-month-old late at night seemed daunting!

As a result, we simply booked a private transfer through the hotel. It was pricey, but included a very comfortable car (complete with a safety seat for the baby) and luggage assistance. We felt it was money well spent simply for the convenience.

We pre-booked our airport transfer to the Conrad Bali, which sure beat dealing with it after 30+ hours of travel!
We pre-booked our airport transfer to the Conrad Bali, which sure beat dealing with it after 30+ hours of travel.

Try to Pre-Book (If Possible)

When public transportation is not an option, I would strongly recommend arranging transportation in advance of your arrival. Taking a long-haul flight is taxing enough; you definitely don’t want to be stuck in long lines or left trying to figure out your options with a red-eye brain! Many companies even offer discounts for pre-booking online.

This will also avoid the headache of withdrawing money as soon as you hit the arrivals hall. I’ve seen more and more taxis that take credit cards over the last year or two, but you may still be stuck paying cash in certain cities. Booking in advance not only ensures that you’ll earn bonus points on the purchase, but also allows you to wait until you find a partner bank to withdraw money to save on ATM transaction fees.

The final benefit of pre-booking comes when you arrange paid transportation directly through the hotel. These charges usually post to your room and allow you to earn points in the corresponding loyalty program. In fact, you can double-dip by using a chain’s co-branded credit card (such as the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card or the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express) to earn additional points.

You may need to find a back-up transfer option if the subway is closed, like I discovered recently in London.
You may need to find a back-up transfer option if the subway is closed, as I discovered recently in London.

Have a Back-up Plan

Finally, flexibility will be your best friend with these transfers (and traveling in general). Even if you plan everything in advance, last-minute changes can pop up that require you to pursue an alternative transportation option. When my family needed to get to London-Heathrow this past weekend after a great stay at the Conrad London St. James (a property that made my list of awesome Hilton HHonors redemptions), our plan was to take the tube from St. James’s Park station, which was literally across the street from the hotel’s entrance. Unfortunately, the District and Circle Lines were undergoing maintenance and were closed on our day of travel. My wife and I know London very well and easily adjusted our plans. Had it been another (less familiar) city, knowing the alternative methods would have been a lifesaver.

Bottom Line

You typically have a myriad of hotel transfer options when you arrive at your destination, but doing your research ahead of time can save you stress and may even save you money! When my wife and I arrived at Paris’ Gare du Nord train station a couple of weeks ago, we were immediately approached by a private taxi company who wanted to charge €90 for the short transfer to the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme. Other private drivers were asking for half that much, which was still significantly higher than the €12 to €15 for a metered cab to travel the 2.6 kilometers.

Remember too that these strategies don’t just apply to lengthy stays in cities; you can also use them when you have just a quick layover and want to explore some of the major sites. Check out our Layover Lowdown series for details on how to travel to the city center for select destinations around the world, including Paris, Singapore and San Francisco.

How do you typically research and decide on hotel transfers while traveling?

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