Shuttle or chauffeur? 5 ways to get from the airport to your hotel
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When it comes to trip planning, there's a lot to consider. An important part of maximizing your travel is making sure your vacation time doesn't get used up in transit.
Points and miles enthusiasts naturally focus the bulk of our 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 — which isn't all that ridiculous if we're talking about Singapore's Changi airport — one of the first decisions you'll need to make is how to get to your accommodations in the first place. The options listed below are fairly common at most destinations, including international airports.
One of our favorites had been Groundlink, but we learned it had gone out of business. So we thought we'd better revisit the best ways to get from the plane to your hotel or wherever else you are headed.
Here are their pros and cons, as well as when you are most likely to want to use them.
When it comes to planning transit, you can start your research in a variety of places. But it's important to know your unique traveling requirements beforehand: If you're with half of your extended family, or traveling with young children, you'll need very different transportation from someone traveling solo with just a carry-on.
If you're staying at a hotel, it makes a lot of sense to start with the hotel website. Some are more thorough and accurate than others, but most provide decent information, especially if the hotel is located in a popular tourist hotspot.
Sleep with the planes: The 10 best hotels attached to airports in the U.S. and Canada
The arrival airport's website should be your next stop, just to confirm that your hotel showed you all of your options, and that transit information is up to date. Again, there's some variance in the quality of information from 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 Google Maps can be a great tool for verifying the closest metro/bus stops or train stations. Best of all, Google Maps is available offline, as long as you download the relevant section of the map to your mobile device beforehand.
Of course, Airbnb accommodations are very different from hotels, and so are the transportation options. In these scenarios, your best bet is to reach out directly to your host for suggestions. They should be able to give you the most up-to-date information. Sometimes, a polite inquiry has even resulted in my host insisting on picking me up and dropping me back off at the airport, free of charge. It doesn't usually happen, but it can, especially in regions known for local hospitality.
A final — and often adventuresome — option is to simply type a search along the lines of "Transfer from X to Y" into Google and see what pops up. When TPG senior writer Nick Ewen and his wife visited French Polynesia several years ago, they booked a six-night stay at the Hilton Moorea, and knew they needed a ferry to reach the island from Tahiti. However, they stumbled across an online forum describing the island's "Le Trucks" (which, sadly, have since been replaced), and used those to get from the airport to the ferry dock. Waving down and then riding a rickety old "bus" at 6 a.m. after a red-eye from Los Angeles with two giant suitcases was quite the cultural experience!
Compare Your Options
You'll usually have a few options for getting from Point A to Point B. In order of average price point, here's what you typically can choose from:
- Complimentary hotel shuttle, where available
- Public transit system, such as a bus or metro
- Ride hailing service, such as Lyft or Uber
- Local taxicab
- Private car service (if you have a premium credit card, you can ask your concierge service to book for you)
GroundLink's airport car service used to be an [awesome] option, but has been discontinued as of Aug. 31, 2020.
In some rare cases, you may have only a single option. A number of exotic island resorts boasting overwater villas, for example, operate their own seaplane services to and from the main airport, and don't allow ferries, speed boats or planes from other companies to land on their private property. Many times, these resorts will state that seaplane transfers cost several hundred dollars per person, and the fees are usually separate from your room rate.
But sometimes, transportation is included in your room rate — so double-check the fine print before you double-book. For example, the Scrub Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands provides complimentary boat service to the property from the Trellis Bay ferry dock.
As always, transportation provides an additional opportunity for you to earn points and miles toward your next trip, as long as you use a points-earning credit card for the purchase.
Which one you swipe is entirely up to you, but some of our favorites are:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best starter travel credit card
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining at restaurants
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel credits
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for small business travel
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for earning miles at a flat rate
Each of these cards also waives foreign transaction fees, offering you additional savings on these transfers.
Hotel shuttle service
As mentioned above, there's no point in paying twice for service unless you want to travel a bit more privately or directly. Some hotels offer complimentary pickup service to and from the airport via shuttle bus, and Marriott even allows you to track hotel shuttles via its app. The downside to this is that you'll often have to wait for designated times — usually on the hour — and you'll be traveling along with everyone else from your hotel and possibly nearby properties as well.
If you just want door-to-door service, and don't want to do your own research, you can always ask your doorman to hail a cab for you, or request the front desk call for car service. Some hotels allow you to add the charge to your room, but most will have you arrange payment directly with the driver or service. Keep in mind this is usually a most expensive option.
Public transportation, including bus systems and metros are a popular option in major metropolitan areas with the right infrastructure such as Tokyo, New York or London. Of course, some cities are more user-friendly than others: The MRT in Taiwan is relatively small, user-friendly and very easy to navigate. Meanwhile, the Japan Rail system is a marvel of modern urban planning, but its multiple train lines, which utilize several different ticketing systems that are mutually incompatible, can be confusing for first-time visitors.
Taking the bus or train will often be your cheapest option, whether you're staying in a hotel or an Airbnb. Most properties that are close to public transit stops are proud to say so, so this is a good detail to look for your hotel or property website when you're booking your stay.
As a general rule, buses can be more confusing than subways, especially when traveling in unfamiliar destinations. Bus networks are often much larger than subway systems and much less centralized, and it can be frustrating to hunt for your destination with suitcases in tow after you step off of your bus. So if you opt for this route, make sure you have Google Maps downloaded beforehand, just in case you need it.
Ride hailing services
As technology increasingly dominates every aspect of our lives, it's hard to imagine a time when you couldn't just call for pickup literally anywhere in the developed world.
I've found Uber to be particularly useful when traveling overseas, since my app works internationally in any destination where Uber has a presence (as long as I have Wi-Fi or cell service, of course). While I eschew Uber for Lyft in the U.S., the latter doesn't offer nearly as many options overseas. In contrast, I've utilized Uber in South America, North Africa and East Asia with relative ease.
As a solo female traveler, I consider Uber's international network to be one of my safest ways to get to and from the airport, especially when I don't want to do too much legwork on transportation options. For instance, I had a full-day layover in Casablanca, Morocco, last November where I wanted to go into the city for a few hours to explore.
I hailed an Uber through my phone and walked right outside to my driver without exchanging a penny of local currency, instead of having to push through the throng of pushy cab drivers to find a reasonable fare I would then have to pay in foreign cash, with change I might never use again (or more realistically, forget to pack on my next visit).
The only issue is that, if the driver can't find me, a phone call for clarification can be costly without the right international phone plan in place, since calling me through the Uber app triggers an international roaming call on my phone if I pick up. I will often message the driver via the app to say that I'll call back via Skype or WhatsApp, but it's a hassle and can result in additional confusion.
In certain regions of the world, it makes more sense to ditch Uber for local car sharing apps, such as Careem in the Middle East and Grab in southeast Asia (which actually acquired Uber's southeast Asia assets in 2018). Similar to Uber, many of these alternative ride-hailing companies also offer food delivery and other courier services. And in Asia, one of my all-time favorite ways to travel is by scooter pickup, where you pay a few pennies to ride as a passenger on a moped ride share.
Over the past decade, hailing a cab has fallen out of vogue somewhat as ride hailing services have picked up steam. But taxis aren't going anywhere. And sometimes, you'll find that it's just easier to hail a cab than trying to find your driver via an app that may or may not have service, at a pickup checkpoint that may or may not have changed locations since your last visit.
But before you hop in a cab, make sure you know the local regulations, including whether or not they are required to post signage and licenses from the government.
In some locations such as in New Orleans or Las Vegas, cab fares fall within a set range between the airport and a few central zones: No meters, no negotiations.
If prices are not set, find out if local cabs run on metered pricing set by the government, or if prices need to be negotiated before you depart. As a general rule, I avoid cabs whenever possible in destinations that require haggling, especially if another language is involved.
Of course, you always have the option of driving yourself to your new destination. As a general rule, wrangling a rental vehicle and associated parking restrictions and requirements can be more trouble than it's worth in most major cities around the world. But there are exceptions to every rule: If you plan to go directly from Rome to Tuscany and surrounding wine country, for instance, or if you are headed somewhere more remote.
The most convenient rental car companies have kiosks directly available within the airport, sometimes in one of the terminals or perhaps near the parking garage. Cheaper companies will offer shuttle services to the pickup point, which can add time and inconvenience. Don't forget to check Autoslash, a service that saves you up to 77%, before booking your car.
Private car service
If you need a little bit more privacy or luxury, book a car service, especially if you're thinking a luxury limousine for an ultra-special occasion.
There are a lot of options just about anywhere you go, so if you don't feel like doing your own homework, ask your hotel to help you out. Otherwise, your best option will depend on your destination, so check reviews on TripAdvisor and similar travel websites for the most up-to-date information.
If you have a premium credit card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Citi Prestige® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can also call the concierge to arrange pickup and drop-off services for you. American Express utilizes a combination of in-house and third-party companies, while Visa Infinite concierges check the airport website at your destination and book whatever service the airport recommends. Only Citi concierges utilize a dedicated provider these days.
The information for the Citi Prestige cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Other tips to keep in mind
Try to pre-book when possible
When public transportation is not an option, TPG strongly recommends 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 also allows you to skip the headache of withdrawing cash as soon as you hit the arrivals hall. While more and more taxi services now accept credit cards, but that's never guaranteed even in the world's largest cities.
The final benefit of pre-booking comes when you arrange paid transportation directly through the hotel. These charges usually qualify as hotel purchases, and allow you to earn points in the corresponding loyalty program. In fact, you can double-dip by paying with a chain's co-branded credit card to earn additional points. (My personal favorites are the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, both offered through American Express.)
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Case study: Getting from London Heathrow to the city
All that being said, which airport transfer option makes the most sense for you? That answer will vary, depending on where and when you travel.
We picked London, one of our favorite cities (and home to our UK office), as our test city for this exercise. Here are your transport options from London Heathrow (LHR) to Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London.
Public transportation: Subway or night bus from $2 per person, one way
London’s world-famous subway Underground, affectionately nicknamed “the Tube”, is the least expensive way to travel between Heathrow and central London.
The standard single Tube ticket from Heathrow (Zone 6) to central London (Zone 1) costs just $8 for adults or, when paying with a contactless credit card, the single fare to central London is just over $4. If you travel between 6:30–9:30 a.m. Monday to Friday, it’s just under $7. Kids under 11 travel free when accompanied by an adult. When the Tube isn't running, the N9 night bus can take you from Heathrow to Central London for just $2.
The National Express bus to Heathrow is similarly affordable, at around $16 per person, one way. You'll need to book ahead of time for each passenger, and select a specific seat on the bus when you purchase.
Public transportation (bonus): Heathrow Express train from $7 per person, one way
The Heathrow Express is a perfect example of why it's important to do location-specific research. Some cities like London offer an expedited way, such as the Heathrow Express train, to get to and from the airport via public transportation. You'll pay a little bit more, but still less than you would for private car service, including cabs and ride hailing services.
Another great example of the importance of booking ahead: The Heathrow Express can cost as little as $7 during off-peak times and booked more than 90 days in advance. But it can also cost as much as $33.70 one way per person when purchased last minute during peak times. At that price point, car service begins to look more appealing, especially if you're traveling with two or more people.
Uber: From $51 per vehicle, one way
If you're traveling with multiple people in your party, booking private transport quickly becomes more economical. You'll have to walk out to the dedicated ride hailing pickup areas at London Heathrow, as is now the case at many airports, but you'll go directly from pickup point to your final destination — no separate scramble for directions upon arriving at your stop.
Taxicab: From $65 per vehicle, one way
Hailing one of London's famous black taxicabs at London Heathrow will cost you anywhere from $65 to $122, depending on time of day.
Private car: From $26 per person one way
Heathrow Shuttle offers the following price points for transport service, converted from British pounds:
- SUV (seats 4): $190 = $47.50 per person
- 8-seater minibus (seats 6): $223 = $37.17 per person
- 16-seater van (seats 12): $648 = $54.00 per person
- 33-seater bus (seats 30): $910 = $30.33 per person
- 49-seater bus (seats 40): $1,040 = $26.00 per person
It's hard to imagine that anyone will be traveling with 39 other passengers any time soon. But if you do, the transit cost from LHR into the city drops to just $26 per person at the cheapest rate.
Similarly, a minibus only costs $37 per person. So if you happen to be traveling to London with your family, or end up meeting a couple of people in the airport who are headed in the same direction, it might make sense to book a minibus through Heathrow Shuttle and skip the ride hailing madness that often plagues major airports.
Of course, these per-person rates seem appealing. But keep in mind that this is just the individual breakdown, and you would be responsible for the cost of the entire vehicle.
Transiting from the airport to your final destination is an inevitable part of travel. But with a little careful planning ahead, your commute doesn't have to be either difficult or painful.
Additional reporting contributed by Katie Genter, Kathleen Porter Kristiansen and Nick Ewen.