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10 US airports with great public transportation options

Aug. 21, 2022
16 min read
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From surge pricing to parking fees, the cost of a ride-hailing service or a parking spot in an airport garage can be a pesky but significant add-on to the cost of your trip. With many airports pricing parking spots at $10, $20 or even $30 per day, a week in a garage could easily end up equaling what you might have paid for a night at a resort.

While most airports across the country have some sort of public transportation option — like bus services — there are a number of domestic airports that stand out from the rest thanks to the convenience they provide travelers trying to get to and from the terminal cheaply and with ease.

To help you trim travel costs the next time you go on vacation, we took a look at America's airports to see which are the best when it comes to public transportation. Here are 10 airports with great options and all you need to know about them.

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Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

An exterior photo of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Out of the Washington, D.C., area’s three major airports, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) offers the best location for visiting our nation's capital. Situated just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, Reagan is the only local airport connected to the region's Metro system — though that will eventually change when Dulles International Airport (IAD) opens its long-awaited Silver Line Metro station. As a result, Reagan is the most convenient option for traveling to and from downtown Washington.

When you land at Reagan, you can be on a Metro train within five minutes of landing — assuming you didn't check a bag — thanks to the airport station's location right outside the terminal. Once you make the short walk via the connected covered walkway and hop onto a Yellow Line or Blue Line train, you'll find yourself in Washington in about 20 or 30 minutes, if trains are running on time.

(Image courtesy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)

Due to ongoing maintenance projects, including an upcoming refurbishment of the Yellow Line's Potomac River tunnel and bridge expected to start this fall, route options or the number of operating trains may be limited at times. So, be sure to check the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority website for updates as you plan your trip to Washington.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport's Metro station sits just outside the airport terminal buildings. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Know, too, that unlike other U.S. transportation systems, Metro charges riders based on how far they go and what time of day they ride, meaning there's no set price you'll pay for airport rides. Expect to spend between $2 and $6 per ride.

Related: Dulles and Reagan are latest airports to add mobile food ordering

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

Travelers wait at the JetBlue ticketing counter inside Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Travelers departing from and arriving at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) have a number of options when trying to connect to Boston’s various public transportation options.

A Red Line train enters the Broadway T station in Boston. (Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

The easiest way to reach the city center is to connect to the T, the city’s subway system (which also happens to be the oldest in the country). How you link up to the T and what line you use will depend on your destination (or origin point) in the city. Your best bet for downtown Boston, Back Bay, Fenway Park and other city destinations is to board a shuttle from any airport terminal to go to the Blue Line’s Airport Station. You can then transfer to the Orange Line or Green Line within central Boston.

(Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority)

If you’re looking to reach the Seaport District or Cambridge spots like Harvard University, you can instead board one of the Silver Line’s rapid transit buses, which bring travelers to and from Boston’s South Station, a Red Line stop and transit hub for Amtrak and commuter trains. The Silver Line buses stop at all terminals.

Generally, trips on the T go for a flat fee of $2.40, though Silver Line service from Logan to South Station is free.

Related: An insider's guide to Boston's top 16 attractions

Midway International Airport (MDW)

Concourse A at Midway International Airport (MDW). (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Both of Chicago’s airports have convenient rail access. At Midway International Airport (MDW), you can grab the L’s Orange Line just east of the airport terminal. The airport connects to the Midway Transportation Center via an enclosed walkway, so if it’s cold and windy, you won’t have to worry about braving the elements.

The Orange Line will take you right into downtown Chicago, where you can then transfer to any of the city's other lines. Depending on which line you're hoping to transfer to (if your final destination can't be reached by the Orange Line), you'll want to switch trains at the Roosevelt stop or one of the stations in the Loop.

(Image courtesy of the Chicago Transit Authority)

A standard L fare costs $2.50 per ride. Up to two transfers to other lines within two hours of starting your journey are free.

Related: O'Hare vs. Midway: Which Chicago airport should I fly into?

O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

(Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Like Midway, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) is another airport that you can access via public transportation. However, O'Hare's location northwest of the city center means it sits on the L's Blue Line, which runs 24 hours a day.

You’ll find the Blue Line stop in the lower level of O’Hare’s parking garage, which you can reach from each domestic terminal via a pedestrian tunnel. If you’re arriving in O’Hare’s Terminal 5, you can take a free shuttle bus from the lower level of the arrivals area to the O'Hare L station.

Another option for O’Hare travelers is to take Metra, which offers commuter train service throughout the region. It’s now an easy connection for flyers since you can get off a Metra train and hop right onto O’Hare’s automated people-mover train, which will then carry travelers to whichever terminal they're transiting through.

A Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line train to O'Hare International Airport. (Photo by Gregory Potter/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

If you're planning on taking the L from O'Hare to another stop in the transit network, know that the rider fee is twice as expensive, at $5. However, rides to O'Hare cost $2.50, or the same as regular rides. Meanwhile, Metra fares vary depending on which zone you're traveling to, though rides to central Chicago start at $6.25.

Related: 11 must-do activities when visiting Chicago

Denver International Airport (DEN)

(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Denver’s airport may be 20-plus miles outside the city center, but travelers looking to access downtown from Denver International Airport (DEN) can do so pretty easily without needing to rent a car or hail a cab.

The Regional Transportation District opened its A Line in spring 2016, so travelers can go from the airport to Denver’s Union Station in about 40 minutes. From Union Station, visitors can walk to can't-miss attractions like Coors Field — home of MLB's Colorado Rockies — and multiple hotels. Or, you can stay right inside the train station at the highly regarded Crawford Hotel.

Union Station in downtown Denver. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Although a trip on the A Line isn't as affordable as what you'll pay to ride other subway lines in the U.S., you'll still save some money by opting to use public transportation here instead of ordering an Uber or Lyft. Each one-way ride to and from the airport will cost you $10.50.

Related: Denver Airport 101: The ultimate guide to DEN

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

Newark Liberty International Airport. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

While travelers at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) can take the AirTrain to connect to other regional transit options, Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) takes the cake as the New York metropolitan area’s airport best connected to convenient public transportation.

Like other airports on this list, Newark has its own train station, giving travelers access to both Amtrak and NJ Transit trains that can take them into the city or to other destinations on the East Coast.

You can get to the Newark airport station by taking a seven- to 11-minute ride on the AirTrain, which drops you off a short walk from the rail platforms. Once at the train station, you can hop on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional line (which runs once every hour) to reach New York's Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station or Philadelphia's William H. Gray III 30th Street Station. Another option is to board an NJ Transit train, which departs for New York City twice an hour and Newark's Penn Station every 15 minutes.

A United Airlines plane lands at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) as the AirTrain passes by. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

While Amtrak and NJ Transit ticket prices vary depending on how far you're traveling, when you use either rail operator to go to or from the Newark airport, your fare includes a ride on the AirTrain. Simply present your train ticket at the airport's station to pass through the AirTrain fare line for free.

Related: 3 ways to experience New York City, whether you're on a budget or have money to burn

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

Travelers arrive at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). (Photo by Hannah Beier/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Travelers flying to or from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) can access rail service that will take them right into the heart of the city.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority operates train service between the airport and downtown Philadelphia via its Regional Rail's Airport Line. You can catch the Airport Line from one of several stations at the airport, depending on which terminal you’re using. There are separate stops for terminals A and B, a station for terminals C and D, and another station for terminals E and F.

(Photo by Hannah Beier/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The Airport Line makes multiple stops on its way to central Philly, and you can connect to other regional public transportation at a number of stations along the way. For instance, one of the stops is at 30th Street, where you can connect to Amtrak's Northeast Regional line or NJ Transit.

Airport Line trains run every 30 minutes during the week and every hour on weekends. Fares differ depending on your destination, but rides from the airport to downtown (or vice versa) start at $6.50 if you use a reloadable SEPTA Travel Wallet or $6.75 at a kiosk.

Related: 7 easy Philadelphia escapes you can get to in 3 hours or less

Portland International Airport (PDX)

Portland International Airport (PDX) in Oregon. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Getting to and from the airport in Portland, Oregon, is a breeze thanks to the city's MAX light rail system.

Upon arriving at Portland International Airport (PDX), you can catch the MAX Red Line to downtown. It’s not the shortest ride ever — it'll take you about 40 minutes to travel between the city center and the airport — but it’s certainly a cost-effective way to travel.

A highlight of these trains is their design. They're conveniently set up so you can roll your luggage right on board without traversing stairs. Another plus is how frequently the trains run, about every 15 minutes.

A MAX Red Line train headed to the airport makes a stop in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Rebecca Smeyne/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Taking the MAX Red Line to or from the airport will cost you just $2.50 per ride.

Related: Marvelous welcome mat returns to Portland International Airport

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)

Inside the ticketing area at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI). (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

While it doesn’t boast the same proximity to downtown Washington, D.C., that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport does, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)'s public transportation options make it — at the very least — Reagan’s equal when it comes to convenience. What BWI has that Reagan and Dulles don’t is exceptionally easy access to Amtrak.

BWI flyers can take a free shuttle between the airport and the train station 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Once at the train station, they can connect to Amtrak or MARC (Maryland's commuter rail service) trains that can bring them to downtown Baltimore close to the city’s Inner Harbor. It's also possible to travel south to Washington’s Union Station or north to Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere in the Northeast Corridor.

On the platform at the BWI train station. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post/Getty Images.)

Baltimore's airport is one of four that's directly serviced by Amtrak, making it a great option for those who live in other cities along the East Coast.

Prices for train rides to and from Baltimore's airport station vary depending on how far you're traveling, but it's not uncommon to find MARC tickets costing less than $10 per person and Amtrak tickets costing less than $20 per person when traveling between the airport and Washington.

Adding to BWI's public transportation options, the Maryland Department of Transit Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT) provides light rail service to and from BWI, with the BWI Light Rail Station located just outside the lower level of the terminal building near concourse E.

Related: Road trip! 5 cities to check out from Baltimore

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Inside the ticketing area at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

San Francisco is an ideal place to use public transportation, as ride-hailing services between downtown and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) can easily exceed $50 per ride. Bay Area Rapid Transit, the area's transit system, is a cinch to connect to from the airport.

To get to the airport’s BART station, head to the departures level of the International Terminal (near the G gates). You can then access BART via the free AirTrain after getting off at the Garage G/BART station stop. Once on board a BART train, it'll take you about a half-hour to reach the city center.

A large crowd of passengers exits a Bay Area Rapid Transit train at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and takes an escalator toward the airport terminal. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

If you're traveling farther to San Jose, California, you can also pay $2.25 to take a SamTrans bus from the airport terminals to a nearby Caltrain commuter rail station. From there, the ride will take you roughly 50 minutes.

A Caltrain crosses a street in San Francisco. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

BART fares are determined based on how far you're traveling, though trips to downtown from the airport (and vice versa) typically cost about $10 per person.

Related: Book this, not that: San Francisco hotels

Bottom line

Many U.S. airports offer a range of bus services to help travelers get to and from terminals, but the ones mentioned above go even further by providing easy access to affordable regional rail services.

Considering how much it can cost to park at an airport or use a ride-hailing service — especially when surge pricing is in effect — taking public transportation to and from the airport can be a cost-effective way of getting around.

By saving money on a boring (but necessary) expense like transportation, you can then spend a little extra on more memorable parts of your trip, such as lodging or activities. That is, if you don't decide to pocket those savings.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases