When landing at JFK Airport, you have two choices if you want to get to Manhattan. They are doing a much better job making it easy (for those who speak English) to figure out which option they want. There’s either the cheaper way or the faster way. Well, there is also the EXPENSIVE way of taking a taxi, Uber or Lyft, but unless you’re wanting to pay between $60 – $100 for a ride, I’d stay away from those options.
Make sure you get on the correct AirTrain as the faster option only leaves from Jamaica station.
What are the differences between the two services?
Faster Option (Long Island Railroad – LIRR)
The Long Island Railroad, or the LIRR, travels from Jamaica Station to Penn Station in Manhattan. Depending on the train you select, you can have a direct train or one with a few stops along the way. Regardless, the trip only takes around 25 minutes. A one-way fare between the two stations will cost you $10.25. You can buy tickets at the Airtrain station before exiting the turnstile with your AirTrain ticket. You can also buy LIRR tickets on the platform before going down to the tracks.
Trains depart regularly between the two stations so you shouldn’t have a long wait. The ride is much what you’d expect from a commuter train service. There are rows of seats, usually three across. During the ride, an LIRR employee will walk through the car collecting tickets from passengers.
This isn’t a fancy train like the Brightline (Virgin Train) in South Florida. It gets you from point A to point B in the quickest way possible.
Once at Penn Station, you can get a taxi, Uber or Lyft to your destination or connect to a subway (which will cost you extra, as the two services aren’t linked).
While the LIRR is no doubt the faster way to get to Manhattan from JFK, there is a cheaper way. The New York Subway.
I’ve detailed how to get to the subway from the Airtrain at Jamaica Station. The fare for any subway ride is currently $2.75. The price of $7.75 on the sign includes the $5 fare for the Airtrain. Your Metrocard is good for both services. Hold on the card even if you’ve used up the fare, as it will cost another $1 for a new one.
The E train leaves Jamaica Station and travels across Queens, crossing into Manhattan around 53rd street. It goes past Grand Central Station and turns downtown on 8th Avenue. From there you’ll pass 42nd St/Times Square, Penn Station and the line eventually ends at the World Trade Center.
There are many places where you can connect to other subway lines, making it possible to get to other areas of Manhattan for the $2.75 fare.
While riding the subway may be exciting for a first-time visitor to New York, it’s not the easiest system to navigate. Having an app like Google Maps which provides information on which subway to take and how many stops until your destination makes things much easier than they used to be. There are also now electronic signs at the stations telling you when a train is due to arrive, unlike when I was younger and you just needed to stand there wondering when, if ever, would the train you needed appear from the tunnel.
Subway trains, unlike the LIRR, have a single bench seat lining the walls. The rest of the space is standing room only. For a normal commuter, this is fine but if you’re traveling with luggage this can become a challenge to keep everything together when the train starts to get crowded. Subway drivers can also have a heavy hand on the throttle and brake making staying erect a challenge to all but the most experienced subway passengers.
Also, many subway stations require you to walk up several sets of stairs to get to street level. This is another problem when traveling with luggage.
So, I’ll say that the LIRR besides being faster, is also the easier of the two to use.
For me, I’ll usually take the LIRR when going from JFK to Manhattan. It’s a quick car ride from Penn Station to most locations in midtown so we’ll take an UBER or Lyft to our hotel.
If you’re going to other areas of Manhattan, taking the subway may be a reasonable option and there are the cost savings to consider. However, think about this before making your decision. A trip to New York City is not cheap. Is your trip from the airport to the city really the place where you want to save a few bucks? I’ve learned that while it’s good to be cheap and frugal when traveling, you need to be smart about it. If you want to ride the subway just to say you rode it, maybe the trip from the airport isn’t the place to cross that thing off of your to-do list.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary