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Getting to the airport is often very expensive. When you travel for free with points and miles, airport transfers can represent one of the largest cash outlays of your trip. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are numerous innovative and underutilized ways to minimize this cost. I travel by air multiple times a month, both individually and with my family of five, and here’s how we avoid costly trips to the airport. 

Public Transportation

Denver's A Line commuter rail

Denver's A Line commuter rail/RTD

While this option might seem obvious, it may be time to take another look at the public transportation that serves your home airport. In fact, public transit can sometimes be less expensive and faster than driving. 

For example, I’ve stopped asking for rides to Denver International, my home airport, as the road connecting it to the city usually becomes clogged with traffic. Also, it’s been years since I’ve parked there. Instead, I take Denver’s A Line commuter rail from my home’s nearest station at 80 miles per hour, in 20 minutes. At $10.50, it’s a little pricey, but the ticket is good for the whole system for an entire day. Seniors are half price and travelers under 19 are free, which makes the cost for my family quite reasonable compared to driving and parking. It’s much more secure, too, as there’s been a rash of vehicle thefts at our airport this year. 

Also, make sure to take a moment to look into the public transportation available at your destination, too. Other cities have much lower airport train fares like Atlanta ($2.50), Washington, D.C. (maximum $6 to Reagan National or Dulles) and New York ($2.90 to LaGuardia, including the connecting bus). I’ve also taken very low-priced buses to and from the airport in cities like Austin ($1.25), Charlotte ($2.20), Nashville ($2.00) and New Orleans ($1.50). When I have a few extra minutes in my schedule, it’s very easy to save $30 - $50 each way by taking a bus or train instead of a taxi or shared ride. 

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Taxis

While you may have thought that taxis were as outdated as pay phones, don’t count them out. When arriving late at night for a conference in Orlando last year, I found Uber and Lyft to be implementing surge prices that were approaching $100, and drivers weren’t accepting my ride requests anyway. But when I approached the taxi stand, I found plenty of drivers willing to take me to my hotel for half that price. Because taxi prices are typically regulated, there’s no surge pricing.

Hire a Driver

personal driver

iStock

Uber and Lyft can be expensive, in large part because they take a substantial cut of your payment from the drivers. Worse, drivers may not be available when you’re in a hurry to reach the airport, and the quality of the cars and drivers can be inconsistent at best. 

But when you come across a friendly driver in your hometown with a clean and comfortable vehicle, don’t be afraid to ask for their contact information so that you can schedule your next ride in advance. You should be able to negotiate a price that’s less than Uber or Lyft, and one that gives the driver more money in the end. And don’t be afraid to offer friends, neighbors and family members a similar deal for their ride services. 

Rent a Car

While renting a car can seem like an expensive way to get to the airport, it can often be your best option when you’re traveling a great distance, or when you have a lot of passengers and luggage. When you’re able to minimize your rental car costs, you might find that a one-way rental from your neighborhood to the airport costs far less than other options. For example, I know people who rent cars on Long Island, New York the day before they fly out of Newark, New Jersey. For $50 or $60, they can do so for far less than any other way of crossing through New York City by car or bus, and far easier than taking multiple trains

Hotel Shuttles

hotel shuttle

iStock

On a recent trip to Nashville, I chose to spend my last night at the Hyatt House by the airport. The ride there in the evening was fast and inexpensive, as there was no traffic and no airport surcharges. The hotel was less expensive, too, (both in points and dollars) than where I stayed downtown. And like most airport properties, it included a free airport shuttle.

By staying your first or last night in an airport hotel, you can save considerable costs. Furthermore, many airport hotels offer packages that include parking, making it a great choice when you have a long drive to your home airport, especially when you have an early morning departure

Airport Shuttles

When you have to travel a long distance to the airport, most cities have some kind of shared shuttle service. Unfortunately, these can be pricey and inconvenient when the shuttle spends significant time picking up and dropping off other passengers, but it can be worth it. 

Occasionally, there are other options such as United’s new Landline service in Denver. This bus service can be included in your purchase of an airline ticket to Breckenridge or Fort Collins, Colorado via Denver. What’s really great about this service is that United will transfer your bags to the bus, which departs from an airport gate, allowing you to bypass the terminal altogether for a speedy transfer. American Airlines also partners with Landline for service from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

Walking

woman with suitcase walking through airport

iStock

Ok, this may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s occasionally possible. I’ve walked from my hotel in San Diego right across the street to the airport. I’ve also done it in places like Los Angeles International and even New York’s LaGuardia. Of course, these walks are always to or from hotels that offer shuttle service, but I find it to be a refreshing alternative, and sometimes faster than waiting for a shuttle bus.

Bottom Line

Every airline trip that you take will inevitably include at least four transfers to and from an airport, and it’s no fun to start or finish your trip with an exorbitant expense. But by taking a moment to research some innovative and inexpensive ways to get to and from the airport, you can avoid these costs and use that money for more enjoyable things on your trip.

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Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.