New York’s largest airport is roughly 15-20 miles from Manhattan depending on your final destination. Traveling between the city and JFK will generally take at least 45 minutes regardless of your mode of transportation and can sometimes take up to 2 hours. With several options to get to/from JFK, your starting point/destination, time of day, budget, luggage, and comfort with public transportation will ultimately decide how you commute.
Ground Transportation to/from New York-JFK Airport
Currently, John F. Kennedy Airport in New York has six active terminals. Since Terminals 3 and 6 are no longer in use, you’ll arrive at either Terminal 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, or 8. For those traveling by public transportation, your journey will most likely start by using JFK’s AirTrain, which is free to use within the airport itself, but there is a charge to exit at either the Jamaica or Howard Beach Stations, where there are connections to the Long Island Railroad or NYC Subway.
If taking the subway after a flight is not what you had in mind to start off your vacation, there are, of course, taxis, rideshares, and shuttle services available, though these can sometimes take longer depending on traffic conditions. To help you decide which might be the best option for you, I’ll go over all of the different ways to travel between JFK and the city, including the cheapest, quickest, and the easiest.
Cheapest – Local Bus / Subway
Time: Approximately 1hr 15min. – 1hr 45min. to/from Penn Station
If you’re traveling light and are looking for the absolute cheapest way between JFK and the city, you can take a combination of bus and subway. Buses depart from Terminal 5 at JFK, so if you land there just follow the Ground Transportation signs for NYC Bus service. If you arrive at a different terminal, take the free AirTrain over to Terminal 5.
From there, you can catch the B15, Q3, Q10 local, or Q10 Limited-stop bus services. For most travelers, taking the Q10 to the final stop and connecting to the E/F trains at Kew Gardens Union Turnpike will be the quickest way to Manhattan using the bus/subway combination. You can also catch the Q10 limited and B15 buses from the Lefferts Blvd. AirTrain stop, which is a free exit within the airport.
This option is really only recommended for those traveling to/from nearby locations in Queens or Brooklyn, or shoestring travelers who get a kick out of taking the local bus. You’ll need either a MetroCard or coins to pay for the bus fare. Check the Hudson News inside the terminal to see if they have any MetroCards for sale if you don’t currently have one (Note: There is a one-time $1 fee to get a new MetroCard). If paying with coins, make sure to get a transfer from the driver if you plan to transfer to the subway or another bus.
Related: The 10 Most Walkable Cities in the U.S.
Best Value – AirTrain / Subway
Time: Approximately 1hr – 1hr 30 min to/from Penn Station
If you’re traveling solo or in a small group, you’ll usually get the best bang for your buck by taking a combination of the AirTrain and subway to reach your final destination. Upon arrival at JFK, follow signs to the AirTrain and take either a Jamaica bound (for connections to E, J, or Z trains) or a Howard Beach bound (for connections to the A train) AirTrain. The A, J, and Z trains are best for parts of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, while the E train is best for Queens and Midtown Manhattan.
You can purchase or refill a MetroCard to pay both your AirTrain and subway fares once you get to either the Howard Beach or Jamaica stations. It’s $7.75 for the AirTrain fee and the subway fare is $2.75 (add $1 if you need to purchase a new MetroCard). If you plan to use the subway often, you may want to consider a 7-day or 30-day unlimited ride card. These work for the subway and bus only and the AirTrain fee is separate. For full fare details, visit the MTA website.
I view this option as the best value since it is relatively easy and affordable. Plus, by connecting directly to the subway, you’ll be able to easily connect to the train that will bring you closest to your destination without paying extra. Simply look up your route on Google Maps or check the NYC Subway map to figure out which station is best for you.
Quickest – AirTrain / Long Island Railroad (LIRR)
Cost: $12.25 - $18.50
Time: Approximately 45 min. – 1hr to/from Penn Station
For those in a hurry who don’t mind navigating the trains, taking a combination of the AirTrain and Long Island Railroad is usually the quickest way to get between the city and JFK. You can connect to the LIRR at Jamaica Station so make sure you take a Jamaica bound AirTrain from the terminal to use this option.
Once at Jamaica station, purchase a $7.75 AirTrain ticket to exit the AirTrain and then pay for your LIRR fare at one of the kiosks to avoid paying more onboard the train. The costs vary by destination and whether you’re traveling peak or off-peak. Off-peak tickets between Jamaica and Penn Station are $7.75, while peak tickets are $10.75. If you happen to be traveling on a Saturday or Sunday, you can purchase a CityTicket for $4.50.
Once at Penn Station, you can hop on the subway ($2.75), take a cab, or walk depending on your final destination. Utilizing the LIRR commuter train is often the quickest way into the city and will be cheaper than a cab if you’re traveling solo. However, if you’re traveling in a large group, a cab may make more sense depending on the time of day.
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Easy and Affordable – Shuttle
Time: Approximately 1hr – 2hr to Penn Station
While there used to be an express shuttle bus between JFK and Grand Central Station, this option appears to no longer be available for the time being. If you’d like the convenience of a van ride to your final destination without paying for a private cab, you can request a shuttle with Go Airlink. When I checked, it was giving me a price of around $30 between JFK and Penn Station, though prices will likely vary slightly depending on where you’re going.
The major drawback to a shared-van shuttle service is that it could take a long time to reach your destination depending on how many other drop-offs there are and traffic. Nonetheless, it is a seamless way to get from point A to point B if you’d like to save some money and not deal with the hassle of public transportation.
Easiest – Taxi, Uber, or Lyft
Cost: $52 flat fee to/from Manhattan for Taxi (plus tolls and tip); $65-$95 for Uber/Lyft
Time: Approximately 45 min – 1hr 30min to/from Penn Station
If you’re simply looking for the most convenient way between JFK and the city, hailing a cab from any of the terminals is the way to go. While there is a flat fee of $52 from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan, expect to pay around $70-$75 including tolls and a customary 15-20% tip.
Uber or Lyft can sometimes be a cheaper alternative, but oftentimes surge pricing will kick in and actually make it similar or more expensive than a taxi. You may also find it difficult to locate your rideshare vehicle amongst the long line of cars congested at JFK’s terminals. Some people have suggested taking a Howard Beach bound AirTrain, getting off for free at Lefferts Blvd., and ordering your Uber or Lyft from there to avoid the terminal congestion and get a slightly lower fare. Although, this will likely add to your total travel time.
Taking a taxi, Uber, or Lyft will definitely be the easiest way to travel between JFK Airport and New York City but it will also be the most expensive if you’re traveling alone or with one or two others. If you have three or more people and/or multiple pieces of luggage, you may decide the convenience is worth any extra cost. With little traffic, expect it to take around 45 minutes to reach Manhattan. During rush hour, this can vary wildly and it can sometimes take up to 1hr 30min or more.
It’s always best to do a quick check on Google Maps when you arrive to get an idea of the travel times for all ground transportation options.
Other Niche Options
If you want to go to the extreme, you can lock up a bicycle or park a motorcycle for free at the “Kiss and Fly” Lefferts Blvd. AirTrain stop, where you can also take the AirTrain for free. At the other end of the spectrum, you can request a seat on a Blade helicopter between JFK and Manhattan starting from $195/seat.
Of course, most people will be choosing one of the other ground transportation options listed above and you can simply follow the directions given in reverse to get from the city to JFK. Any way you choose, expect it to be a little bit of a trek between JFK and the city. If you’ve just arrived in NYC, take it as all part of the experience.