If you’re traveling on a budget, booking an airport transfer to your hotel might seem like one of those luxurious “extras” you don’t have the money for. After all, you can just grab a rideshare or hop in a cab when you arrive, or avail yourself of local public transit.
But, sometimes, a lot more goes into measuring the value of something than the price tag. When done right, an airport can end up saving you time, sanity and, yes, even money on your next trip.
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What is an Airport Transfer?
An airport transfer involves booking (in advance, before your trip) a car and driver that will get you from the airport to your hotel.
Hence, they’re often called airport-to-hotel transfers. An airport transfer can be in the form of a private car or even a shared van (that you’ll share with other travelers arriving at the same time). If you want luxury, you can book a limo, but that’s not us (we wish!).
Noticed those drivers holding signs with people’s names on them when you exit the secure zone of the airport? Many of those are airport private transfer drivers.
Where to Book Airport Transfers
Your hotel is a great place to start, if it offers an airport transfer. If not, travel booking sites offer them for many major airports:
Viator Airport Transfers
You have hundreds of options to choose from, including shared shuttles and private cars from many destinations worldwide. Enter your destination on the homescreen and then use the search bar to search “your destination + airport transfer.”
Viator works with vetted, reputable local transport companies, and most offer free cancellations up to 24 hours in advance. Viator also frequently has cash back offers so you can earn a percentage of your spending BACK when you book an airport transfer. See the current offer.
Expedia Airport Transfers
Expedia calls these services “ground transfers,” and they’re easy to book. Just enter your arrival airport, hotel name, itinerary details and number of travelers.
You’ll see your options laid out, and you can choose
Booking.com Airport Transfers
Booking.com lets you book pretty much anything travel related, so the fact that it lets you book airport transfers (it calls the service airport taxis). Enter your travel details, and whether you’re booking a one-way or round-trip transfer. Make sure you activate our cash back offer.
SuperShuttle Express Airport Transfers
Yes, SuperShuttle still exists. However, its services have shifted away from providing cheap shared rides to individual customers and more toward private van bookings. So they’re a solid option for large families traveling together who need a lot of space for people and bags.
How to Book an Airport Transfer
Usually, the process works like this:
- You’ll book your flights and your accommodations (hotel, vacation rental, hostel).
- You’ll book your transfer with a transportation company (or an online booking site), inputting your itinerary details. In some cases, your hotel or hostel might offer airport transfers as an add-on to your booking.
- You’ll usually pay in advance for your transfer. Be sure to check the cancellation policy – some companies will let you cancel up to 24 hours before your flight to get a full refund.
- Enjoy your flight! When you land, look for the driver holding a car with your name on it at the exit. If you booked a shared transfer, look for a sign with the name of the transfer company you booked – you’ll check in, verify your name on the list and wait for the other passengers.
- Enjoy your transfer. When you arrive at your destination, tip your driver (tip is usually not included in your pre-booked fare).
- Same process for the return trip. Just book in advance from your hotel to the airport. Your transport company will likely reach out by email or WhatsApp to coordinate pickup time and location.
How Much Does an Airport Transfer Cost?
Prices vary widely by date, destination, distance you are traveling and the number of people in your party.
Here’s some pricing for various shared and private transfers via Expedia from JFK to a hotel in Manhattan, as an example:
And here’s a receipt from our editor’s recent pre-booked airport transfer in London:
Finally, here’s an example from Viator for a Mexico City airport transfer:
In general, expect to pay more per person for private cars and less per person for vans or shared transfers. Also expect the price to vary widely by destination. To price out your options, your best move is to check several sites, enter your specific itinerary and compare results.
Why Airport Transfers Are a Smart Travel (and Budgeting) Move
It’s often true that taking a rideshare or local public transit to your hotel can be cheaper. Sometimes even renting a car can be more affordable, if you snag a good deal. But here are some reasons you might want to consider an airport transfer on your next trip.
1. You Pay Up Front, So No Surprises
That airport transfer price might seem more expensive than what you’d pay for a cab or rideshare from the airport. And, assuming everything goes “right” with your cab or rideshare, that could be true. But what if the rideshare apps are applying surge pricing? Plus, even in cities where cabs charge “flat fares” from the airport, surcharges can (and will!) get tacked on. If your flight lands during rush hour or gets stuck in traffic (thus triggering taxi’s “peak” and “congestion” surcharges), expect a much more expensive fare. Those extra charges can add up and cost you more than the airport transfer booking price.
With an airport transfer, you know the final amount up front, so you can budget for it and the tip and avoid the anxiety of watching the fare meter’s numbers creep up and up during your cab ride – or the sinking feeling of seeing rideshare apps’ surge pricing after a long flight.
2. You Avoid Public Transit Snags
In cities that offer public transit from the airport, that’s often, by far, the cheapest way to get to your hotel from the airport. But do your research. Will you be on a spacious train with room for your luggage? Or in a packed subway car with no space for large suitcases?
If you’re traveling with kids, keeping track of all your baggage can be a challenge on public transit. And, in some cities, hopping the metro with luggage can make you a target for theft.
So consider booking the transfer and then using public transport the rest of your trip to save money.
3. Airport Transfers Are a Breeze
Lots can go wrong if your flight doesn’t land when you expected it to. Airport transfer companies have your flight information and many run 24/7 – so you still have a ride if your plane lands hours late. Public transport might not be running that late. Rideshares might be doing surge pricing. Taxis will be operating late, but you may not want to wait at the taxi stand after a long (and late) flight.
4. Airport Transfers are a Smart Option for Large Groups
If you need a van to get your whole party to the hotel, that can mean a longer wait at a taxi stand or a higher fare for whatever “deluxe” car service your rideshare app has. And, if a large enough car isn’t available, you could find yourself stuck.
Large families may choose to go the rental car route for this very reason. But then you have to pay the daily rate, keep the car filled up and find somewhere to park it (which may not be free at your hotel or vacation rental).
By booking an airport transfer by the number of people (and bags!) in your party, you’ll be reserving a big enough car. And airport transfers are often really cost-effective for large parties, too. For example, in the New York pricing example above, you’ll see a private sedan costs $75, while a private SUV for up to 6 costs $91.
How to Save On Airport Transfers
Even after you’ve decided that booking an airport transfer is smart move from a logistical and budget standpoint, you still don’t want to pay any more than you have to. Here are some ways to save:
1. Use Promo Codes and Discount Codes + Earn Cash Back
Check our coupon pages for Booking.com, Viator and Expedia to find the latest coupon codes and cash back offers you can use on your purchase. Our cash back offers are especially flexible, because you can buy anything on the site of your choice and get a percentage back.
2. See What Your Hotel Offers
While free airport shuttles are usually available only for hotels near the airport, some hotels and hostels do offer airport transfers and buses that may cost less than a transfer you book separately.
3. Pack Light if you Can
Four people can possibly fit into a sedan, but not if they all have large bags. If you can go down from a hard-shell suitcase to a more squishable travel duffle, it can allow more bags and people to fit in the car and help you avoid the upgrade to a van or SUV.
4. Book a Shared Transfer
Booking a seat on a bus or large van can save you money. While privacy is nice, it is a luxury. So consider sharing the ride if you’d like to save. The shuttle company will coordinate rides based on arrival times and hotel destinations of the passengers. You can find especially good deals on shared airport transfer shuttle bookings at cruise ports and locales with clusters of resorts.