Saving on Travel Day: Transferring to and from the Airport

When budgeting for travel, people often underestimate the costs associated with getting to and from the airport. For middle-class travelers, these can put a dent in the "fun-fund" and for budget/backpacker-style travel, transfer costs can be crippling. Borrowing a bit from the investment world, I like to call expenses like these "frictional costs of travel" and they are most certainly out to get you!

Note: Frictional costs are those associated with the purchase or sale of commodities, stocks, bonds and so on; these are the costs of doing business and eat into your profits, so should be kept to a minimum.

Today, we'll be taking a look at how to minimize frictional costs on travel day by learning about all the airport transfer options available to travelers.

Nine Ground Transportation Options to Consider

Call up a taxi-cab and hope for the best? No, don't ever start there! When traveling from home to the airport, you have at least nine options:

  1. have a friend or family-member drop you off
  2. drive yourself and park at the airport
  3. walk
  4. take a local bus
  5. arrange an airport shuttle
  6. ride your touring bike
  7. rental car
  8. download an app and hop on the ride-sharing wagon
  9. call up the taxi or limo service

A Real-World Example: Malibu to LAX

Recently, Johanna and I had to get to LAX from Malibu to start our New Year's trip to New Orleans. Our accommodations in Malibu are 20 miles from LAX. Here's my thought process:

RULED OUT - We didn't have any nearby family or friends for this one; walking is out because, well, we are not marathon-ready; the local bus runs very sparsely in the morning and doesn't go efficiently to the airport; no airport shuttles from Malibu to LAX; not touring on our bikes; rental cars are expensive in Malibu.

PARKING - I've parked at LAX a few times recently for shorter trips and have a pretty good system for paying $12 or so per day. In this case, we'd be gone a week, so that would work out to $84 (essentially $42 for the outbound and $42 for the return).

TAXI/LIMO SERVICE - I believe the trip from Malibu to LAX is around $60 by taxi (if you can find one) or $80-100 by black car (reserved ahead).

OUR CHOICE - We decided to use Lyft, one of the two major ride-sharing services, which estimated a ride-cost of $30-35. While I've used Uber before, I was a first-time user of Lyft, so this ride became $20 cheaper using a discount code. We got from Malibu to LAX easily and efficiently for $18 ($13+$5 tip because I knew our driver went well out of his way to come pick us up). This option saved us $24 over parking, $42 over a taxi, and about $70 over a black-car service and since Johanna hadn't used Lyft yet either, we repeated the same savings on our return.

Note: Use this Uber Code to save $15 on your first ride and this Lyft Code to save $20!

Real-World Examples of the other Options

FAMILY & FRIENDS - We've all done this and it's certainly nice to have the opportunity to say goodbye at the airport.

WALKING - While walking directly into a major airport can be intimidating (I almost had a gun drawn on me by special police at LAX a few weeks back!), there are occasions where it's actually possible to walking directly to the airport, such as small island destinations like St. Maarten. Of course, whenever accommodations are that close to the airport, there's usually a free shuttle.

LOCAL BUS - In New Orleans (MSY Airport), taxis serve the downtown area for a fixed rate of $36, but locals take the E2 Bus, which does the same trip for $2. It will take twice as long and service doesn't run directly into the French Quarter on weekends, but that's a pretty stark difference in price that might be worth the time/effort.

AIRPORT SHUTTLE - Some airports are set up with robust shuttle service options. Airports that are far from city-center or smaller airports that only land a few flights per day are both likely candidates. We used the airport shuttle service after landing in Split, Croatia and they had it worked out so the shuttle schedule was directly tied to arrivals, meaning it was ready when we were!

TOURING BIKE - While you could conceivably lock up a beater-bike at the airport, I think the most likely scenario for traveling to the airport by bike would be while touring. I've done a lot of research on this topic and at the moment, only Lufthansa is equipped with bike racks so that no bike box is necessary. Our Central European bicycle tour will give us the opportunity to test this option in Budapest, where we plan to casually ride to the airport and check our bikes straight in at the Lufthansa desk.

RENTAL CAR - Most people wouldn't really consider renting a car to go to the airport from home, but sometimes it can make sense. Earlier this year, I discovered I could rent a car in Santa Barbara and return it at LAX for $40 + gas versus taking an inconveniently-timed shuttle bus for $85. One-way car rentals are often pricey, but sometimes there are good deals and if your airport is a few hours away, can be a great option.

What's your favorite way to get to/from the airport? Any horror stories to share about the circling taxi-driver or the shuttle that never came?