Last updated: 11:00 AM ET, Thu February 04 2016

In Europe, Flights Are Cheaper than Getting to the Airport

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 04, 2016

In Europe, Flights Are Cheaper than Getting to the Airport

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The expansion of Europe’s low-cost carriers has made flying on the continent very cheap. In many places, travelers will pay more for a taxi to the airport than they will for their flight. In fact, travelers who are staying in the center of a major European city could end up paying significantly more for the ground portion of their journey than for the air portion.

Getting to an airport can be a pricey proposition

A report by Euronews found that, at least in some cities, taking dedicated "airport express" services was quite pricey. For example, catching the Heathrow Express in the center of London at Paddington Station and riding it to the airport costs €29.51. The Gatwick Express is slightly cheaper when taken from Victoria Station (€23.92). However, London’s other secondary airport, Stansted, has express train rates that hover in the €26 range. So, at least in the United Kingdom, getting to secondary airports is only slightly cheaper than getting to the main hub (Heathrow).  

The opposite is true in the other city with exceptionally high ground transportation price tags. Express shuttle buses to Ataturk, the main airport in Istanbul, cost nearly €28 on average. Similar trips to the secondary hub, Gokcen Airport, were more than €35.

It's not always so expensive

Other major cities were also included in the report. Amsterdam and Paris airports fell in the €12-€17 range for express airport services. Some express options were quite a bit cheaper. The Expres Aeropuerto to Madrid Barajas and the Aerobus to Barcelona El Prat were both €5.

READ MORE: Who Will Challenge Ryanair’s Low-Cost Throne in Europe? 

Of course, there are cheaper alternatives. Public transit, including non-express trains and buses, was, on average, 55 percent cheaper than dedicated airport express services according to the report. For travelers, especially those who are unfamiliar with the city they are visiting, public transportation is not always a viable option. For other people, the amount of time saved and the lower level of stress offered by express services might actually make the higher prices worthwhile. 

Breaking the prices down for a better comparison

The Euronews report takes the comparison of ground transport costs a step further by breaking it down into units of cost-per-kilometer. This allows for a comparison of prices regardless of where the airport is located. Some hubs are near the city center, but others are in the outer ring suburbs and require longer travel times from downtown areas. 

READ MORE: 4 Underrated and Oft-Overlooked Regions of Europe

Heathrow’s Airport Express was by far the most expensive option in Europe on a cost-per-km basis (€1.87 per kilometer).Taking public transit to Heathrow was much cheaper: €0.50 per km. However, even the public option was still more expensive than the express services in Madrid, Munich, Barcelona and Rome (which were all in the €0.34 - €0.48 per km range). 

The report also points out that express ground transport is as much as eight times more expensive, by cost per kilometer, than flying. 

What does this mean for travelers?

People usually consider the cost of travel to be their airfare plus whatever hotel charges they incur. The Euronews report shows that ground transportation should be a part of that equation as well. Saving money on a flight means little if you end up having to pay excessive prices to actually get to the place where you are staying. Budget conscious travelers can save a lot if they are able to figure out public transportation options from the airport instead of opting for a taxi or an express train or bus. 


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