The Danger Of Booking An Early Morning Flight From A NYC Airport

by joeheg

The upside of the points and miles universe is that you get to do things you’d otherwise never get to do. That’s great when it means flying in business class to Asia or staying in five-star European hotels. However, it also means that you occasionally do things you otherwise would have avoided because they’d seem impractical.

This was the case for our trip to New York in December. We had three free night certificates from Hyatt which were expiring at the end of the year. Why not take a long weekend trip to New York?

I had to be back at work by Monday afternoon but there are plenty of early morning flights from NYC to Orlando. We flew to New York on Friday morning and saw shows non-stop for three days, except for our Sunday night show of Little Shop of Horrors, which was canceled because of Omicron.

Our flight home on Monday was at 8 AM from JFK on JetBlue. I knew from our arriving flight that taking the Subway & the JFK Airtrain would take about 1 hour. Since we’d have to catch a train around 5:30 in the morning, there’d be no room for error, as the next train wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes. That didn’t take into account having to lug our bags to the station first thing in the morning.

I checked the rates for NYC Taxis and there’s a set rate for rides to JFK airport.

  • Trips between Manhattan and John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in either direction:
    • $52
    • Plus 50 cents MTA State Surcharge.
    • Plus 30 cents Improvement Surcharge.
    • $4.50 rush-hour surcharge (4pm to 8pm weekdays, excluding legal holidays).
    • Plus New York State Congestion Surcharge of $2.50 (Yellow Taxi) or $2.75 (Green Taxi and FHV) or 75 cents (any shared ride) for all trips that begin, end or pass through Manhattan south of 96th Street.
    • Plus tips and any tolls.
    • The on-screen rate message should read “Rate #2- JFK Airport.”

That would be $60 plus a tip for the ride. I asked the front desk how difficult would it be to get a taxi from the hotel at 5:30 AM. The reply was that it would depend. Sometimes it’s 5 minutes, other times it’s 30 minutes.

I went to my phone and checked with Uber to see how much it would cost to schedule a ride to the airport. Their price was around $70-$90. When I checked Lyft, the prices were about the same. I know that scheduling a ride is not a guarantee, it only means they’ll ask for a ride when you need it. No promises that a driver will accept it.

Finally, I asked the front desk if they could arrange for a car service to take us to the airport. They had to get the valet involved, who said the ride would be $85 plus a $5 surcharge if we wanted to pay by card. Given the choices we had, I told them to set it up. I confirmed the service when we got back to the hotel the night before.

At 5:20 AM, our room phone rang and told us that our driver was waiting for us outside the hotel. We headed downstairs and outside to a waiting Toyota RAV4. Plenty of room for us and our carry-on bags. We got in and I made sure to tell the driver that we were going to JFK T5. That’s when he confirmed our names since the week before he picked up the wrong guests who had prepaid with a different service. Oops.

We drove to JFK and I’m still amazed at the amount of traffic leaving Manhattan at six in the morning. When we got to the airport, the driver asked for my credit card and handed me his phone with a charge for $105 and if I wanted to add a tip.

What could I do? I didn’t confirm the price when we got in the car, as I thought it was a set rate for hotel guests. The price quote I received was from the valet parking staff to the front desk. Maybe one of them got it wrong like in a game of telephone.

I was not awake enough to make a fuss and in the grand scheme of things, we’re only talking about $15. If I had received that price quote when booking, I probably still would have taken it instead of taking the chance of getting a Taxi or Uber early in the morning.

I didn’t mention it to the hotel, which I probably should have. If there’s a miscommunication between the car service and valet on the price, it needs to be rectified. If the car service is ripping off guests, that’s a different problem altogether.

Back to my original problem of booking an early flight from New York. Unless you’re going to be staying the night at a JFK Airport hotel (and you should probably avoid this one), beware that your options to get from Manhattan to the airport for a morning flight are going to range from inexpensive but inconvenient to costly and then expensive. In addition, if you arrange for a car service from your hotel, make sure to get the quote in writing to avoid an uncomfortable situation when getting out of the car to get to your flight.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

Cover Photo by Nicolas Poupart from Pexels


Adam L February 7, 2022 - 1:13 pm

If only America’s biggest city had some way to transfer passengers quickly between downtown and the airport…

Jonathan S February 9, 2022 - 11:39 pm

Only in the suburbs will you have an issue finding an Uber. Anywhere within the 5 boroughs at anytime, day or night, you will be able to get a ride. Scheduling an Uber is a practical guarantee unless there is a natural or unnatural disaster taking place, or it’s New Years or the 4th of July. You definitely got robbed. Midtown to JFK for $100? Fuggetaboutit.

Emory February 11, 2022 - 11:36 am

Hi world!

Pro tip for going to NYC area airports:
JFK: Take LIRR to Jamaica then take AirTrain.
LGA: go to 125th Street and take m60 bus
EWR: take NJT from Penn station or take bus shuttle.

Each saves time and $$$ vs cabs, car svc and subways

Kim February 16, 2022 - 4:31 pm

Thank you for saying exactly what I was going to say, Emory. LIRR from Penn Station is the best way to go to JFK and NJT is the best way to get to EWR in the morning (I avoided LGA due to the construction.). Before the pandemic I commuted between my apartment in Manhattan and my home in Portland, Oregon for work every week for two years. I ONLY took early morning flights so I would get to each destination on time. I learned from the lifetime New Yorkers (and the hard way when I didn’t listen) that only chumps and tourists take cars. Oh, and use the apps to get your tickets the day before to save even more time.

PDT February 7, 2022 - 7:14 pm

Ridiculous. You obviously don’t travel to NYC much. Start with the CURB app to pre-book a cab at that rate. Or use Revel, the Tesla Y car share service that’s less than that, or LIRR/E train to Air Train, or Carmel… there are about 5 other options too that would improve upon your choice. At that hour, any day of the week, I’m at JFK in 30 minutes flat by any car service. Later, it could be as many as 2 hours, though locals know how to direct drivers to cap it at 60 minutes.

joeheg February 7, 2022 - 9:10 pm

Those sound like some good options. We only visit a few times a year and usually don’t leave that early in the morning. I’ll look into the CURB app. I know about the LIRR but we were way downtown and not convenient to Penn Station.

JohnB February 8, 2022 - 1:12 am

There are many transfer companies who provide private car service. I think you should have researched more.

Devin A. Brown February 8, 2022 - 5:48 pm

Yellow cabs in midtown at 5:30am are crawling around looking for airport rides. You should have no problem flagging a cab

Steve February 9, 2022 - 5:42 am

I live in NYC and hear jets taking off (not every morning these days) from LaGuardia airport starting at 530am which is closer then JFK and Jet Blue does fly out of there. But if you stayed in a Manhattan hotel and went to tons of shows why complain about the fare after all the money you just finished spending. Steve in NYC.

Trish February 9, 2022 - 6:23 am

That’s why you do your research first. Don’t blame the City. Blame yourself. Common problem with tourists is they expect NYC will be a tourist friendly city and when they dont have their way they will complain and whine about their experience. New York is a city that never sleeps. The Subway is 24/7. By writing this piece, you just told 8 million people in NYC how dumb you are.

Kiana Love February 9, 2022 - 7:56 am

And you just told everyone how intolerant, judgmental and unkind you are as you try to shame people. Or maybe you’re going through alot or having a bad day.

@Joeheg. Hope you come back soon.
Luckily there are also many of us New Yorkers that can relate, emphasize and are happy to help if you get stuck or need a helping hand. There’s some good suggestions here in comments.

When I have to leave early I book a car ahead of time or map out my trip and go to bed super early so I can deal with the trek. And always allow more time so you can get there with ease. You never know what might come up with traffic or trains. Far better to be early and relaxed than frazzled & running late.

Bonnie February 9, 2022 - 6:37 pm

Trish is right and right on point with the New York City Spirit

vinnygret February 17, 2022 - 12:00 am

Nice to hear from the Welcome Wagon Trish. C’mon down to Baltimore, Hon and we’ll show ya a good time, show ya how to eat steamed crabs and one of us will probably offer to drive ya to BWI

John R Ross February 9, 2022 - 6:59 am

I know that feeling. Staying at hotel in Midtown Manhattan sounds ideal for utilizing the LIRR from Penn Station to Jamaica Station for the Airtrain to JFK Airport.
Lower Manhattan is tricky specially for transportation. I think the greatest plan is to book a hotel in Downtown Brooklyn, utilize the LIRR from Atlantic Terminal only 20 minutes to Jamaica Station. The East Side Access will change the course of traveling as well. Brooklyn trains will go from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. Something to think about.

Kiana February 9, 2022 - 7:41 am

I’m with you. Getting to the airport for an early flight here in NYC is a schlep even for us locals. Getting up early, paying more for a car or taking longer with public transportation is no fun. And no one wants to give you a ride early.

Don’t mind the critical commenters, there are many of us here that can relate and many that will appreciate the heads up

Frank Cortez February 10, 2022 - 11:11 am

Thank you for the taxi fare information. I’ve yet to have a problem with Uber that early going to JFK from Harlem. If I am able to, I usually bite the bullet and take the A& E yo JFK.

ANTHONY LEWIS February 9, 2022 - 10:16 am

Glad I only live 10 minutes from Kennedy and 20 from LGA. These issues don’t concern me. In fact, my problem is, with the first flight leaving, is deciding on whether I’m going to actually go to sleep the night before, or sleep on the plane. It’s usually the latter.

Nori February 9, 2022 - 12:26 pm

You could have booked a yellow cab thru their app and prepaid

Leslie Jenkins February 9, 2022 - 1:42 pm

Stayed in mid-town. Took subway #7 to Queens. Transferred to Q70 bus to LGA. Cost? Less than $10 for both of us.

Lander80 February 9, 2022 - 3:30 pm

Because you cut it too close on your trip, this is some concrete knowledge for others?
This is completely on you.

Boraxo February 13, 2022 - 3:57 am

Exactly my thought. And I never book early morning flights after 9/11.

Honestly if you can afford to visit NYC you can afford a decent car service. Or just fly the night before and save 1 night hotel cost.

JFK is always a PITA. But it is generally better than EWR from midtown and those are the only options if you want a nonstop to the Coast. ce la vie

Nikola February 9, 2022 - 4:02 pm

Wow– some of these comments really show the unfriendliness of NYC. This is a good contribution to some of the frustrations of traveling in NYC but I agree that there are some better ways to have gone about it. The costs really do add up and thank you for the intro

Darnell Jackson February 9, 2022 - 7:49 pm

Sounds like you used a car service. Car services have set rates with hotels. $85 + $5 sounds right. Unlike Uber/Lift’s “estimated” fare quotes, car services add tolls to the total at the end of the ride. It depends what Harlem/East River crossing they used. Tolls are required to use the Tri-Boro (RFK) Bridge, Queens-Midtown Tunnel, and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. (What crossing they use depends on traffic.) The T.L.C. lets car services charge up to double for crossing tolls because most car services will not have a return fare from the airport back to Manhattan. (Yellow Cabs have to charge the exact toll they paid because they can wait for a return fare.) $15 sounds like what the particular car service would charge for a tolled crossing. $105, as a pre-tip total sounds right for a $85 + $5 quoted fare. My employer covers car service fare for Alstate and 777 car services. $105 from Midtown Manhattan sounds does not sound inflated based on what I’ve paid upfront many times in the past.

joeheg February 9, 2022 - 9:41 pm

I was OK with the price given the situation. It’s that it was not the price I was quoted by the hotel. Knowing the breakdown, it sounds legit but no one likes to feel like they’re being taken for a ride after an early morning trip to the airport.

M February 10, 2022 - 5:54 am

Wow another tourist complaint about NY…. What a surprise

Amanda February 10, 2022 - 12:23 pm

The headline is so misleading. “danger?” It would have been easy to get an Uber or Lyft, and if it cost a few dollars more than you felt like it should that isn’t “dangerous”. Sometimes there is surge pricing, sometimes there is traffic… But it’s just a price you pay for the convenience of not using public transit. Not worth complaining about. (And yes I’m a NYC native and frequent traveller)


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