The 2 Ways To Get From JFK Airport To Manhattan

by joeheg

If you’re flying into JFK Airport and looking to get to Manhattan by rail, you have two options. You can take the cheaper route by using the subway, or the faster one by taking the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). While taking a taxi, Uber or Lyft is also an option, it can be quite expensive, with fares ranging from $60 to $100. So unless you’re willing to pay a premium, I’d recommend avoiding those options.

To get to either the subway or LIRR from JFK, you’ll first need to take the AirTrain (that’s the train that will take you from terminal to terminal, to rental cars kiosks, parking lots and the train/sunway stations).  If you want to take the LIRR, you have to take the train going to Jamaica Station, so make up your mind which service you want to use before getting on the AirTrain.

a map of a train

What are the differences between the two services?

Faster Option (Long Island Railroad – LIRR)


The LIRR travels from Jamaica Station to Penn Station and now also to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. The LIRR offers both direct trains and those with a few stops along the way, with the entire trip taking around 25 minutes. The LIRR sells a CityTicket that costs $5 for off-peak hours and $7 for peak hours, making it an affordable choice for many travelers. You can purchase a CityTicket at a ticket office, ticket machine, or on the MTA TrainTime app on your phone.

Trains run regularly between Jamaica Station and both Penn Station and Grand Central Station, so you won’t have to wait long to catch your ride. Once on board, you’ll find rows of seats, usually three across, and an LIRR employee will collect tickets from passengers during the ride.

This isn’t a fancy train like the Brightline in South Florida. Its goal is to get you from point A to point B in the quickest way possible. It’s “just a train,” with so special services onboard.

Once at Penn Station or Grand Central Station, you can get a taxi, Uber or Lyft to your destination or connect to a subway (which will cost you extra, as the two services aren’t linked).

Cheaper Option

While the LIRR is no doubt the faster way to get to Manhattan from JFK, there is a cheaper way. The New York Subway.

NYC Subway

I’ve detailed how to get to the subway from the AirTrain at Jamaica Station. The current fare for any subway ride is $2.90, while the fare for the AirTrain is $8.25. You can pay for the subway using an OMNY Card or contactless payments, but for the AirTrain, you’ll still need a MetroCard. Even if you’ve used up the fare, keep the Metrocard as getting a new one will cost you $1.

If you want to travel to Manhattan via the subway, the E train is the main way to get there. The train departs from Jamaica Station and makes its way through Queens before entering Manhattan at around 53rd Street. Along the way, it passes through Grand Central Station and then heads downtown along 8th Avenue. You’ll go by 42nd St/Times Square and Penn Station, before ultimately reaching the final stop at the World Trade Center. Depending on your destination in Manhattan, the ride takes at least 1 hour, sometimes closer to 90 minutes.

There are stations where you can connect/transfer to other subway lines, making it possible to get to other areas of New York for the same $2.90 fare.

While riding the subway may be exciting for a first-time visitor to New York, it’s not the easiest system to navigate. Having an app like Google Maps, which provides information on which subway to take and how many stops until your destination, makes things much easier. There are also now electronic signs at the stations telling you when a train is due to arrive, unlike when I was younger and you just needed to stand there wondering when, if ever, would the train you needed appear from the tunnel.

Subway trains, unlike the LIRR, have a single bench seat lining the walls. The rest of the space is standing room only. For a normal commuter, this is fine but if you’re traveling with luggage this can become a challenge to keep everything together when the train starts to get crowded. Subway drivers can also have a heavy hand on the throttle and brake, making standing a challenge to all but the most experienced subway passengers.

Also, many subway stations require you to walk up several sets of stairs to get to street level (only about 20% of NYC’s subway stations have elevators, and even when they do, they don’t always work). This is another problem when traveling with luggage.

So, I’ll say that the LIRR besides being faster, is also the easier of the two to use.

Final Thoughts

For me, I’ll usually take the LIRR when going from JFK to Manhattan. With the introduction of CityTicket, the price difference between the two services isn’t that much. It’s a quick car ride from Penn Station or Grand Central to most locations in midtown so we’ll take an UBER or Lyft to our hotel.

If you’re going to other areas of Manhattan, taking the subway may be a reasonable option and there are cost savings to consider. However, think about this before making your decision. A trip to New York City isn’t cheap. Is your trip from the airport to the city really the place where you want to save a few bucks? I’ve learned that while it’s good to be cheap and frugal when traveling, you need to be smart about it. If you want to ride the subway just to say you rode it, maybe the trip from the airport isn’t the place to cross that thing off of your to-do list.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Gene October 13, 2019 - 4:32 pm

If you value your time and money, take Juno (or uber or lyft or a taxi).

Stefan Krasowski @ Rapid Travel Chai October 14, 2019 - 8:05 pm

Add (1) LIRR City Ticket on weekends. (2) Unlimited use MetroCards don’t mix with the AirTrain charge, it isn’t much more time, depending on terminal can even be less (flying B6), to do what the airline employees do, taking the A train to Lefferts Blvd and hopping on the Q10 that stops at Federal Circle and T5.

Charles A Plesums February 4, 2020 - 11:21 am

Try the subway… the travel time is less than 30 minutes, not the 50 minutes on the sign, and the subway runs every few minutes, not every 20 minutes. My first time getting off the AirTrain a native steered me to the subway as faster and cheaper, (and who wants to go to Penn Station).

Liam March 20, 2022 - 12:32 am

If you’re going to JFK, There’s also the A train to Howard Beach, which is better than the E if you’re staying in Lower Manhattan. From Wall Street it also takes roughly the same amount of time as taking the subway up to Penn Station and then using LIRR, assuming the A is indeed running express as it should.

derek September 3, 2023 - 8:54 pm

I would not choose the LIRR except for a few limited circumstances. The time savings are easily eaten up in New York. The LIRR is more convenient if one’s hotel is near Grand Central, like the Hyatt Grand Central or Dylan Hotel. Otherwise, many more hotels are close to the E or A trains.

My preferences are taxi/Uber, AirTrain + E train, or, if traveling light and not in a hurry, Q10 Ltd bus + E train.

KD Talcott September 3, 2023 - 10:52 pm

Please note that the E doesn’t stop at Grand Central. You need to get off at Lexington/53rd St then take the escalator at the front of the platform upstairs and transfer to the downtown 6 train one stop to Grand Central.

Jason Escalante September 4, 2023 - 6:04 am

Jfk-> lefferts Blvd station (via aitrain; no fee) -> aqueduct/ north conduit station (via walk; 15-20 mins depending on your pace) -> Brooklyn/Manhattan (via A train). I do this in good weather. Costs less than $3 to get to lower Manhattan. And it takes about 1:15 if I time it right. Transit apps won’t offer this option.

Stephanie Woods September 4, 2023 - 7:41 am

Update: There is now the additional problem that the Air train station at Terminal 1is closed, and you have to take a shuttle to Terminal 8 to access the AirTrain. This meant my last commute from JFK to Penn Station took 2 HOURS! It is a nightmare!!! But as someone who has done this numerous times, I would never do this with luggage on the subway – take the LIRR!

WAE September 4, 2023 - 12:17 pm

In case it might be of interest, especially to those who do not have a lot of luggage…

At present, the cheapest way from JFK to Manhattan is to take the AirTrain to Lefferts Blvd [free], then follow the signs saying “public buses” and Q10. The bus pulls up right outside the exit. [Take the Q10 LIMITED if possible; it is even faster.] You can pay for the ride with your phone or contactless credit card.

Depending on traffic, it can take 30 minutes or longer to reach Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike, the final stop. Walk about 20 seconds to the F train [free transfer if you use the same payment method you used for the bus]. You can then get anywhere you need on the subway [unlimited free transfers].

The F train itself makes multiple stops in Midtown [57th Street, 47th-50th Street/Rockefeller Center, 42nd Street, 34th Street] and Downtown [14th Street, West 4th Street].

It is not the fastest method, but it now costs only $2.90 for the whole trip [AirTrain, bus, and subway].

Gavin Peters September 5, 2023 - 9:43 am

With the Airtrain costing $8.25, the total cost difference between LIRR at $13.25 and the subway at $11.15 is not much.

The Q3 bus stops at Terminal 8, for a TOTAL cost of $2.90.

Taking the Airtrain to Lefferts Blvd, which is free, also gives you the Q10 and B15.

The Q10 makes a very reasonable connection to the A line at Lefferts Blvd Stn.


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