Travel Hack: Cheapest Australian Airport Transport Options

Australia is an expensive place to travel - well, at least in terms of services attached to airports. For some reason, Australia loves to jack up the prices of everything at an airport like food, drinks and of course transport when trying to get to the airport or escape it. Even though the CBDs of our cities are fairly close to their respective airports (Melbourne is one exception), the privatisation of train links sees the costs stay high.

So how does one break the cycle of having to pay over AUD$18 to get from somewhere like Brisbane Airport to the city, or over AUD$18 to go from Sydney Airport to the CBD? By reading on, of course, and learning which alternate modes of transport will get you there for a fraction of the cost. Just bear in mind if you’re in a hurry, this isn’t for you. Likewise, if you have heavy bags and/or a few people, a taxi or ride-share is a fine option instead.

You need a contactless transport card for each of the non-regional locations below to get the best pricing, and increasingly, actually being able to travel at all as time goes on. Buy a card on arrival at a newsagent, transport vending machine or train station nearby at the airport. Your mileage may vary so just ask around on arrival.

Brisbane

Route
Brisbane Airport to CBD (Central Station)
Standard Route
Train via AirTrain ($18.50, around 20 mins)
Optimised route
Bus/public train ($3.96, 60+ mins)
Transport Card
Go Card (https://translink.com.au/tickets-and-fares/go-card). Purchase one at the train station if starting at at the airport or at convenience stores or newsagents if elsewhere

Brisbane’s got two airport terminals, Domestic and International, physically separated but connected by road (free bus connection) or a train line (paid).

Leaving either terminal is the same cost and is typically by way of the AirTrain, a private segment of railway that connects into south-east Queensland’s TransLink network once you leave the airport area. Whilst convenient and easy, the train is expensive because of the “private” part of the line. You can avoid this though by using a combination of other methods.

From the airport:

  1. Take the free orange Skygate/T-Bus from your terminal to Skygate shopping centre, otherwise known as DFO.).
  2. From Skygate/DFO, catch the 590 Bus to the Toombul Interchange.
  3. From here, take a Cleveland Line train from Toombul Station and that will get you into the CBD and get off where you so choose, such as Central Station.

For getting back to or to go to the airport, do the same above, just in reverse:

  1. Get yourself to Toombul Station from wherever you are
  2. Catch the 590 bus to Skygate/DFO
  3. Catch the free orange Skygate/T-Bus to the relevant terminal

The only catch, aside from the time factor, is that the Skygate bus stops runs from around 6am to 6pm. If you have an earlier or later flight, your only option is the train, up until around 10pm. After that time your only options are taxi, ride sharing or private vehicle.

Sydney

Route
Sydney Airport to CBD (Circular Quay)
Standard Route
Train via AirportLink ($18.70, 20 mins)
Optimised route
Bus/public train or bus/bus ($2.67 with bus, 30-40 mins; or $2.47 with walk, 60 mins)
Transport card
Opal Card (https://opal.com.au/). Purchase at most convenience stores, including ones at the airport.

Sydney’s got two airport terminals, Domestic and International, physically separated but connected by road (now a free bus connection) or a train line (paid).

Leaving either terminal is the same cost and is typically by way of the AirportLink, a private segment of railway that connects into Sydney’s city train network once you leave the airport area. Whilst convenient and easy, the train is expensive because of the “private” part of the line which leads to a “station access fee” being charged if you exit at either the Domestic Airport or International Airport Stations. You can avoid this though by a combination strategy.

From the airport:

  1. Take the 400 PrePay-Only - Sydney Airport to Bondi Junction via Eastgardens bus or the 420 Burwood to Eastgardens bus from the airport.
    • If you’re super-stingy, want the exercise and want to save 20 cents, walk from the airport to Mascot instead. Add at least 20 minutes to your travel time and longer if your bags are heavy.
  2. Get off at Mascot Station, Coward St, Stand A (ask the driver to stop or use your phone to know when to press the button) — it’s only a short trip, around 4 mins.
  3. From here, cross the road and walk to Mascot Station around the corner.
  4. Take the train from Mascot to the city (such as to Circular Quay).

For getting back to or to go to the airport, do the same above, just in reverse:

  1. Get onto an Airport-bound train and get off early at Mascot Station.
    • Ignore anyone who spots your luggage and gives you odd looks or tries to tell you it isn’t the airport (you know what you’re doing!).
    • If you mess up and miss Mascot, either suck it up and pay the full fare at the airport station or for the really adventurous, change trains without leaving the station, get back to Mascot and carry on.
  2. Exit Mascot Station and walk up to Coward Street, Stand B (make sure it is Stand B or you’ll be going the wrong way).
  3. Take either the 400 PrePay-Only - Bondi Junction to Sydney Airport via Eastgardens or the 420 Eastgardens to Burwood via Sydney Airport & Rockdale bus towards the airport.
  4. Get off at your relevant airport terminal. If you accidentally get off at Domestic but needed International or vice versa, catch the free shuttle bus <https://www.sydneyairport.com.au/airport-guide/arriving/international/getting-between-terminals>`_ to change terminals.

The only catch, aside from the time factor, is that the bus and trains run only from 5am to around 1am. There are limited stops 420 buses that stop near the airport, but it’s a fair bit of walking to get to the bus stop (if there’s even a footpath, I’ve never actually tried it) and then it’d still be an effort to get a transfer to the city. At this point, taxi, ride-share or private vehicle your way to your destination.

Melbourne

Route
Melbourne (Tullermarine) Airport to CBD (Southern Cross Station)
Standard Route
Bus via SkyBus ($16.50 each way online as return journey, 30-45 mins)
Optimised route
Bus/public train ($7.24 weekday/$6.30 weekend or free, 60 mins)
Transport card
MyKi Card (https://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki/). Purchase at the SkyBus terminal at the airport (ensure you do not buy a Skybus ticket!) if starting there, on the bus itself, or at most convenience stores.

Melbourne has two different airports, Tullamarine (the main airport where the international terminal is) and Avalon. Having never been to Avalon, I can’t (yet) comment on its transport methods and so will only be talking about Tullamarine.

Tullamarine is a long way out of town and for whatever particular reason, there’s no train service directly to the airport. This means that the ten-tonne gorilla that is SkyBus more-or-less has a monopoly over the transport heading towards the CBD. However, that doesn’t mean they’re your only option. Here’s how to break their business model.

I’ll note that when I say “free” it’s that your airport trip could be free if you’ve done some other travelling on your MyKi card on that day. For instance, if you’ve just been shooting around looking at the sights outside the free tram zone earlier in the day, you might have hit your “Daily fare” limit already, meaning your travel to the airport is free! Same goes for further travel after your arrive - on a weekeday, you’ll get really close to hitting your daily cap so make the most of it and travel hard through the rest of the day.

I digress. Travel from the airport looks like this:

  1. Take the 901 SmartBus to Frankston from near Terminal 4. If you’ve arrived on a Qantas flight in Terminal 1 this is a good 15 minutes walk.
  2. Get off at Broadmeadows Station (ask the driver to stop or use your phone to know when to press the button) — it’s about 20 minutes, depending on traffic and others on the bus.
  3. From the bus stop here, walk to the station itself and take a train to Southern Cross Station.

For getting back to or to go to the airport, do the same above, just in reverse:

  1. Get to Broadmeadows Station in some manner via train. You don’t need to always start at Southern Cross Station, you can start from Flinders Street or elsewhere.
  2. Walk out of the station and down to the bus stop for the 901 SmartBus to Melbourne Airport — be careful as there are two different 901 buses that stop here. Make sure yours says “airport” or just ask the driver.
  3. Get off at the last stop, Terminal 4 at the airport. If you’re travelling from T1, T2 or T3, start walking.

The only catch, aside from the time factor, is that the bus and trains run only from 6.30am to around 12.10am. After this point, it’s back to the SkyBus for you, which thankfully runs all night. Except, of course, for their hotel transfer service, which ends early in the evening.

Lastly, don’t forget about the Free Tram Zone in the city. You don’t need to tap on or off, just get on and enjoy the free rides. It’s awesome.

Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is easy — there’s nothing special here in terms of transport. You can catch a public bus right from in front of the airport. There’s no rail or light rail located at the airport at the time of writing, but there are future plans to connect the TransLink rain network at some point in the future.

Townsville

Route
Townsville Airport to CBD
Standard Route
Taxi (approx $25, 10 mins)
Optimised Route
Walk + Bus ($3.00, 30+ mins)

Townsville’s public transport options are very limited at the best of times and the airport is no exception. The standard option is a taxi (immediate) or ride-share (if wait times are short enough) from out the front of the airport, if you don’t already have your own private ride. For public transport:

  1. Walk off the airport grounds to Meenan Street
  2. Catch either the 205 or 215 Bus (northbound) and get off at the end of the line in the CBD.

This bus route doesn’t operate on Sunday (!), weekday evenings after 8pm or Saturdays after 6pm.

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