Over the years I’ve fine-tuned my routine of getting from the Capital District to JFK to embark on a number of great journeys. There are many ways to go about it, each one ranging in price, reliability, and speed, but this one is my tried and tested favorite.

The short version

  1. Take either Amtrak or Megabus to Penn Station
  2. Hop on the Long Island Railroad to the Jamaica stop
  3. Transfer to AirTrain which loops around JFK

Reverse these directions to get back.

The long version

Getting to Penn Station

There are two major options. Amtrak is relatively reliable (not as much as, say, French or Japanese trains) and runs many times during the day. It’s easy to switch trains at no cost if you missed yours or want to take an earlier trip; just ask at the booth. You can book online and print your tickets at a kiosk at the station, and cancel a reservation without penalty a couple days in advance. Amtrak is my personal preference.

Megabus is famous for their $1 fares if you book in advance. The fares slowly rise as the departure looms closer, but it’s still cheaper than Amtrak. Since they only seem to run on some days of the week I haven’t taken them yet, but I’ve heard they’re comfy and offer free (but spotty) wifi along the way, a nice bonus. The downside is that, being buses, they’re subject to traffic and you should probably pad your travel time to 3:00 or 3:30 instead of the stated 2:30 or 2:45.

Both Amtrak and Megabus depart from the Albany-Rensselaer station (Megabus is in one of the parking lots north of the station). Amtrak drops you off right inside Penn Station on a lower level, which Megabus drops you off in the street alongside Penn, so you’ll have to walk inside the station to continue from here.

Update: for more options, plus a breakdown of the costs, see this excellent roundup from AllOverAlbany.

Getting to JFK International

Get off the Amtrak train and go up the stairs with everyone else into Penn Station. Follow the signs (or ask someone in uniform) to the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). Buy a LIRR ticket at a kiosk ($5 for off-peak times, $7 during rush hour) and get on the train to the Jamaica stop. A conductor will punch your ticket while the train is moving.

Get off at Jamaica and follow the signs to AirTrain. Buy another $5 ticket (a Metrocard) just before the turnstiles and hop on the train to do a loop around JFK, stopping at each terminal.

Reverse these directions to get back to Penn. In both directions there are plenty of signs to guide you in the proper direction.

Logistics and alternatives

I allocate one hour for this venture, but it’s never taken me more than 45 minutes. The LIRR is a commuter train, not a subway, so the seats all face forward/backward (not sideways, into the train) and have small luggage racks overhead. You wouldn’t have too much trouble with a large rolling suitcase, but then again why not pack light?

The alternatives are a cab (flat rate of ~$50, takes a bit longer, depends on traffic) or the subway ($2 but a couple hours long and I wouldn’t want to haul luggage on it). And of course there’s  the fastest way, by helicopter, but it’s $169 and takes off down near Wall Street.

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  • http://patik.com Christia

    Thanks for this helpful information! I need to fly out of JFK but will be in the Albany area and your blog makes it sound easy and fun.

  • wangxiaoyu

    Thank you! I ‘m going to travel from JFK to Rensselaer and it helps me so much!

  • Partha

    There is a daily express shuttle bus service from Albany airport to JFK via La Guardia airport. The bus start at 9:30am from Albany airport and reach JFK by 2:00pm.

    The return service from JFK is at 6:30pm and reach Albany at 11:00pm.

    You don’t need to change your shuttle in between and ticket cost just $65 from Albany to JFK. The buses are good.

    • http://patik.com/ Craig

      Thanks, Partha! That takes a little longer than riding Amtrak and LIRR, but it’s cheaper and sounds like less hassle. I will add it the post.

    • Barbara Anne

      Hi Partha,
      I like your suggestion!
      could you tell me details of this shuttle bus?
      Is it an actual Greyhound type bus or a car?
      What’s the company name ?

    • Jonathan

      Could you kindly inform as to the name of the bas and where to board it in Albany? Thank you. Jonathan.

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  • http://patik.com/ Craig

    Jonathan, you can take either MegaBus or Greyhound from Albany. I prefer MegaBus because it is generally cheaper and the buses are nice. It departs from the parking lot of the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak train station and drops you off a couple blocks from Penn Station in NYC, a convenient place to connect to anywhere in the city.

    Greyhound departs from the Greyhound station in a seedy-looking area near downtown Albany. Greyhound also operates Peter Pan, a cheap bus service designed to compete with MegaBus (newer buses, wifi, etc).

    There are also many Chinatown buses but they are more difficult to ride and not as nice. For example, I’m not sure where or if you can reserve a seat online or look up their schedule. They also drop off at points in NYC nearer to Chinatown which may be less convenient. They usually depart from Central Ave near Colonie Center and Fuller Road in Colonie, just north of Albany.

  • TN

    I have been trying to find a very informative website and video of the trip from Amtrak in Penn Station to the LIRR to AirTrain to JFK. This was on an actual site, not a YouTube. It even had clips of the ticketing kiosks and “speeded up” walks through the terminals. I neglected to bookmark the page and have been trying desperately to find it. If anyone has any ideas of which site it could be, the link would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!
    TN

    • http://patik.com/ Craig Patik

      Sorry, I couldn’t find anything like that. But the process really is quite simple, you will be able to figure it out as you go along. Just make sure to write down the major steps on a piece of paper should you need to ask for help.

    • Athena

      would love to have that website too if you ever find it!!

  • tune

    please how do i get to laguardia airport from albany ny?????

    • http://patik.com/ Craig Patik

      I have not been there myself, but it appears that you can follow my steps above to get to Penn Station in Manhattan, then take the NY Airport Service bus to LaGuardia for $12. It runs 2-3 times per hour, takes 40-60 minutes, and can be reserved online or over the phone. More info at http://www.nyairportservice.com

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  • Athena

    how long does it take by taking the steps above to get to jfk, Also does long island railroad or the air train only run certain times? (trying to catch plane that leaves at 7 am)

    • http://patik.com/ Craig Patik

      From Albany to Penn Station is about 2.5 – 3 hours, depending on your mode of transport (i.e., a bus is subject to traffic jams, and in the summer sometimes the railroad gets hot and the train has to slow down).

      For Penn to JFK I would budget an hour of time to be safe, though I have done it in 30 minutes. If you happen to arrive just when an express train is running between Penn and Jamaica it will be faster because it only makes one stop.

      AirTrain runs 24/7 between Jamaica and JFK. I haven’t had to wait more than 5 minutes to catch the next one, even early in the morning or late at night.

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  • Staycsmith

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  • Mary

    if traveling by amtrak, how is luggage handled? We have 2 good sized suitcases and are concerned about where to store them.

    • http://patik.com/ Craig Patik

      There are luggage racks on most (all?) cars at one. There is also a shelf along the entire car above the seats, but it’s more handy for backpacks and too small for rolling luggage. Here is Amtrak’s baggage policy: http://www.amtrak.com/baggage-policy