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
- Take either Amtrak or Megabus to Penn Station
- Hop on the Long Island Railroad to the Jamaica stop
- 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.