Wednesday 27 March 2013

To Melbourne Airport the Cheap-Arse Way (2013 Update)

[NOTE: For the latest information, see my 2014 update to this blog post by clicking here]

A year ago, I uploaded this popular post explaining how to get to/from Melbourne Airport cheaply on regular public transport. 

In the ensuing 12 months, key elements have changed, including fare rises and the removal of the Metcard ticketing system. 

So here's an update on how to get to or from the airport and save a few dollars along the way...

The cost of getting to and from airports throughout the Western world can be outrageously expensive, and Melbourne is not immune to this problem.

However... there is a way of getting to and from Melbourne Airport cheaply, though various vested interests would much rather you didn't learn what I'm about to tell you.

So draw your chairs closer to the fire, lean in and discover how to save a tidy bit of cash.

For the cheap-arses among us, there is a much cheaper way into the city centre than the 20 minute $17 Skybus journey, though of course it takes longer (about 60 to 70 minutes, depending on connections).

This is how it works...

To Melbourne Airport

From any station in Melbourne's central business district, catch a train along the Craigieburn line and get out at Broadmeadows Station (timetable here).

Step straight out through the station building to the bus bay which is just to the right as you clear the building. Here you catch the 901 bus to Melbourne Airport, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

The bus terminates at a regular suburban bus stop at the airport, located in an inconvenient spot about 500 metres south of the international terminal, on the charmingly named Service Road.

(Note that this stop is very near Terminal 4, so it's actually reasonably convenient if flying via Tiger Airways. Less so for Virgin flights and international, and a longish walk for Qantas and Jetstar services.)

From Melbourne Airport

You need a Myki smartcard to travel on Melbourne's public transport, and to get hold of one of these at the airport you have two choices.

Firstly, you can buy the Myki Visitor Pack from the Skybus ticket booths at the airport. Skybus is the premium every-ten-minutes airport bus which heads to the city for $17, so this seems a little like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank for our purposes.

However, you can get the pack from Skybus. The $14 purchase price includes the standard $6 purchase price for the card, plus $8 of travel credit on standard public transport (ie not Skybus itself). That's more than enough to get to the city centre then travel onwards to anywhere in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

Alternatively, you can buy the subtly different Myki Starter Pack from a driver on the 901 bus.

Either way, on leaving the airport terminals turn right and walk about 500 metres, all the way past the separate Terminal 4 where Tiger Airways flies from.

Here you catch the 901 bus to Frankston, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

The bus driver can sell you a Myki Starter Pack for $10, which includes the $6 card purchase price and $4 credit. This is actually less than the fare to the city centre on weekdays, but Myki cards allow you to travel legally even when the card's balance dips into the negative, as long as you top it up before your next trip.

"Touch on" the card (as the jargon goes) on a Myki reader on board, and take a seat.

When the bus reaches Broadmeadows Station, touch off the card, get out and walk through the underpass to Platform 1, touching the card on again as you go. From here a train will take you straight to the city centre (timetable here).


The Myki fare between the airport and city centre in either direction is $5.92, which is automatically subtracted from the card balance when you touch off along the route.

Note that this $5.92 is a two-hour fare covering both of Melbourne's fare zones, so it has the advantage of being able to be used on all public transport for the duration of the two hours. Hence you could transfer to another train, bus or tram when you reach the city centre.

Even better, on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays the Myki fare is capped at only $3.50 for unlimited all-day travel across Melbourne, making the airport trip a steal.

Give me credit

The catch is that you must buy a Myki card for that non-refundable $6 purchase price; though of course you’ll be able to keep using it during your stay in Melbourne, and retain it for use on any future visits.

To top up the card's credit, the easiest way is to step into any of the million or so 7-Eleven outlets in the city centre and ask the guy behind the counter to do it.

If you're only sightseeing in the inner city, budget $7 per weekday (the capped daily fare for Zone 1) and $3.50 per weekend day or public holiday. If you like, the 7-Eleven staffer can even add a pass to the card covering all Zone 1 travel over seven days for $35.

Going a-Broady

Another good thing about the 901+train option, is that it gets you straight into the "being in Melbourne" vibe – you can eavesdrop on some pretty entertaining conversations on the train to/from Broady, which has a reputation for being one of Melbourne's tougher suburbs.

Don't let that put you off catching the train to/from Broadmeadows though, as it's a staffed station. Do exercise reasonable vigilance however, especially if travelling after dark.

Another catch is that the train+bus option isn't really suitable for people with large amounts of luggage; but if travelling with reasonably small and portable gear, go for it.

So happy flying - and enjoy the cheap ride to/from Melbourne Airport.

[NOTE: For the latest information, see my 2014 update to this blog post by clicking here]


  1. Great stuff i can always cadge a lift but for others options are always welcome.

  2. Yeah and as I said, it won't suit everyone. But when I have a flight later in the day and I'm not in a rush, I go to the airport this way. The money I save covers lunch.

  3. and note that if you are planning your journey using PTV's journey planner you are quite likely to do the whole journey more quickly than it says. They allow a full 5 minutes to change from train to bus at broadmeadows, so presume you will miss a bus connection that is less than 5 minutes after the train arrives. However given the walk is all of about 30 seconds from exiting the train to the bus stop this ain't necessarily so.

  4. Really useful advice, what more can I say!

  5. Good point Janet, it is a very easy transfer on the way to the airport. A few times I've stepped out from the station and straight onto a waiting 901.

  6. Seriously man. You are my new hero.

  7. April 2013 Update - I recently received the following info from the authorities at Melbourne Airport:

    "Soon, we'll be relocating the bus from its current location past T4 to a new stop in the main forecourt area in front of T1. I'll let you know when that is going to happen, but it should be within the next few months. That should make it even more convenient to use public transport to and from the airport."

    Will update my blog post when this happens. TR