Friday 7 February 2014

To Melbourne Airport the Cheap-Arse Way (2014 Update)

[NOTE: For the latest information, see my 2015 update to this blog post by clicking here]

It's time for another update to this blog's most popular post, how to get from the city centre to Melbourne Airport cheaply on regular public transport. 

Since the 2013 update some key factors have changed, including the airport bus stop location and elements of the ticketing system. So read on...

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 rather you didn't learn what I'm about to tell you.

So draw your chairs closer, 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 $18 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. Though it was previously located in an inconvenient spot about 500 metres south of the international terminal, it's now been moved to a better location on Departure Drive just past Terminal 1, used by Qantas and Jetstar.

This has reversed the previous situation, whereby the bus was handy for Tigerair services from Terminal 4. The bus stop is now a 600 metre walk north of Terminal 4, though less of a walk for international flights (Terminal 2) and Virgin Australia flights (Terminal 3). It's obviously very handy for Qantas and Jetstar flights.

Why it isn't possible to have more than one bus stop in operation at the airport, god knows, but that's a discussion for another day.

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.

The easiest option is to buy a card directly from the 901 bus driver, who can also add credit to the card. The card costs $6 to purchase, and on top of that a two-hour fare from the airport to the city centre (and onwards to anywhere in Melbourne within the time limit) is $6.06.

All buses should now be equipped for this transaction, but if you strike a bus where it isn't set up or the equipment isn't working, there's a second option.

You can instead buy a 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 $18, so this approach seems a little unintuitive.

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 on a regular bus, then travel onwards to anywhere in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

The visitor pack also includes discount vouchers to major Melbourne attractions and a decorative Myki card wallet, so that may add to the incentive to pick one up.

The regular bus stop is opposite Terminal 1. It's not right next to the terminal's kerb, but in one of the traffic islands further out - look for the orange-and-white sign. Here you board the 901 bus to Frankston, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

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

When the bus reaches Broadmeadows Station, touch off the card, get out and walk into the station, touching on the card again. Take the underpass to Platform 1. 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 $6.06, which is automatically subtracted from the card balance when you touch off along the route.

Note that this $6.06 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, a bus or a tram when you reach the city centre.

On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays the Myki fare is capped at $6 for unlimited all-day travel across Melbourne, making the airport trip a few cents cheaper.

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 person behind the counter to do it.

If you're only sightseeing in the inner city, budget $7.16 per weekday (the capped daily fare for Zone 1) and $6 per weekend day or public holiday. If you like, the 7-Eleven staffer can alternatively add a pass to the card covering all Zone 1 travel over seven days for $35.80.

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 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.

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