Flying BOS-NYC is cheaper than you’d think.

At first thought, flying from Boston to New York (or even New Jersey) may sound borderline foolish. After all, the two metro areas are separated by a mere 180 miles, a distance commonly traveled by car. Indeed, the percentage of people who travel between the two areas via personal automobile or bus is far greater than those who make the trip via air.

If I had a car, I probably wouldn’t give a second thought to flying between Boston and New York. However, air travel between the two cities is more common than you might think: there are 60+ flights per day each way between BOS and the three major New York airports (EWR, JFK, and LGA). And though a certain number of those are made up of either business travelers or connecting passengers who are not solely traveling between Boston and New York, the aforementioned flights would simply not be viable if they relied solely on those two groups of people to support them.

Ultimately, there are a number of people who choose to fly between Boston and New York – myself included – as it can be surprisingly cheap. For example, I’ve flown BOS-EWR for $97 round trip on both jetBlue and United, and I felt that I got my money’s worth (and then some) both times. And with jetBlue slated to start flying between BOS and LGA for as low as $97 round trip this fall, it continues to be surprisingly affordable to take to the air.

The Value of Time

It’s often said that “time is money.” And while that phrase is used in a variety of contexts, it usually meant to express the belief that people will pay more to get to where they need to go in less time.

Below, I’ve made a cost-benefit analysis of each of the three modes of transportation that takes into account price and time. Obviously, there are a number of different variables that may affect total travel time, but I feel that these numbers are relatively consistent across the board.

Bus

  • ($15.00 each way) x (2 legs) = $30.00 round trip
  • Arrive 15 minutes before boarding the bus
  • 4 hours, 30 minutes (minimum, without traffic) to Penn Station
  • Total travel time: Minimum of 4 hours, 45 minutes

Train

  • ($49.00 each way) x (2 legs) = $98.00 round trip
  • Arrive 15 minutes before boarding the train
  • 4 hours (average) to Penn Station
  • Total travel time: Average of 4 hours, 15 minutes

Plane

  • $97.00 round trip
  • Arrive 90 minutes before departure (1 hour before boarding)
  • 40 minutes to EWR, LGA, JFK
  • 10 minutes spent taxiing to the gate
  • Total travel time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

For me, it takes about 15 minutes to get to both Logan (via Uber) and South Station (via the T), so that variable remains relatively consistent. Others, meanwhile, may be significantly closer to one of Logan or South Station, so that’s why I didn’t choose to include getting to the starting point of your journey in the cumulative time. Additionally, the bus and train are going to be more convenient if you’re going to Manhattan, while LaGuardia is more convenient for the Bronx, JFK is more convenient for Long Islanders, and Newark is more convenient for those going to New Jersey.

Why should you fly?

In addition to the obvious time savings, flying is – generally speaking – subject to fewer traffic variables than taking the bus. Of course, there can be taxi delays, ground stops, and the like, but the total time in the air will remain relatively consistent (between 30 and 50 minutes), regardless of which airport you’re flying into.

Additionally, it’s much easier to justify a “weekend trip” to New York when your travel time is half of what it would be otherwise. For example, say you fly out of Boston at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning; there’s a good chance you’ll have arrived at your destination by 10. Take the bus, however, and you’d need to leave at 5 a.m. to arrive at the same time. Likewise, the return leg sees a similarly dramatic effect; a 6 p.m. flight will likely have you home by 8, while a 6 p.m. bus trip would see you home at 11.

If you’re going to be in New York for a long period of time, it may behoove you to save money and take the bus or train. The shorter the trip, the more value you’ll get out of flying.

Why shouldn’t you fly?

Certainly, there are variables that work against traveling by air. For one, LaGuardia’s operational capabilities as a single-runway airport make it a very undesirable place to be flying in or out of during peak times (6-10 a.m. and 5-8 p.m.). Additionally, the need to arrive at the airport with more time to spare before departure than you’d need for a bus or train is another impediment. And, finally, a $34 Megabus ticket – on the surface – is far cheaper than a $97 jetBlue round trip. For those looking purely at the sticker price or required to abide by certain employer reimbursement rules (only the cheapest mode of transportation, etc.), flying might not be the best option.

Pros and cons of all three modes

Plane vs. Bus:

  • Plane is faster; bus is cheaper
  • Plane is subject to taxi delays (minor at BOS/EWR, worse at JFK/LGA)
  • Bus is subject to traffic delays on the road
  • Bus takes 2.03 times longer than plane

Plane vs. Train:

  • Plane is faster; costs are similar
  • Plane requires that you arrive 90 minutes before departure; train, 15 minutes is fine
  • Train may be subject to traffic delays between Stamford and Penn Station
  • Train takes 1.82 times longer than plane
Bottom Line: Do what makes sense for you

In no way am I attempting to promote flying as the superior method of traveling between Boston and New York. Certainly, the few Megabus trips that go for $1.00 are simply too good to be beaten, and an Amtrak fare sale may well yield prices that the airlines can’t compete with. Additionally, my willingness to pay is a maximum of $100 round trip for any ticket on said route – I absolutely refuse to pay more than that. However, if cutting your travel time by half (each way) is worth it, you don’t have a car, and you can afford to spend $100 to get to New York and back, then you might want to consider the sky. Contrary to popular belief, it might be worth it.