Travelling from New Jersey to Washington, DC cheaply & quickly?
September 24, 2004 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Job interview in Washington, DC. I live in New Jersey. Cheapest/fastest/best way to do this? (More Inside)

My job interview is on Tuesday, about a block from the Mall in DC. I live basically in between Newark and New York City, which are both hubs for trains and planes. My options appear to be as follows:

1. Cheapest way: Drive there. Takes, without traffic, four hours. Costs whatever filling the tank is.
2. Safest way (schedule-wise): Amtrak. The only available options to fit my schedule are the Acela, which is about $170 to get there, or an unreserved coach seat, which will cost $75, take 3-4 hours, and not guarantee a place to sit.
3. Fastest way: Fly. Travelocity offers a round-trip from Newark Airport to Dulles that fits the schedule for about $130, plus the cost of a day at a Newark garage and transport from Dulles to the Mall. Each way is about 1.5 hours. I can drive to Newark no problem, and the arrival in DC gives a two-hour window for delays and to get from the airport to the interview.

On the surface it looks like plane is the best way to go. My issue is I haven’t been on an airplane in twelve years. Especially since 9/11, I have no concept of how early I need to be at the airport, how likely a delay could be, and for how long.

My priority is, of course, not being late for the interview, closely followed by not having to spend a load to get there. Distant third would be the time the trip would take.

Other than that, I could drive down and look for hotels and stay overnight, but that seems needlessly expensive. Does anyone have NY-DC trip experience? Knowledge of how crowded an Amtrak train is?
posted by XQUZYPHYR to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (15 answers total)
I'd take the US Airways shuttle out of laguardia if i were you...but there's a new cheap airline flying into dulles from here--i've seen billboards for it...of course i can't remember the name...

Amtrak's very hit or miss crowdedwise, and not that cheap at all.

There's always the chinatown shuttles too, if you want to really save money.
posted by amberglow at 3:10 PM on September 24, 2004

i've done amtrak (picking it up in philly) to DC and to baltimore, on several of the trains (the acela express, the carolinia/piedmont) without any difficulty finding a seat (though i have been on crowded trains with really *great* people who figure we all want to hear what they have in their boombox--you can expect other riders to applaud when you ask them to shut it off, but you should not expect the conductors to back you up). mostly, however, i used it on the weekend, so my experience is probably not as relevant as a business traveler's along the same route.

that said, for the two years or so, i've been flying between chicago and DC at least once every six weeks. fly into DCA not IAD because IAD is the biggest clusterfuck of an airport i have *ever* been in, largely because you are at the mercy of the people-mover-shuttle-buses to get to your gate and because their "new and improved" security checkpoint configuration is basically a single checkpoint for the entire airport. it takes me three times as long to check in and get to the gate at IAD as it does at ORD, which is handles more than twice as many flights in a day.

ORD daily traffic = 2526
IAD daily traffic = 1033. . . but i digress

posted by crush-onastick at 3:14 PM on September 24, 2004

Would recommend flying, into DCA if possible. You can take the Metro to the Mall. The Dulles nonsense plus the daily unavoidable nightmare that is Northern Virginia traffic makes IAD a poor choice so avoid it if you can.

Driving wouldn't be a horrible idea, if it wasn't such a pain to find parking in that area of the city.
posted by contessa at 3:21 PM on September 24, 2004

Oh, and good luck!
posted by contessa at 3:24 PM on September 24, 2004

Response by poster: Ugh. Okay, so a wonderous example of my ignorance to all of this: I didn't realize Dulles was not Reagan Airport, and I certainly had no idea Dulles was 30 friking miles from the Mall. With the time and shuttle fee of getting from Dulles to DC, it seems that's not a good option. And a quick check of some websites reveals that landing in Reagan instead of Dulles, even though it's technically a shorter distance, makes the tickets cost about $500 instead of $130. I love this economy.

It's starting to look more and more like train is the way to go.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2004

oh yes, and of course, you can't get downtown from IAD easily. you can from BWI, but it's a bit of a train ride (i've done that, too--the train from BWI to DC is cheap and easy, but you have to shuttle from BWI to the train, so it adds a layer of frustration, if you have to be somewhere promptly.

the wash metro has a stop at DCA and it's a quick trip from there to the mall.

the train get you into union station which is an easy walk to the mall (1.5-2.0 miles) and actually usually has cabs waiting available.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone, I think the IAD/DCA confusing sealed the deal with Amtrak. I paid about $100 for a guaranteed seat down to DC and another $75 for an unreserved back to New York, where I can get a bus home from the Port Authority. Plus, since the train down to DC starts in Boston, I can verify it's on schedule at 6 AM and if there are any problems (flooding/debris if the hurricane comes far enough north to affect me) I can cancel the tickets right there and just drive down.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:51 PM on September 24, 2004

(On preview: Damn! Too late! But I post for posterity...)

The Chintown Bus is a super, super option. I've done it. $30 round-trip. Not all the buses are Chinese; some are run by Hasidim. They are perfectly normal buses. Nothing strange, nothing bogus. Just a cheap-ass bus. Takes as long in the bus as it does to drive.

Last January I took the Chinatown bus to Boston. $10 one-way. There were two other passengers. They got off at Hartford. I rode from Hartford to Boston, just me and the drive, and a big empty bus. (Of course, the last trip to DC was pretty near capacity, and at capacity on the way back.)

More info:

Good general information:
Black Table
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:25 PM on September 24, 2004

I'd just like to add more kudos to the Chinatown Bus. Those guys are the embodiment of entrepreneurism in this country. When I regularly commuted between NYC & Boston, it was a godsend. They not only offer free movies on some of the ride (pirated VCD's, no less!), they'll also radio ahead to a bus that's just pulled away if you arrive a minute too late.

Hell, once I was the only passenger on the bus. I asked the guy in pigeon-English if it was OK to smoke (it's absolutely not, but I figured I'd try since they all smoke like fiends). He pointed to the radio-cassette deck on the dash and asked, "OK?" -- I said, sure. So I got to smoke, and he got to listen to his insanely bad music. We were both very happy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:05 PM on September 24, 2004

I'd just like to add more kudos to the Chinatown Bus.

FWIW: I waited for someone on the DC end of that route after dark, and the immediate area was pretty sketchy. I didn't feel very comfortable.

Cheapest way: Drive there. Takes, without traffic, four hours. Costs whatever filling the tank is.

Plus ~ 30 cents per mile for wear-and-tear. (Maybe that includes the gas, I don't remember.)
posted by callmejay at 8:43 PM on September 24, 2004

Driving between New York and DC is expensive. There are lots of toll roads if you want to make any where near decent time. Taking Greyhound is cheaper, without being sketchy, though if you're splitting the cost between several people driving becomes more economical.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:41 AM on September 25, 2004

>Plus ~ 30 cents per mile for wear-and-tear.

YIKES! That means I spend $10 CDN per day to use my car to drive to work, and that's only about 15 minutes away. That had better include gas!
posted by shepd at 12:42 AM on September 25, 2004

It includes gas but it's probably a little higher than that, depending on the car. There are places that track this sort of thing obsessively.
posted by coelecanth at 8:38 AM on September 25, 2004

Yeah, callmejay, DC's Chinatown at night is still sketchy. It's getting more and more gentrified, but I wouldn't want to be there late at night anytime soon.

Also, just so folks know, there is *no* train that goes from DC to BWI. You can take the B30 express from BWI to Greenbelt, and then hook up with the Metro to get to the Mall or wherever, but there is no direct rail line between here and BWI (unless you take MARC commuter rail, and that's only on weekdays).

I highly recommend Chinatown buses -- both times I've used them (DC< ->NY) they've been filled to capacity, but dirt cheap and pretty damn quick. A lot better than Greyhound, in my opinion.
posted by armage at 9:05 AM on September 25, 2004

This is all second- or third-hand, but I've heard that with airport check-in times since 9/11, it's not only cheaper, but also faster to go from NYC to near-ish cities (DC, Boston) on the Acela than by plane. Remember, if you're flying, you're supposed to check in 2 hours before your flight both ways, for a total of 4 hours just spent sitting in the airport. No big deal if you're going cross-country, but for a short trip, take the train.
posted by willpie at 10:46 AM on September 25, 2004

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