East-Coast (flight?) commuting options
April 14, 2014 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Household member is temporarily working in Boston, and household (cat included!) is in PA, west of Newark. This is a sucky 5+ hour drive, and it seems to be far enough outside of a normal bus or Amtrak route to be worthwhile. What's the best strategy (and price) for booking weekend commuter flights between Boston and Newark? Do you show up and go standby, or Orbitz every time, or ... ?
posted by Dashy to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're going to fly like this, you arrange lots of flights well in advance, like months if at all possible, to get sane prices and lock in the times you need.

Otherwise - and you can do this anyway - Amtrak really is the answer for going up and down the east coast regularly. There's a stop on the NEC at Newark, but it's delayed less than most flights, with a lot less hassle and a much nicer place to wait. Takes a little bit longer, but way lower on frustration. You still want/need to book as far in advance as possible, but there's less of a pay-through-the-nose factor if you can't.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:07 PM on April 14, 2014

I don't know a lot of geography so I don't really know what "PA, west of Newark" means as googlying up Newark PA gives me an Amtrak station in New Jersey.

However, around here, we have daily express busses run by small travel companies, used by folks who commute from lower central Florida to South Florida; for example Vero Beach to Miami. Would something similar to that work?
posted by tilde at 1:08 PM on April 14, 2014

Going stand by isn't an option anymore. To go stand-by you need to have paid for a seat on another flight and some airlines, like Delta charge you a change fee. Not worth it.

Plan your visits and travel back and forth to see each other with a few weeks notice.

Also, I'm at a loss to find a non-stop between the two airports! It looks like only United has the direct route. And it's not cheap. About $350 round trip.

By the time you fiddle with the airport, you're out about 3 hours each way anyhow.

What you want is MEGABUS!

Round trip for about $60, you can go at the last minute, and it originates from Secaucus or Princeton, Ridgewood or New Brunswick, NJ.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're gonna be doing it often, that trip is riiiiight on the edge of being "too short of a distance to make the ass-ache of flying worth it", so I'd second the MegaBus suggestion - I have ridden one, and it was surprisingly NON-awful!

If you're gung-ho about flying, however, check out the "Nearby airports" feature of the ITA Matrix site - flying into/out of smaller regional airports is often more feasible with short-haul flights than long ones.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2014

Not knowing exactly where in PA you are.... I travel from Providence RI to West Chester, PA by a combo of Amtrak and SEPTA fairly frequently. Even springing for Acela on some trips I usually have a fare cheaper than flying, and the time works out pretty close to the same (the train is longer, but I have a short bus ride to the station, a ~30 minute wait for the train, and then I can usually sit in peace rather than deal with getting to and from the airports and waiting around the airport). Plus, it takes a lot worse weather to stop the train (and I can pack a lunch rather than buy airport food).

If you have to cancel a train ticket at short notice, you can usually exchange it for a voucher for the full value rather than paying change fees like with an airline (if you want your money back, you pay a fee if the cancellation is less than 24 hours, I think, but it's not terrible -- maybe 10%, but I'm always rolling it over into another ticket anyway).

So, if there is a way to get from your PA town to Philadelphia, Trenton, or Newark, you should be able to make an Amtrak connection. The worst experiences I have had in ten years of doing this is dealing with insanely entitled people getting on in New York.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:25 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could try an air taxi if you really want to fly. Linear Air operates out of Hanscom airport (suburban Boston) and will pick you up from wherever. Looks like they recently started scheduled service between Hanscom and White Plains, if that's convenient to you. It's gonna be pricey, though.

Alternatively, you can try contacting your local flight school. We used to do this not infrequently when I was working at my local airport; you can hire a flight instructor and an airplane by the hour, you don't have to actually get any kind of instruction. Of course, it would be a nice benefit if you wanted to learn to fly. You'll end up paying for two return trips since the plane has to get home after it drops you off. You can get specific pricing from calling the school, but figure around $150/hour for the plane and fuel, and about $50/hour for a pilot. Depending where you're coming from and the equipment, it's about a two hour flight from eastern PA to Hanscom.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:29 PM on April 14, 2014

Yeah, at that distance Amtrak/bus is probably better just due to the inherent timesuck of flying. If you could fly direct without getting there early, waiting for luggage, etc. it would probably take two hours. But you can't, and if you can't even get a direct flight, your flight time and your Amtrak time are going to be about the same, but Amtrak will be less stressful because you won't spend that time worrying about missing connections or standing in lines.
posted by chaiminda at 1:31 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you go with Amtrak at least some of the time, I do suggest getting the Amtrak credit card. It's usually 4000 points per one way trip on the NE route, regardless of what the base cost is. The app is relatively easy to use and I have had very little problem changing or cancelling reservations, although you can't book with points at the ticket counters. And if you know in advance, there are often sales that are cheaper than using points, if you can book two or three months out. There are trains nearly hourly, although most don't stop at Princeton, but there are frequent stops in Trenton and I think Newark too. The transfer from Septa and NJ Transit is very easy if that's an option, though if you're coming in from Easton or something, I'm sure there are safe long-term parking options.

I don't mind Megabus for shorter trips but I have to say that the Amtrak bathrooms, while still gross, are substantially less so than the Megabus ones, and there's more legroom/passenger comfort options. You can also get up and walk around, which is nice on a longer trip like that.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:45 PM on April 14, 2014

I'll chime back in and say, at 5 hours, if I have a car, I'd rather drive. I can stop when I want, listen to whatever I want to music-wise, and I'm not waiting for anything or anyone.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:53 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I take Amtrak from Newark to DC fairly regularly, which is only slightly shorter than the trip from Newark to Boston. I love the train, they run super frequently (and if you're willing to go to EWR, NWK train station is pretty much... right there). If you book at least 14 days in advance, there are "saver" fares that are considerably lower. And, if you do have to change to a different train, the only fees incurred are the additional amount, if any, in the fare. It's pretty low-impact, especially compared to flying, and given security at the airport doesn't take that much longer despite the length of train ride vs. length of flight.

I second the suggestion to get the Amtrak credit card if you go this route - it's impressive how quickly you build up the points for free northeast corridor tickets!
posted by loolie at 2:26 PM on April 14, 2014

If you want to fly (for me Boston-Newark is right on the edge of "is it worth it to fly?") you probably want to fly JetBlue and book as far in advance as possible. If you can buy a month or so in advance, you can get fares below $150 for most weekends.

On the other hand, definitely consider Amtrak - for one thing, you can board Newark-bound trains at South Station, Back Bay Station, and at Route 128 (outside the city). Depending on where in Boston you're leaving from, it can absolutely be faster to take the train (since you avoid going to the airport, which isn't way outside the city but is not convenient from everywhere).

Obviously there are tradeoffs - with Amtrak there aren't as many departure times as there are flights, so you lose some flexibility there, but it's much easier to change a ticket to another train than to another flight. BoltBus leaves from South Station and goes directly to Newark and is generally going to be your cheapest option.

It might help to know more exactly where in Boston you're starting from.
posted by mskyle at 2:40 PM on April 14, 2014

Assuming you're within public transportation in Boston, where shouldn't matter that much.
posted by maryr at 8:13 AM on April 15, 2014

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