“ Economic alternative to an airport taxi „
~Airport Transfers can be Tricky~
Wherever they go in the world, the most vulnerable time for any visitor to get well and truly ripped off - or simply to spend a lot more than they planned or they needed to - is during their first half hour after landing. Sometimes what seems like a rip off is actually just a very expensive locally approved and endorsed travel service. For example, you will never get a good exchange rate from a Bureau de Change at an airport (except maybe in India where we do tend to use them), and you'll never get a good deal on transport into the city if you don't know what you're doing. I'm reminded of this every time I land at Heathrow and those annoying people in the baggage hall try to sell me grossly over-priced tickets for the Heathrow Express when I can do it for a tiny fraction of the cost and not too much more time on the Underground. Only this year I've seen taxi drivers in Lisbon - a really nice, normally very honest kind of place - royally rip us off by taking up by 'the scenic route'. Unless you are willing - as I was on that occasion - to stand in the street and call your driver a liar and thief and to walk off after paying him what you think he deserves, you may want to look for a better way to avoid the stress and just do a bit of forward planning.
In the 1990s I travelled to central and eastern Europe a lot for work. In the first few years after the demise of eastern communism, there was still quite a feel of the 'Wild West' about the New East and it didn't always feel like a very safe place to be. When I first started going to Poland, local colleagues would recommend all sorts of complex schemes to avoid me having to take a taxi from Warsaw airport into the city because they were so convinced I'd end up bleeding in an alley with a bump on my head and my laptop and passport stripped from my possession. Things improved very quickly but it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that in the early post-communist years, you did need to take care with taxi drivers.
Things have changed and Budapest is a fine example of an airport that wants to make a good first impression. Signs in the baggage hall tell you not to take a ride with unauthorised drivers and provide pictures of your two options - a booth outside the airport from which the taxis are controlled, and the official minibus shuttle desk. It must be hard on the furtive blokes with big moustaches and battered leather jacket who sidled up to new arrivals, whispering "Taxi? You need taxi?" between clenched teeth though undoubtedly they still get weary and unwary travellers who haven't read the signs.
Our first task on arrival was to find money and our second to find transport, and whilst I stood in the line for the ATM - let me repeat again, NEVER use the Bureau de Change at a European airport and let me add NEVER take the option to pay in your own currency - I spotted the airport shuttle counter and sent my husband to investigate. He returned to tell me it would cost 4900 HUF (about £14) for the two of us and take 30-40 minutes. It wasn't clear if the journey was so long because we'd be going a long distance or travelling in a very slow vehicle. I went back to the counter with him and the assistant said that a taxi would cost around 7000 HUF and the minibus would leave in about 15 minutes. We booked two places, paid with our newly changed money and sat down to wait for the driver.
When the driver appeared, he took our paperwork, loaded our bags and set off for the city. If I had been in the mood to be a real cheapskate, I'd read that it was possible to take a train from the station which is a few minutes' drive from the terminal but it was a scorching hot day, I didn't know to where the train would deliver us or how easy it would be to find the hotel. That was a bit too much trouble to save a few pounds. The minibus was a big one with a capacity of around 16 people. It was in good condition and was comfortable.
On our flight we'd seen some rather annoying people - including one really gobby woman whom we could hear from many rows away. My husband had said "She must be a teacher, just listen to how she's ordering everyone around" (apologies to teachers - my poor husband didn't have an enjoyable education). She and her buddies were on the same bus with us and were loud and deeply annoying. I find that flying EasyJet carries the risk that by the time I land I'll be ready to commit violent acts against annoying fellow passengers. If you feel the same and can't bear to be around people, I recommend you take a taxi.
The journey was easy and a good way to get a first glimpse of the city by which to orientate ourselves. It was also handy for spotting a few places we wanted to visit as we passed them in the minibus. We were lucky to be the first drop-off from the minibus and not to have to drag around everyone else's hotels. Our total transfer time, door to door, was a little over half an hour. Your specific transfer times will of course depend on the destination, the traffic and whether you are the first or last to be dropped.
~Advanced planning and money saving~
For the super-efficient who like to have everything in place before they leave home, you can pre-book your transfer at www.airportshuttle.hu . I would probably do this if I went to Budapest again as there are considerable savings to be had if you book a both your arrival and departure transfer at the same time. It's also handy if you want to get that bit of your spending out of the way before you leave home.
Checking the price online for our transfer, this would have cost 4311 HUF instead of the 4900 we paid at the airport. It's not a big difference - just a couple of pounds - but if we had realised how good the service would be, we really should have ordered return journeys which would have cost just 7911 HUF.
Going back to the airport I booked online, got an email confirmation within a few seconds of completing the booking, and since I had no access to a printer, I emailed back to ask if I needed to have paperwork for the driver. The next mail politely informed me that it wouldn't be necessary, but I should make a note of the reservation code to show. Our confirmation gave us a pick up time of 18.25.
Our driver turned up on time, took our bags, drove us to another hotel to pick up another couple and then on to the airport. It took about 35 minutes in total, including the time to pick-up of the other passengers. On arrival, the driver took us inside so he could confirm with the desk that we'd prepaid since we didn't have a voucher. If you are one of the many people who are a bit reluctant to book and pay online, I strongly suspect that most hotel reception desks can pre-book a pick up for you but you'll then have to pay your hotel up-front in cash (and I would expect it to cost a little more as there's probably some commission to be paid).
The minibus shuttle offers a cheaper alternative to taking a taxi and a more convenient door to door service for those who can't face trying to figure out Budapest's public train system. At the time of our visit, the exchange rate was approximately 350 HUF to the Pound.