NRT: Narita Express vs. Airport Limousine

You’ve made it through the long dash to the immigration, and then through the long queue there; customs are behind you, and now you are at the Narita Arrival Hall, and given the options of how to reach the city. There are actually at least 5 ways of which I can think: Private limousine or taxi; pick-up by a friend or company car; take the slow train; take the fast train; or take the airport-city bus.

I have experienced three of these methods, but one of them, the taxi ride, can cost upward ¥25,000.00 for one way. I did it mainly because I had to pick up someone in a wheelchair, and it was just the most convenient way I knew. The slow train has too many stops, and the main destination is Ueno, where one has to transfer to another local train to reach his/her place; not great if you have a big luggage (or more), but great if you are on a budget and carry just a rucksack or a backpack.

Short of having a generous friend who has lots of time and wants to wade through the traffic and long drive to Narita (and then back to the city), one is left with two options: Narita Express (or N’ex) vs. Airport Limousine.

If this is the first time you go to Tokyo, and you are not a seasoned traveler, I would recommend strongly to take the Airport Limousine. The counter for the Airport Limousine is right there in the Arrival Hall, not too far from the customs area where you would have just left. You cannot miss the sign: An orange-and-light beige colored sign.

NRT Airport Limousine T1 by bloompy
NRT Airport Limousine T1, a photo by bloompy on Flickr.

NRT Airport Limousine T2 by bloompy
NRT Airport Limousine T2, a photo by bloompy on Flickr.

I am using a common destination Shinjuku (Hyatt Regency, Hilton, Keio Plaza Hotels) as an example for ticket price here: ¥3000 (adult) and ¥1500 (child). The duration of travel is 95-125 minutes.

The advantages of the Airport Limousine:
Access: Check-in at the same floor of arrival, and boarding is just right out of the exit door
Convenience: Numerous counters and helpful staff, who will even carry your luggage to the curb. You will be dropped off right at your hotel, where (in most hotels) hotel staff will care for your luggage

The disadvantage of the Airport Limousine:
Duration: Airport Limousine travel depends on traffic. Once I arrived on a Friday late afternoon, which meant a little bit over two hours of travel after wading through the rush hour Friday night traffic. It was not pretty, especially since you had just disembarked from a 12-hour flight. For comparison, travel time from NRT to Tokyo Station is 53 minutes, and because train does not depend on traffic, it always will arrive at the given time.
Discomfort: The seat and leg space inside the bus is not exactly conducive to relaxing after a long flight.

* * *

If you are a seasoned traveler (although this might be your first time in Narita, but you know how to read signs and to navigate your way easily, and as seasoned traveler would have done, a prior and thorough research), then take the Narita Express.

Ticket costs between ¥2940-¥4600 for main Tokyo destinations (Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro stations). For Omiya, Yokohama, and Ofuna, between ¥3740-¥5990. Each ticket depends on class and destination. For example, the most popular destination is Shinjuku: For Second Class, ¥3110; and First Class (called the Green Car), ¥4600. Click HERE for N’Ex Ticket Fares.

In addition to a staffed ticket counter, there are about 2-3 automated kiosks (like an ATM) where you can purchase tickets using credit card with a PIN (Personal Identification Number, available from your credit card customer services). If you plan to do this, make sure that you inquire a PIN for your credit card prior to your travel to Narita.

Children between the ages of 6 – 11 pays 50% of the adult ticket, but only in Second Class. There is no discount for a child ticket for the Green (First) Car. For infants, click HERE for more information.

The advantages of N’Ex:
Duration: The train waits for no traffic. While cars have to stop at train crossing, train does not stop anywhere except for the designated stops. The two exceptions to this is during the winter when there is snowfall, which can slow down the train; and when human error causes back-up of schedule. Closer to Narita, there is part of the track that is shared by both directions, and sometimes a train going to NRT has to wait until the opposing direction train is passing through the track before it can proceed.
Cost: For second class, the price difference is negligible (Adult to Shinjuku, for example: Limousine ¥3000 vs. N’ex ¥3110), although you do have to take into account additional costs for train/bus/taxi to reach your hotel or home.
Comfort: Sitting inside a N’ex (even in the Second Class) is much more comfortable than at the Limousine.

The disadvantages of N’ex:
Access: At T1, having to walk a far distance and an elevator ride, plus another distance to reach the ticket counter, and then further down to reach the platform. At T2, having to go down (although not as far as the distance traveled in T1) one floor for the ticket counter, and one floor down for the platform. T2 has relatively shorter time travel to reach the counter and platform than at T1.
Cost: At your destination (a station in Tokyo), you will still have to transfer to a train or take a taxi to reach your hotel, which will incur an additional cost.
Inconvenience: Unless you drop off your luggage at a shipment center (like I always do), then you will have to haul your belongings (in a cart) on your own all the way to the platform.

There is a combined package for those who are familiar with the Suica Card. Click HERE for more information on a Suica + N’Ex usage.

* * *

A note on Luggage Shipment:
For me, there is no convenience in the world like there is at Narita with regard to luggage shipment. Because I take N’Ex most of the time, and because almost always I carry two huge luggages, I opt to drop them off at a shipment company, located in the Arrival Hall, usually direction leftward (at T2) when you just emerge out of the Customs area.

Click HERE to read the blog entry with regard to NRT Luggage Shipment.

This Blog Entry was originally published in 2004 but has been revised and updated to reflect current information (as of June 2011).

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4 thoughts on “NRT: Narita Express vs. Airport Limousine

  1. There are local trains on both the JR (Narita Express) and Keisei (Skyliner) tracks, and both are vastly cheaper (about half the cost) than either of the express variants. They are probably 30 minutes slower, but as most of the trains are on an hourly schedule, it’s often rather a wash as to whether they actually take any more time than the express (typically the locals and expresses run on an offset schedule, so there’s often a 30 minute difference in deparature time).

    The locals only run on their “main” line though—Keisei to Ueno/Nippori, and JR on the Sobu/Yokosuka line (which goes as far as Yokohama)—and the Narita express is split to target multiple popular destinations (in particular, it goes to Shinjuku). Their are many popular tourist stations along those lines, e.g. Shinagawa, Tokyo, Shinbashi, etc. on the Yokosuka line, so taking the local may be just fine for many people.

    The expresses also have more accomodation for travelers’ needs, like luggage space, have comfortable reserved seats, etc. (starting from the airport though, you rarely have to worry much about seats on the locals, as the terminals are the first two stops…particularly if starting from terminal 2).

    Still, I always take the local just because it’s sooo much cheaper, and my usual destination is along the Yokosuka line anyway—and because it’s not reserved, I never have to worry about reservations (I always seem to manage to get a seat though)…

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