With an average monthly ticket price of more than $334, riding the Long Island Rail Road isn’t cheap. But there’s a good chance you’re paying more than you have to.
Between discount programs, federal tax benefits and other deals, there are several ways to pay less to get where you’re going on the LIRR, or at least pay less for that cup of coffee you’ll buy once you get there.
So, before you buy a full-price ticket for your 10-year-old, or hop on a Penn Station-bound train from western Nassau on a Saturday night, check out these money-saving tips.
Peak vs. off-peak
Regular LIRR riders know this all too well: How much you pay for your LIRR ticket can depend on when you take the train.
The railroad charges higher “peak” fares during its busiest times on weekdays, when most commuters are traveling to or from their jobs. Peak fares are in effect for westbound trains scheduled to arrive at their terminals between 6 and 10 a.m., and eastbound trains departing from western terminals between 4 and 8 p.m.
During all other times, including weekends and holidays, the LIRR charges “off-peak” fares, which cost about 27% less than peak tickets.
To encourage train travel within Long Island, the LIRR charges off-peak fares at all times between stations in Nassau and Suffolk counties (zones 4-14). That means if you’re traveling from Ronkonkoma to Hicksville at the height of the morning rush hour, you’ll pay the same as if you were traveling on a Saturday.
Federal Commuter Tax Benefit
This is a biggie. The federal Commuter Tax Benefit allows transit users, including LIRR customers, to pay for their commuting costs using up to $265 per month in pretaxed income. Many employers offer the benefit through programs like WageWorks.
Employees who sign up receive a stored value debit card they can use to buy an LIRR monthly pass for themselves or their dependents. On average, commuters who use the benefit cut their transit costs by 30%. Find out if your employer offers the benefit. And if they don’t, urge them to sign up. It cuts their payroll taxes as well.
Weekend discounts for monthly commuters
During several Saturdays throughout the year, a monthly LIRR ticket can be used as a systemwide pass, and also can provide major savings for non-commuter guests.
The LIRR’s Summer Saturdays program allows monthly ticket holders to use their ticket to travel anywhere in the system on Saturdays from June through August, and bring up to four guests paying just $1 per trip.
Recently, the LIRR announced it would extend the program to Saturdays and Sundays between Oct. 12 and Nov. 10.
LIRR loyalty program
In 2018, the LIRR launched a customer loyalty program that offers monthly ticket holders discounts to dozens of merchants, ranging from restaurants to hotels to entertainment providers. A list of all the participating businesses is available at mta.info/lirr/mylirrloyalty.
Buy before you board
Infrequent LIRR riders are often hit with the dreaded “onboard” surcharge for buying a ticket from a conductor on a train. The fee can add as much $6.50 to the cost of a ticket. So, be sure to buy your ticket ahead of time either at a ticket window or vending machine.
Free refunds on e-tickets, if you act fast
If you buy an electronic ticket through the MTA’s eTix app, but don’t use it, you can get a refund, but only if you request it within two minutes of when you bought it.
Keep in mind, the LIRR asks riders to activate their electronic tickets before boarding a train. Refunds sought outside the two-minute window are subject to a $10 processing fee.
What’s more, earlier this year the LIRR adopted a policy of charging the onboard fee to electronic ticket users who don’t activate their tickets before a conductor comes around to check them.
Step-up fares and trip extensions
If you’ve got an off-peak ticket, but are traveling during peak hours, there’s no need to buy a new ticket. The LIRR allows you to pay the “step-up” fare onboard a train — the difference between the off-peak and peak fare, rounded up to the nearest dollar.
Similarly, if you’ve got an old, but still valid, LIRR ticket, you can use it to travel a farther distance by paying an “extension-of-ride” fare on the train — again, rounded up to the nearest dollar.
Mail & Ride MetroCard combo
Monthly commuters who use the Mail & Ride subscription service can save 2% on the cost of their LIRR ticket by combining it with an unlimited-ride monthly MetroCard.
Do the math
If you expect to miss several days of work during one calendar month, buying a monthly ticket may not be worth it.
A monthly ticket costs the same as about 22 peak trips — or 11 days of commuting. If you expect to commute fewer days than that in a single month — or if some of the trips you’ll take are during off-peak hours — it may be more cost-effective to buy a weekly ticket, which is discounted by about 30% of the cost of 10 one-way rides, or a Ten-Trip Ticket, which is good for six months.
On Saturdays and Sundays, LIRR customers can travel between any two stations within New York City for just $4.50 using the CityTicket discounted fare. That means customers traveling from stations in western Nassau can cut the cost of their weekend trip considerably by driving to the nearest station in Queens.
For example, the Rosedale station is less than two miles from the Valley Stream station, but a CityTicket costs slightly more than half the price of an off-peak one-way fare from Valley Stream: $8.75.
Family Fare program
The LIRR’s Family Fare program allows up to four children between ages 5 and 11 traveling with adults to ride one way for just $1.
The Family Fare is in effect during off-peak hours and eastbound during evening peak hours, when the discount is even larger.
So, when buying tickets at a vending machine or from a ticket window, be sure to specify that you’re traveling with children and want the Family Fare, as opposed to a standard child fare, which costs more. And if your kids are younger than 5, they don’t need to pay.
Ticket refunds after service suspensions
The LIRR typically charges a $10 “processing fee” for any unused ticket refund requests. But the railroad can waive the fee if a ticket could not be used because the LIRR declared a suspension of service on its website.
The Atlantic Ticket
Since 2018, the LIRR has been offering big breaks to riders commuting between Atlantic Terminal and several stations in Queens and Brooklyn.
At just $5, the Atlantic Ticket is discounted by as much as 51% as compared to the cost of a regular ticket. The program aims to provide a reasonably priced transit alternative for commuters in areas with limited access to buses and subways, including several stations in southeast Queens.
The Atlantic Ticket is available at ticket offices in Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal, and through LIRR ticket machines. A joint ticket with an unlimited-ride weekly MetroCard costs $60.
Interagency combo tickets
If there’s another leg of your trip besides the LIRR, you may be able to save money on a combination ticket.
LIRR customers who also ride Nassau’s NICE Bus can purchase a Uniticket along with their monthly LIRR pass that provides discounted bus fares: $54.75 for a monthly bus ticket and $13.25 for a weekly one.
Long Beach buses and some bus lines in Queens also offer Uniticket discounts.
If you’re flying out of Long Island MacArthur Airport, the LIRR offers a discount package that includes a one-way ticket to or from Ronkonkoma and a taxi ride to and or from the airport.
Hold on to that LIRR ticket
If you have an LIRR ticket with a MetroCard on the back, you may want to keep it even if there is no MetroCard value left. There is a $1 fee every time you buy a new MetroCard, so recharging the old one can save you money.
'Deals & Getaways' option
If you’re taking the LIRR to a Broadway show, to the beach or to several other recreational venues in the region, you may be able to get a discount on your train ticket, or on the price of admission.
The LIRR offers “Getaway” discount packages for several recreational venues and other events. They include escorted tours of Long Island wineries, with rail and bus transportation; discounted tickets to events at Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center or the Jacob Javits Convention Center; and discounted sightseeing tours of New York City.
Some packages can be purchased at LIRR ticket vending machines through the “Deals & Getaways” option. Others are sold at venue box offices or through Ticketmaster.
The LIRR offers several other discounts on tickets for some customers.
All active duty military can pay off-peak fares at all times by showing an Active Duty Identification Card.
Senior citizens, Medicare recipients and customers with disabilities are also entitled to discounts of about one-half of the price of a peak one-way fare.
Students under the age of 21 attending accredited elementary or secondary schools can apply for monthly passes discounted by as much as 30% off a regular monthly ticket.
Organized groups of 30 or more people can buy discounted one-day group tickets.
And a state law passed in 1995 allows police officers to ride the LIRR for free. The measure aims to provide extra security for railroad passengers.