DC Airports: a Guide to Navigating DCA, IAD and BWI

There are three Washington, DC Airports – which is the best? Well, it depends. Read on to learn more.

Washington DC Airports Guide ✈️ Costs, Distance & Convenience

The three airports in the Washington DC area are: Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), Washington Dulles International (IAD) , and Baltimore-Washington International (BWI). There are pros and cons to each of these airports. Reagan National is by far the closest, just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. Dulles is considerably farther, about 25 miles from the National Mall and BWI is the farthest, about 35 miles away.

Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA)

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is the preferred DC airport by most locals. We love it because of the sheer convenience. In fact, this is probably one of the most convenient airports in the entire country. The airport is so close to the city that you can actually see Washington DC landmarks from your seat on the plane.

DCA Transportation

The airport is so close that you could potentially get from your gate to your hotel downtown in less than 20 minutes. Since the distance is so short cabs are really cheap. A ride downtown should cost you less than $20, even with tip. You can use Uber and Lyft here, which will probably cost around the same as a cab. However, be warned that you can spend more time just waiting for your Uber driver to pull around than the actual ride into the city. This is also the only airport with a Metro station right at the terminal and a ride downtown will cost less than $3 per person, even during rush hour.

Cost to fly to DCA

Historically you paid for the convenience of DCA in the form of higher flight fares. A lot of locals used to brag that they would happily pay higher fares to fly out of DCA rather than make a long haul out to one of the other two airports.

However a few years ago something interesting happened. For most of the 2000s, U.S. Airways was the dominant carrier at DCA. Then in 2013, they merged with American Airlines. The Justice Department ruled that as part of the merger, they had to give up some of their slots at DCA. 3 airlines: Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America (now Alaska Air) picked up those slots. The routes that they chose to operate on them often competed directly with the new American Airlines.

In the airline industry, there is nothing better for fares than a little healthy competition. So today if you’re lucky enough to live in a city that has two or more airlines competing for your business to DCAl, it might actually be the least expensive of all of the airports! Bottom line is that if the price and the times work out, prefer flying here over the other airports.

Washington Dulles International (IAD)

The second of the DC Airports is Washington Dulles International. While many people love Reagan National for its convenience, those same people often hate Dulles for its inconvenience. Dulles isn’t just far away from the city, it’s also hard to get to. The trip here from the National Mall is about five times as far as from Reagan National!

IAD Transportation

A taxi downtown will cost you about $60 – $70 plus tip. You can use Uber and Lyft at Dulles but the prices fluctuate. So, you can’t really know for sure until you arrive.

In 2022 the Metro Silver Line extension to Dulles (and beyond) finally opened! Check out our video for information about how to ride:

How to Ride METRO from Dulles Airport to Washington DC

International Flights to IAD

United is the biggest domestic carrier at Dulles. There are also a handful of other domestic airlines and a good number of international airlines. The biggest benefit to Dulles is the number of international non-stop destinations. So if you are traveling internationally from Washington, DC you don’t have to make an extra stop before continuing on. If you do find a cheap flight to Dulles, double check and do the math. Make sure that with the ground transportation, it actually is a good deal.

Baltimore Washington International (BWI)

Baltimore Washington International or BWI is technically the airport for Baltimore. In 1973 they decided to rename it to Baltimore-Washington in order to attract people who live in or traveling to Washington, DC. It is the biggest of the three airports by passenger count, which makes sense since it is an airport that’s serving two major cities.

BWI Transportation

A cab ride from BWI will cost you about $90 plus tip. Uber and Lyft is available here as well. If you hire a ride, it will take you about 40 minutes to an hour to get downtown in ideal conditions. However, during rush hour it could take much longer because traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway can be brutal.

One big benefit of BWI over Dulles is that even though they’re both far away, there’s a train station at BWI. There is a free shuttle to take you to the train. From the BWI train station, you can take the MARC commuter train into DC for about $8. You can also take an Amtrak train for about $16.

Cost to fly to BWI

BWI historically had a reputation for being the cheapest airport in the area. That is because its primary carrier is Southwest. So there’s a lot of advice floating around on the internet that says to fly to BWI because you can get cheap Southwest flights. However, these days that advice might not hold anymore. Southwest has approximately 75% of the total domestic market share at BWI. That means that most of their routes are operating with zero competition.

Now, there are some routes like Boston, Atlanta, or Las Vegas where you can get some amazingly cheap fares. In other cases, it might actually be cheaper to fly on Southwest into DCA since they are competing directly with American Airlines. Bottom line is: always just check all three airports when you’re planning your trip. Make sure to confirm for yourself that you are getting the best deal. BWI might still be your best option, just don’t blindly assume that it is.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

About Trip Hacks DC

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.

Everyone wants to get the most out of travel experience; we know that planning a trip can be fun but sometimes stressful. The tips and travel hacks offered here will help you make the most of your trip and avoid missing out on the best things the city has to offer. Our trip planning e-book is the perfect resource for every first-time Washington, DC visitor.

If you're looking for a guided experience once you arrive, Trip Hacks DC specializes in private tours; but has public tours options as well. Visit the Guided Tours section to learn about some of the suggested tours and the trip planning resources section for help preparing for your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

Trip Planning Resources

Newest Podcast Episodes

Proceed Booking