Airport Transfer in Budapest is simple, reliable, efficient, and comparatively cheap (much cheaper than it is in most other European capitals from London to Rome to Helsinki…).
BUT there are also various sorts of hustlers and scammers and plain vanilla independent drivers who try to recruit passengers in the terminal and, often, the rates they charge will be far more than the standard rate.
So here are your options if you don’t want to take public transit (and if the 20-25 Euros for 1-4 travelers is within your budget, I’d skip the bus-metro-foot option and grab a shuttle bus or a taxi, even if you are a public transit buff. I’d suggest you get to know the excellent transit system only after you are in your lodgings and settled down and unpacked.):
There is an official taxi company at the airport. They have a kiosk at each of the two major parts of the terminal as you exit out onto the curb. They are called Fö Taxi.
And there is an official shuttle company. They, too, have a kiosk in each of the two major sections. They are airportshuttle.hu
Both cost about the same for 2 or more passengers (taxis tend to be cheaper for 3-4; the shuttle for 1). Both accept credit cards. Both are totally reliable. Both give discounts for roundtrips. A taxi should not cost more than 25 Euros for up to 4 riders to any location in the city, a little less to almost all of the center.
The shuttle may take longer because it is a shared ride, but during that time you may see a bit of the city and, if you are that sort of person, you may be able to get to know other visitors riding with you. Unless you are riding solo, or these appeal to you, the taxi is likely your best choice.
That’s all most people need to know:
Avoid the guys hustling you inside the terminal. Find the kiosk for Fö Taxi or the Shuttle. Tell them your destination, pay the flat rate, get a voucher to give to the driver as payment (or two if it is roundtrip), and get into the car or bus.
You can tip if you’d like, it’s appreciated but not essential. 10% is a good amount for average (good) service.
BUT of course there is the occasional special circumstance or particular travel taste, a category of traveler that includes me when I am flying somewhere.
Some people prefer to be met by a driver and avoid whatever wait (usually almost none) and (tiny) margin for error there may be in getting a taxi at the airport. I am in that category. I like having a known person responsible for picking me up. I can’t explain why, but I prefer it wherever I travel. My wife, on the other hand, could care less, at least when she is at home in NYC.
Other people have particular needs … a baby seat; a large car for unusual bags or equipment; a group larger than 4 … that sort of thing.
So you may want to book in advance, for any of the reasons or for others. This is trickier, because although there are many entities advertising themselves on line as airport transfer for Budapest, other than the official taxi companies there really is no such thing. Mostly, these are just virtual billboards for those same guys hustling you inside the terminal as you exit from baggage claim. Other times they are international brokers who have relationships with one or more of those same guys hustling you when you get off the plane.
They are, at best, entrepreneurs. At worst, opportunists. They are not, in general, crooks, because the airport is pretty vigilant in defense of the official taxi company (they get a commission on every ride). So although they cannot ban the individual drivers as a group, if one were acting illicitly he would be out pretty much immediately.
But because pricing is totally unregulated, charging a lot more than Fö does is not illicit behavior. And being a bad driver, or having a run down car, or not knowing the city well, is not illicit behavior.
So accept the fact that if you want to arrange an advance booking you really should choose between two options:
Fleet Taxi Option: You can book with one of the city’s excellent, large, general-purpose taxi fleets. Fö Taxi operates one such fleet. I use City Taxi, their competitor, for rides within the city and many friends use it for airport runs as well. There are several other fleets as well:
City Taxi: +36 1 211 1111 or http://citytaxi.hu
Fö Taxi +36 1 222 2222 or http://fotaxi.eu
TaxiPlus +36 1 888 8000 or http://www.taxiplus.hu (Hungarian language website)
Tele5Taxi +36 1 855 5555 or http://www.tele5taxi.hu (Hungarian language website)
[Note that all of these numbers begin +36 1 … all legitimate taxi fleets have a number that starts with those digits, which are the country code for Hungary and area code for landlines in Budapest; they will generally also have numbers for the Budapest mobile area codes (+36 20 or +36 30 or +36 70) so that people in those networks can call at a discount. But if they do not list a +36 1 number as well, it’s just some independent driver’s cell phone and not a fleet.]
You can make arrangements to meet them in advance, and they will tell you how to connect with their driver. That may require a bit of coordination because the airport tries to stop them from parking anywhere near the terminal for longer than 2 minutes, but they will have a way to connect up with you and they will let you know how to do it.
Private Taxi/Car Option: Everything else boils down to an individual driver. There is no point in doing this unless you know the name of a reliable driver and establish an email relationship with the specific person who will be responsible for your pickup. It is also important to get a direct mobile phone number for the driver in case you need to contact him on arrival (say, if your bags are delayed). Again, there are no true airport transfer companies other than the two official companies working with the airport. All those other websites are simply individual drivers or brokers. We have used the same driver for more than a decade, and I’ve written about him at length in the forum. There’s no need to sing his praises any more than I have elsewhere; but if this is your preferred way to go, whoever you use, it shouldn’t be based on just one person’s impressions … check them out and then make contact yourself and make a judgment independently.
So the key, if this is what you want to do, is to have a specific recommendation for a particular driver, to check his name for reviews or comments within the Budapest Forum here or on google generally, and to get a feel from the quality of the email or phone contact you develop with him.