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Having not played for a long time, finally picking up Horizons, and knowing Frontier likes to change how things work, I'm not sure what makes good money now.

Before I could Bounty Hunt and make pretty decent bank in a short time frame, but the systems I used to frequent now aren't offering as much(and also my weapons don't seem nearly effective as they used to be...).

Mining was under heavy changes when I did play(2.0), so I don't know where it is currently at and what the ROI would be (I'd definitely have to get/outfit a new ship for mining).

Passenger missions seem somewhat profitable, but also very time consuming if I accidentally pick the "wrong" passenger.

Basic Mission board seems to have some chunks of 200k for a quick delivery or something, which doesn't seem like much... but I can see it adding up if I outfit accordingly.

Trading... I could never really figure out, so if it's much better let me know

Exploration was decent.... but very time consuming, and the longer the game has been out more has been explored. I'm guessing that means less bonus bank.

Planetary landings... Completely new to it, is there good money in it?

Tl;DR What playstyle/tasks in Horizons 2.3 gives the most (and preferably fastest.... want that Imperial Cutter...) buck?

EDIT: Now that 2.4 is out. This question is even more important with the "new threat" now joining us and Re-buy still being very high...

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    There's usually some system or station that is "broken" in some way, no matter what patch youre on, where commanders are flocking to farm up some accidentally super-lucrative missions. I believe right now Quince is a popular spot for farming a few million every 15 mins or so. But, it sounds like you mean "optimal" in a non-exploitative sense, and that is harder to pin down. Just my two cents, I'd say figure out your preferred play style, combat / trade / mining / hybrid, and then find the most efficient way to make money doing that. IMHO it's more fun that way. – Dpeif May 16 '17 at 23:05
  • My personal method is to use a Type 9 with 450ish cargo, outfitted with nothing but mining lasers and limpets (both types), and i go to prestine metallic rings for Painite and Platinum (and whatever else, mainly those though). Then find an Industrial system, or just one with high demand, and sell at about 190% market value. Mining is a grind, but its mostly peaceful, and all profit, except for gas, limpets, and repairs. – Dpeif May 16 '17 at 23:11
  • One thing about the imperial cutter: By the time you reach the required rank to buy it you'll be swimming in money only from the missions. Getting the money is easy, getting the required imperial rank is extremely tedious. – Jutschge May 17 '17 at 6:36
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    @Dpeif, it might be best to just turn this question into a community wiki or something so it gets updated regularly by the community instead of this weird thing we have going on now, I agree though.. changes to beyond raises this question again, lol. – Rapitor Mar 5 '18 at 21:50
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    @Rapitor I brought it up in chat and they suggested patch differences were too minor, and a new question would most likely be a dupe. Still don't know when a new one would be appropriate (e.g. what would be a big enough change), but I'll edit out the info that Beyond has changed, and add some of the newer stuff I've found. – Dpeif Mar 7 '18 at 18:08
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Edit 2: Updated again March 2018 to include new methods introduced in the Beyond patch, as well as remove information that was invalidated by that patch.


Edit: This is an updated answer as of Feb 2018. I knew passenger missions were the fastest and most lucrative missions, but I put it to the test and tried to find out what the upper limits were. I reinforce the same points here as my original answer but give (I think) some clearer examples and comparisons, plus a step-by-step explanation of my current money farming plan.


The absolute fastest method of making money that I have found is by doing passenger missions, specifically transport missions to stations that are far away from the arrival point. The step-by-step is listed below, and further down I'll list quick comparisons with the other lines of work mentioned.

Long-Distance Transport Missions

Find a station that you can dock at, has a passenger lounge, and is really far away from the entry point of its system.

The easiest way to do this is to go to the eddb.io station list and search for a station:

  • Set Min Landing Pad filter to the smallest size landing pad your ship can use.
  • Leave the Max Distance to Arrival field blank
  • (Optional) Only set Include Planetary to "Yes" if you own the Horizons DLC
  • Set the Reference System to your current location
  • Click Find Stations

This is searching all stations in the database that you can land at. After the search completes, click the Arrival Distance column header, and that will sort the stations by their distance from the system arrival point. Sort this column so the largest distances are at the top.

For example, if you were in Sol, this would be your returned results:

long-range-stations

So Katzenstein Dock in the 36 Ophiuchi system is 4,218,205 LS from the arrival point (that's about an hour of supercruise, FTR). Transport missions become more valuable based upon the length of your supercruise trip, so any missions going to Katzenstein are going to be very lucrative.

Note: The recent Beyond update has drastically reduced some of the longer-distance rewards. There no longer seems to be much of a difference between a 500,000LS trip and a 3,000,000LS trip, so Katzenstein is now a bit overkill considering the travel time involved.

Go to a system nearby that destination, within ~20 LY or so. Find a station with a passenger lounge and look for any missions that are going to Katzenstein Dock. In my experience, after a local faction is friendly with you, they will offer 4-10 million credit missions for low-tier requests (5 Economy passengers, 2 First Class), and 10-15 million credit missions for high-tier requests (32 Economy passengers, 18 First Class, 6 Luxury). When allied, factions will give 10mil / 15mil missions that are basically identical, except one is Tycoon and one is Elite rank.

It may require switching between Solo and Open Play a few times to get the missions to pop, but it's possible to (modestly) do a single run with an Anaconda, Beluga, or a Type 9 that nets you over 30-40 million credits.

It just requires:

  • Getting to the system that's near the system containing the long-distance station
  • The time to find the missions you want to stack up
  • The travel time to the station (4 million LS = ~1 hour of supercruise, 1 million LS = ~30 minutes)

Why passenger missions?

  • If you can jump ~20ly, most transport missions can be completed in one jump, sometimes 2 or 3.
  • Avoiding criminal / wanted passengers eliminates 90% of the dangerous missions; avoiding secretive passengers will avoid a lot of failures just for being scanned.
  • Even if VIPs (or others) make demands mid-trip, you can deny those demands and maybe just lose a little passenger satisfaction, a possible bonus, or it can have no consequence at all.
  • Missions often stack, meaning you will often find multiple groups of passengers going to the same location
  • Single missions can often net over 1Mil credits, and I've seen Luxury passenger missions pay out 4Mil creds for a one-jump trip
  • Visiting the same stations over and over will raise your rep with local factions, giving you access to the higher tier missions as well as just more missions in general, and thus higher payouts per jump

I personally have about ~36 Economy, ~24 First class, and ~8 Luxury seats in my Beluga, and I'm able to pick up multiple missions at nearly every stop that are going to the same location; on average, I make anywhere from 800K to 2.5M per jump by stacking missions. This equates to me sitting down to play for about an hour or so, and walking away about 5-15Mil creds richer, depending on my luck.

Mass Transport Missions

The recent Beyond update has introduced larger transport missions, which sometimes require 50+ seats for a certain class of passenger. This can be accomplished with 2 size-6 Economy cabins, but takes quite a few cabins for First Class. The rewards for these trips, depending on the distance, can be 3-8 million credits in my experience.


Wing Missions

Wing missions are a new addition as of the Beyond update and offer some very lucrative rewards, but they also allow you to share the workload. I find these to be the 2nd most lucrative money-making method as of the update.

Any wing mission you accept can be shared with your wing members, and each person contributes to the overall mission goal. If someone messes up, a partial reward can be accepted if certain criteria are met. The only wing members that are rewarded are the people who are in your wing when the missions is turned in, so make sure to wait for your buddies who helped to be online (and in your wing, with the wing mission accepted) before you accept your cash, or they will be out of luck. Everyone gets to pick one of the three offered rewards, and everyone gets the full reward (no profit sharing) regardless of their contribution (yes, even with zero contribution).

  • Massacre missions usually want you to kill a lot of people (100-200) for a few million bucks (biggest I've seen was 10mil / 190 kills). Definitely easier with a wing.
  • Delivery missions are point-to-point haulage missions (300-3000+ units), meaning the cargo you transport is given to you at the mission port, and dropped off at the destination port. The cargo is unique, so if you are delivering cothing (haulage) and you blow up, you will never get the full reward, even if you go find and buy more clothing (which is cargo, not haulage).
  • Source and Return missions are a little different from delivery missions. You are not given the cargo to transport, you have to go find it, "acquire" it, and bring it back to the mission port. The profits are usually larger than the delivery missions, but that's because you have to (usually) buy the cargo. Case in point: the first Wing mission I tried was $27mil credits to source and return something like 3000 units of gold. I was excited about the giant reward until I realized I'd be spending about $21mil just to acquire the gold I needed to return.

Mining

The upside to mining is that besides fuel, limpets, and initial equipment purchases, mining is essentially all profit. With multiple lasers (5) and multiple collection limpets (8) on a Type 9, I used to rake in about 2Mil credits worth of Painite / Platinum / Palladium from Pristine Metallic rings for a 1-hour mining session. It's a grind, but its peaceful and I found it fun. That being said, I can make 2Mil a jump sometimes with passenger missions.

Basic Missions

I have personally found that basic mission-board missions don't have great payouts, and require a lot of work for the money.

The notable exception: SRV missions. There are Sentry Skimmer missions ("Destroy X number of sentries near Base Y"), and sometimes Power Grid missions ("Shut down the power grid at XYZ!") that have multi-million credit payouts (1-3 million in my experience), but the sheer time it takes to do them makes them less viable than passenger missions.

Trading

Personally, I find this to be the most grindy, annoying way of making money. Basically, you need to ensure that each jump you're making from station to station is netting you a greater profit than you are spending in terms of time and fuel. Each station is limited in what it sells, and those goods are only desirable to certain types of economies, so to really be efficient at trading, you will need to rely upon 3rd-party tools that will plan out a route for you, "guaranteeing" a profitable trip each time.

Say you buy 100 units of X at 1000 credits below galactic average, and sell them for 1000 creds above average; if my math is correct, you just made 200K in profit on that trip. While that's nothing to sneeze at, I don't even pick up passengers offering less than 500K anymore, if that gives you some perspective on per-jump profitability.

Planetary Landings

I'm not really sure what profitability there is in just random planetary landings; there are always things to collect on planetary surfaces, from materials to cargo to occupied escape pods, but they aren't inherently valuable, and don't seem plentiful enough to fill up a cargo hold very fast. It's also annoying (in my opinion) to fill up your tiny SRV cargo bay and have to call in your mothership to unload every time. It's very fun to explore planets, you can find some interesting and beautiful sights, but aside from Mission Board missions that request you to specifically do something on a planetary surface, I don't believe there is a straightforward way to make a lot of profit from random landings.

Exploration

If you're geared up for it and don't mind being lonely, people do say this is profitable. Generally your scanners, scoop, and FSD are the only real requirements, and your quality of life will be enhanced with a big fuel scoop. But, the payouts depend on where you go, and if you get back safely.

The goal is to travel far, scan lots of interesting things, and get back safely to a station. That can be a very dangerous and complicated thing, or a nice peaceful jaunt into the black, depending on your luck. Here is a great infographic found on Reddit that shows profitability of different sources:

explore targets

  • For exploring using the website edtools.ddns.net/expl.php will help alot. You just put in your starting system and it will generate you a route to follow for system scanning and the planets you need to scan in the system. Just following 20-25 of those will give you atleast 17-20mil – Lyrion Jan 23 '18 at 11:44
  • Just to mention it here, I recently found a way more comprehensive guide than mine hidden away on a Steam page. It is a little out of date, but seems caught up to at least the Horizons / 2.0 update. Really good intro for people thinking about buying, or just getting into the game. – Dpeif Mar 26 '18 at 1:12
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Look for a system that has a station or two that is very far out (200,000-6,000,000ls) now go to all the systems around it look through their offered missions and see if they have courier/data delivery mission or even cargo, though I noticed the non cargo delivery missions pay way more, for the system in question. Now take a look at the payout it should be 10-500x higher than normal ones dependent on the reputation requirement and how far the station is from the jump in point.

make sure to look through all the non available ones as well. now just because they don't have that system on their mission list does not mean that it never will but if you go back after the missions refresh 3 times in a row and it never shows up take it off your route.

I normally can get anywhere from 5-15 million from a single run off a 1,240,000ls run though when I started before I leveled up the reputation it was more like 500k to a mil. when you find a good system and route you will want to run some missions between the stations on said route before doing the long haul to get the rep up so you can take more missions with you at one time or pick them up as you do others between the stations while waiting for them to refresh.

now the higher the distance between the jump in point and the station the higher the payout. a 1,200,000ls run takes 30 minutes but tends to pay out when you unlock the better missions anywhere from 200k per mission to 600k maybe higher but I have not seen them yet. a 200,000ls run only takes 10 minutes but also tends to only pay out around 40-150k per mission. I know there are stations further out but I have yet to see any higher than the 1.2 mil. a final note you may be tempted to go afk when doing this but you will want to at least be able to see your screen as interdictions tend to only go off right after you leave or right before you get there/ if you slow down for some reason.

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  • I had been meaning to update my answer for a while now, your post reminded me to. I've been using this method (but with passengers) and I think it's the right way to go. Data is easier because you don't have to worry about cabin space, and while passengers are more lucrative, you can easily get locked out of some 40 million cred missions by ship size, cabin type, etc. Rewards in general are just better when going to these long-range destinations. – Dpeif Feb 6 '18 at 5:11
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I made 250 million by stacking massacre missions and hitting up conflict zones. Find a conflict zone and keep refreshing stations until you find a few massacre missions.

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