Houston may strike you as larger than life. With a population of over two million, it is one of the USA's biggest cities and sprawls across a vast area packed with skyscrapers, entertainment and sports centres, shopping complexes, and corporate headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies.
For food lovers, Houston is a haven where you will find everything from Southern food to Asian cuisines to French fine dining restaurants and traditional Mexican fare. The Space Center Houston is where you get to test interactive simulators and live out your dreams of space flight. There are also theme parks, mega-malls, a world-famous symphony, local ballet company, and several sports arenas in the area, so plan ahead and order tickets! The odds are that you will find plenty to entertain you within the city, but if you're craving a more natural environment, head to nearby Galveston for a day by the sea.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is the main airport for flights to Houston on a number of international and domestic airlines and is a major hub for Continental Airlines. Other carriers with frequent flights to IAH include Air Canada, American, Delta, United, US, British Airways, AeroMexico, Emirates, and KLM. William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) is a hub for Southwest Airlines and is a convenient airport to fly to if you're heading to downtown Houston or toward coastal cities like Galveston. Budget airlines such as AirTran, American, Branton AirExpress, Frontier, and JetBlue also fly to this airport.
If you intend to spend a great deal of your time outdoors, don't visit Houston in the summertime. Temperatures can go as high as 35°C and the humidity levels also rise due to the heavy rainfall. Anytime between October and April is a good time to book cheap flights to Houston — fares are likely to be cheaper from October to mid-November and from February to April. If you're travelling from colder climes, the cheap flights and relatively short travel time makes Houston an ideal place to spend a sunny winter holiday, but avoid the more expensive travel periods around Christmas and New Year when airline tickets can set you back a bundle.
Flights to Houston will take you to George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) or William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) where you have numerous ground transportation options for travelling into the city:
Arriving at IAH
IAH has five terminals from A to E spread across six levels. Passengers on Houston flights who don't need to go through a security check before catching connecting flights can use the Terminal Link to travel between departure gates. For travellers who have yet to pass through a security checkpoint, the Inter-Terminal Train on Level 0 connects all the terminals and both services are free of charge.
Public Transit: Bus services run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) leave from the south curb outside Terminal C. Besides the Bush Intercontinental Airport Express on Route 102, you can also take buses on Routes 500, 214, 216, and 204 heading to downtown Houston. Tickets are about $2 USD for one-way trips within Zone 1 and can go up to nearly $5 USD for destinations in Zone 4.
METRO also operates an Airport Direct service at an approximate one-way fare of $5 USD. There are limited stops along the route to downtown Houston from Terminal C of the airport. The service frequency is every 30 minutes from 4:50 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. and runs throughout the week. Purchasing a MetroQ Fare Card at the airport will get you free transfers to the bus and rail services operated by METRO. Alternatively, purchase a Park and Ride ticket for downtown Houston's METRO services and your Airport Direct trip will be free.
Airport Shuttle: SuperShuttle operates shared-ride and private vans (up to 10 passengers in either service) for travel to and from the airport and you can book these online or via telephone before boarding your flights to Houston. Average prices for shared-ride shuttle trips to downtown Houston are between $20-25 USD per passenger while exclusive vans are about $75 USD for the vehicle, making this a cheap option if you are travelling in a group. The company also offers meet-and-greet services with chauffeur-driver luxury cars (up to four or five passengers depending on the type of vehicle).
Hotel Shuttle: Several Houston hotels provide courtesy shuttle services to pick guests up outside the arrivals terminals of the airport. Courtesy phones are located in the baggage claim areas for contacting your hotel to request a pick-up if the shuttles are not available when your Houston flight arrives.
Taxi: Cabs are available outside each terminal and can be hailed through the Ground Transportation dispatchers. There is a departure fee of approximately $3 USD added to all trips from the airport and a night surcharge or $1 USD for each trip between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Trips to destinations within the city limits are charged at a flat fare based on zone rates or according to the meter, depending on which one is less. These charges are per trip and not per passenger, so sharing a cab with a fellow traveller to the same destination will save you 50% of the cost.
You can pay using a credit card, cash, or TAXIPASS (with an approximate $5 USD voucher fee) and average fares are approximately $45 USD to downtown Houston. Senior citizens are eligible for a 10% discount.
Car Rental: A maroon-and-white bus marked 'Rental Car Shuttle' collects passengers from designated pick-up locations outside the arrival terminals and takes them to the Consolidated Rental Car Facility a few minutes away from the airport where companies such as Advantage Rent-A-Car, Dollar, National, Thrifty, and Avis are located.
Arriving at HOU
Hobby Airport has one main terminal building with two wings and passengers on flights to Houston with connections to make can easily walk between the various departure gates.
Public Transit: A number of METRO buses operate from Curb Zone 13 outside the lower level baggage claim area. Buses on Routes 088, 050, and 078 are just a few of the many that connect to destinations in downtown Houston. Average tickets range from $2-$5 for one-way trips between Zones 1 and 4.
Airport Shuttle: SuperShuttle services from the airport to downtown Houston cost approximately $20 USD per person for a shared ride (up to 10 passengers). Fares for private shuttles (up to 10 passengers) and chauffeur-driven meet-and-greet services with a luxury car (four to five passengers) range between $70-$80 USD.
Hotel Shuttle: Free shuttle services are operated by several hotels in Houston and you can use the courtesy phones in the baggage claim areas to request a complimentary pick-up from Curb Zone 8A.
Taxi: A taxi stand is located at Curb Zone 3 outside the airport's lower level baggage claim area. Fares to destinations within the city limits are calculated on the basis of a predetermined flat rate or a metered rate, whichever is less. There is also a departure fee of $1-$2 USD and a late-night surcharge of $1 USD from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. for each trip from the airport. Average rates to downtown Houston are $20-$25 USD, and if you're a senior citizen, don't forget to ask for your 10% discount.
Car Rental: Car rental companies like Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Hertz have kiosks at the baggage claim areas on the lower level of the airport terminals. Once you've made your booking, shuttle services operate from Curb Zones 2, 4, and 5 to the rental car pick-up locations.