Along with barbecue and football, it seems as if Texans love having a choice of airports. Similar to Dallas, you’ll find a pair of major airports serve the greater Houston area too. There’s much debate as to which is best for visitors to the Space City, so let’s weigh the pros and cons of each.

A Guide to Houston’s Two Major Airports

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is the big hitter in town and has a superior flight network. However, its location further outside the city along with its lack of reasonable transportation certainly checks our needs improvement box. Houston's little airport that could, William P. Hobby (HOU) is generally more conveniently located but almost guarantees you'll be limited to a Southwest experience; quirky and comedic flight attendant quips included.

By choosing the airport that best fits your needs in Houston the average traveler can save quite a bit on both flight and cab fares to their final destination. If planning a trip Deep in the Heart of Texas, this guide will help decide which Houston area airport is the perfect pick for y’all.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

By CaseyMartin / shutterstock.com

For the majority of flyers, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) will be the most likely gateway on a visit to Houston. Situated 23 miles north of downtown, IAH isn't the farthest airport from the city center in the US, but taxi fares might make you think otherwise. An average trip to downtown will likely cost more than that $49 one-way airfare that brought you there and makes you seriously consider car rental options.

As United Airlines second-largest hub, Intercontinental is virtually synonymous with the airline, and the numbers back it up. The carrier holds nearly a 74% market share at the airport when combined with its feeder flights on subsidiaries Mesa Airlines and ExpressJet. While United is undoubtedly king at IAH, ultra-low-cost-carrier Spirit Airlines launch at the airport 2014 introduced some much-needed disruption in the monopolized market. On head-to-head routes, you’ll often see United price matching Spirit’s rock-bottom fares driving down many ticket totals to once expensive IAH. However, with these low fares come the usual hitches— baggage fees and restrictions. As of this writing, United remains the only major carrier to mimic Spirit's stringent baggage policy of only one personal item on basic economy fares.

Although neighboring Hobby offers a handful of international options, Intercontinental is the true lone star for flyers looking for flights overseas. As a founding member of the StarAlliance, United and its partner airlines lay claim to most of Intercontinental’s foreign flight options, featuring a robust network to Asian and Central/South American destinations. With about 185 nonstop destinations spread amongst 27 airlines, IAH is the go-to choice for flyers looking to venture beyond the border and to underserved US markets.

While IAH boasts the best flight network and choices in Houston, it still has its hiccups. Transportation to downtown ranges from exorbitantly overpriced to cheap yet inefficient. Additionally, as the primary tenant at the airport, United’s proliferation of draconian Basic Economy fare fees has made travel to the less than ideal for customers taking along luggage larger than a backpack or purse. Coupling these two cost factors together, you may realize that IAH might not always be the right airport for your travel needs if you’re a heavy packer.


Related: How to Fly United Airlines


 IAH is a hub for which airlines?

  • United Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines (focus city)

How much does it cost to get from IAH to downtown Houston?

  • METRO Bus 102: $1.25 one-way (Unlimited day pass $3.00)
  • Lyft & Uber: $26-30/Taxi: Approximately $57 to downtown Houston (including $2.75 airport departure fee/ $1.00 surcharge for late-night trips 8 pm – 6 am). Rideshare rates will vary by distance, surge pricing, and other factors. (tip not included)
  • SuperShuttle: $23 one-way or $44 roundtrip – shared ride

By far the cheapest way to travel from Houston Intercontinental is by METRO Bus. METRO’s public bus number 102, dubbed the “Bush IAH Express,” departs from Terminal C every 15 minutes during peak times and roughly every half hour off-peak connecting onward to Houston’s Downtown Transit Center. Despite being named the Express, don’t expect a quick trip. Traffic travel times to downtown vary from 60-90 minutes, but for $1.25 (cash only or preloaded Q card) its value can't be beaten.

Lyft and Uber estimates peg the trip from IAH to downtown at between $26 and $30, but those figures skew to the lower average. Expect to pay in the low $30- range for a ride from the airport to Minute Maid Park or Discovery Green. If you prefer some local insight from a cab driver, expect to pay for it! Taxi rides from the airport to downtown can run you close to $60 for the 30ish minute ride, not including gratuity. With fares nearly half price, rideshare apps are the clear-cut winner for travelers looking for a trip to the city center.

Shared shuttle buses are another solid option for those transferring between Houston-Intercontinental and downtown. SuperShuttle provides door-to-door service for about $23 one-way, by booking a return you’ll save a couple of dollars at $44 roundtrip. Again, this is a pre-tip total. Advanced reservations are recommended, but tickets can also be purchased at the counter in the baggage claim area.

If you’ve rented a car and are looking for directions back to the airport, George Bush Intercontinental can be found at 2800 North Terminal Road Houston, TX 77032.

William P. Hobby Airport (HOU)

Courtesy of fly2houston.com

Located just 7 miles southeast of downtown Houston, William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) named after a former governor of Texas is generally the more conveniently positioned option of the two area airports. Travelers arriving at HOU can expect to pay about half the price of transfers to downtown than from IAH. For passengers heading south of the city, Hobby’s location is ideal.

What’s not ideal about Hobby is its choice of airlines. Much like the situation in Dallas, Southwest Airlines has laid claim the city’s “secondary” airport and has essentially taken over all flight traffic at HOU. JetBlue has limited service to Boston and JFK (switching to IAH on October 27, 2019), and American and Delta have a daily flight to their respective hubs at Dallas/ Ft. Worth and Atlanta. But beyond those few exceptions, Houston-Hobby is all Southwest all the time.

From its operating base at Hobby, the Texas-based carrier provides nonstop options to over 60 airports, including a smattering of international destinations. Overseas expansion is a big selling point for Southwest at Hobby, as the airline opened its first dedicated international terminal at HOU in 2015. Although it’s a step in the right direction, international options are slim and compared to IAH’s expansive map Hobby’s network is a drop in the bucket.

So is William P. Hobby (HOU) the right airport choice for you? If you're a fan of flying Southwest and travel mostly domestically, then Houston-Hobby is probably your top option. The airline's generous baggage policy and competitive fares coupled with its desirable location make HOU a no-brainer compared to IAH’s offerings.

Even if a fare is marginally pricier to Hobby, factor in free baggage and lower transportation costs and it might be an overall better value than that lower ticket price to Intercontinental. But if you’re planning a trip to Europe, Asia, or beyond you’ll be out of luck at this regionally reliant airport.


Related: How to Fly Southwest Airlines (And Get the Seat You Want)


HOU is a hub for which airlines?

  • Southwest (focus city)

How much does it cost to get from HOU to downtown Houston?

  • METRO Bus 40: $1.25 one-way (Unlimited day pass $3.00)
  • Lyft & Uber: $16-18/ Taxi: Approximately $30 to downtown Houston (including $1.25 airport departure fee/ $1.00 surcharge for late-night trips 8 pm – 6 am). Rideshare rates will vary by distance, surge pricing, and other factors. (tip not included)
  • SuperShuttle: $23 one-way or $44 roundtrip – shared ride

Houston Hobby’s location just 7 miles southeast of the city positions itself as best area airport for travelers heading downtown or points south like the Gulf Coast. As the smaller outfit, arriving passengers should have an easier time flagging taxis and rideshare drivers. From HOU downtown landmarks like Minute Maid Park or the convention center should take around 20 minutes of travel time, at nearly half the distance and price of a trip from IAH.

If public transportation is your usual modus operandi, Houston’s METRO Bus number 40 will get you from the airport to downtown for pocket change, which you may need because payment onboard is cash only. METRO Q reloadable cards can be purchased at various locations throughout the city and may also be used on the bus if you possess one. Although this is the cheapest option, travel times will vary by the number of stops made and traffic making this the most time-consuming method.

Tech-savvy travelers can request a Lyft or Uber from Hobby to the downtown area with one-way prices varying from $16 to $18. Traditional taxis should cost around $30 for a trip to the city center, including the HOU $1.25 departure fee. As for time, expect to spend about 20 minutes in the back seat for the average trip to town. Prices are quoted before factoring in a tip.

SuperShuttle’s prices from HOU are the same as from IAH giving little bang for your buck. With rideshare apps and taxi prices roughly equivalent or cheaper than the $23 one-way and $44 roundtrip price points, shuttles aren't as budget-friendly and convenient as your other options. There is a SuperShuttle ticket counter in arrivals; however, advanced online reservations are highly recommended.

Prefer to drive? William P. Hobby Airport is located at 7800 Airport Boulevard, Houston, TX 77061.


Related: Which Dallas Area Airport is Right for You: DFW or DAL?


Featured image by Sean Pavone / shutterstock.com

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