Six ways to get to Houston or Dallas faster than flying
Austin's airport recommends people using general TSA screening show up at least 2.5 hours before departure, scrambling conventional thinking about the fastest ways to get to the biggest cities in Texas.
Flying from Austin to Houston or Dallas is now slower than taking a bus if you follow airport guidance and arrive 2.5 hours before departure. A surge in air travelers and uncertainty around TSA and airline staffing has Austin-Bergstrom International Airport warning most people show up extra early.
The recommendation means a one-hour flight could easily become a four-hour journey between getting to ABIA and claiming your luggage at DFW Airport or George Bush Intercontinental.
To top it off, airfares have been sky high. The average price of a domestic airline ticket out of Austin grew by 29% in the second quarter compared to a year earlier, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
"If I was just going to Houston or Dallas, I probably would not fly," said Christina Herrera, a veteran travel agent who founded the local company Travel Muse. "You have a lot more control over time. You don't have to mess with the airport. You save yourself money on the plane ticket and time-wise, you're not going to win that much by flying."
So if you don't want to be the one behind the wheel, here are six ways to get to Houston or Dallas that don't require you to leave the ground.
Vonlane is the only option on this list that might cost more than flying. But for about the same price as flying coach, you'll get "exclusively first class seating and service," founder and CEO Alex Danza said.
Tickets to Dallas started around $119 when I checked and a ride to Houston was about $124.
Danza buys normal buses that typically have 56 narrow, cloth seats. His company guts the inside and installs 22 oversize leather seats with "more legroom than you'd have on any domestic first-class cabin," Danza said. Restrooms also get an upgrade.
Each bus has an attendant to provide meals and snacks. Onboard WiFi is included in the ticket price as it is with most intercity buses these days.
The bus departs from the Hyatt Regency Austin on Barton Springs Road. You can't board until 15 minutes before departure. The nonstop trip to downtown Dallas is 3 hours,15 minutes. The drive to Houston takes 2 hours, 45 minutes.
But last-minute bookings can be hard to find.
"Our bookings are at an all-time high right now," Danza told KUT. "I think it's a function of what's happening at all airports."
At the other end of the price spectrum is the local company Hitch, an app-based service that lets you pay someone to drive you in their car to another Texas city.
"Hitch is like a long-distance Uber ride," Hitch's Curtis Rogers said. You can book a trip the same day or up to 60 days ahead of time.
UT undergrads Kush Singh and Tanuj Girish dropped out of school to launch Hitch in 2018. Now UT students serve as the company's main client base in the Austin area.
You can select a ride all to yourself or share the ride with other travelers. Pricing for Hitch — like Uber or Lyft — varies a lot depending on the time of day or week. But you can get to Houston for as little as $20 if you're buying one seat in the vehicle.
If you book a vehicle to yourself, you can get door-to-door service. Or if you book a single seat, you can go to one of the company's Hitch Hubs, a preselected location to be dropped off in the other city.
Hitch services most of the major cities in Texas. The company tries to keep the trips under four hours, which is still faster than flying in a lot of cases.
"Any troubles people have with flying or any issues they have at the airport, we just like to offer them an alternative to that," Rogers said.
FlixBus is owned by the same German company that bought Greyhound last year. The two companies are still separate for now.
FlixBus uses green motorcoaches that get you from Austin to Houston in about three hours for less than $30. Going to Dallas takes a bit longer, but it's still under four hours and less than $30.
Passengers get free Wi-Fi, more legroom than in a normal bus and electric outlets. The company has routes to Austin, Beaumont, College Station, Denton, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Huntsville, Katy, San Antonio, San Marcos, Temple and Waco.
FlixBus picks people up from one of three locations in Austin: 6th Street, the Eastside Bus Plaza at Shady Lane and on Ben White Boulevard near South Congress Avenue.
Will FlixBus merge with Greyhound eventually? They're not saying. Flix opened an office in Dallas to run both companies' North American operations.
The company's first-class buses have seats similar in size to Vonlane, but prices are much lower. A first-class seat from Austin to Dallas — with 21-inch-wide seats that recline 140 degrees and have footrests — can be had for as low as $35 plus taxes and fees.
RedCoach also has what it calls business-class and economy-class buses. Business class has 18-inch-wide seats. Economy class has 16-inch-wide seats, but they don't recline.
The RedCoach bus station is at 500 East Fifth St. next to the Austin Convention Center.
Megabus is one of the largest bus companies in the United States and made a name for itself by dangling $1 trips as a way to get people onboard.
We found no such current deals from Austin to Dallas or Houston.
Megabus has been operating in Texas since 2012 when company owner — UK-based Stagecoach Group — contracted with the charter bus company Coach America to provide service in the Lone Star State.
A trip from Austin to Dallas takes 3 hours, 20 minutes and costs about $35. A trip to Houston is about $5 more and takes 2 hours, 30 minutes.
In Austin, Megabus passengers board at 1500 San Jacinto Boulevard.
The largest intercity provider of bus transportation in the United States, Greyhound's century-long history is enmeshed in American culture — for better and for worse.
The iconic brand was acquired by German's Flix — operator of Flixbus — in October 2021. The European company is hoping to turn around the company and improve its dismal reputation for customer service.
But Greyhound has a dedicated indoor bus station on Koenig Lane. And tickets are among the least expensive among intercity bus providers.
As of right now, a trip to Dallas costs about $26 on Greyhound and takes 3 to 4 hours. A direct ride to Houston takes 2 hours 40 minutes and costs about $23.
Amtrak gets an honorable mention.
You won't get to Dallas faster than flying, but Amtrak's Texas Eagle can get you there for as little as $15. Or you can splurge $200 and get a room all to yourself.
But it will take almost six hours.
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