Miami International is one of the nation's busiest hubs, and if you're headed to Latin America, Asia, Europe or Africa, your originating flight will likely launch from MIA. One of it's great advantages is that MIA is convenient to downtown. Downside: MIA suffers from age -- some buildings date from the 1940s -- but new terminals and renovations are bringing a much-needed face-lift. Progress, alas, is slow.
Miami's concourses are connected, so getting from one to another means walking. Plan plenty of time; even at good clip, getting from a far gate at the north end of the terminal to one at the south can take 30 minutes.
These tips will help you use the airport:
Getting there: Along with taxis, SuperShuttle (for Miami, 305-871-2000; other locations, 800-258-3826, www.supershuttle.com) offers door-to-door service to/from the airport at varying rates. Go Airport Shuttle 954-561-8888; www.goairportshuttle.com, offers service from Fort Lauderdale Airport for $20 per person.
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If you're driving, beware that the entrance area from LeJeune Road is under construction; follow signs carefully.
When to go: The airport has ''surge'' periods, says spokesman Marc Henderson: Early morning until about 8 a.m., 10 a.m.-noon, around 2 p.m., and 4-7 p.m. During these periods, traffic is heavier and security lines are more likely to exceed the average waiting time of about 25 minutes.
Short-term parking: Until April, the short-term lot on the lower (arrivals) level is closed for a spruce up. The only available hourly lot is accessed on the departures level, entered at the left side past the curve of the horseshoe-shaped drive. A ground lot near the new South Terminal (concourses J and H) also offers short-term parking. Rates: $2.50 per half-hour, maximum $30 per day.
Daily parking: The Dolphin garage typically fills first; at a busy time, you're more likely to find parking above the third level in the Flamingo garage. Letter ''A'' in both garages is closest to the terminal, making that area most convenient -- and most crowded. Rates: $4 for the first hour, $15 per day. Commercial off-airport lots offer discounted parking.
Valet parking: Yes, MIA has it, on the departures (second) level across from Concourse C. Cost: $18 for the first three hours, $30 for a full 24 hours.
Cell phone lot: Miami International has a designated lot where drivers can wait until they get a cell call to come to the arrivals area to pick up passengers. Location: on the west side of LeJeune Road (across LeJeune from George Baker Aviation.) Good luck using the signs dotted around the airport to find it; due to construction, some seem to be missing.
Baggage: Yes, you can check curbside, but there may be a fee. For example, American charges $2 per bag for the first two bags.
Security lines: Concourses C, D and E are connected behind the security gates -- which means if the security line at any of those seems unconscionably long, you can use the security entrance at one of the other two. Note that you'll be adding walking distance (and time) to your trip.
Concourses H and J are also connected and offer security entrances at the far end of J and H, with an additional entrance in the middle. The mid one seems to get fewer crowds.
Chow down: Food options remain limited, at least until retail and dining concessions open in the South Terminal (concourses H and J) later this year. The better options are before you get through security: the airport hotel serves sushi in the lobby, and Au Bon Pain and Chili's Too are located near Concourse G. The options inside security range from chain-boring to basic.
Coffee: Between Versailles and Starbucks, you can get truly decent coffee inside security. Starbucks is located at concourses D and H; Versailles outlets are located on concourses D, F and H.
ATMs: Automated service kiosks -- including ATMs, pay phones and a mail box -- are at the entrances to concourses C and G. A Bank of America branch is located on the fourth level at the north end of the airport, along with a post office.
WiFi: MIA now has it, but it isn't free. (A business decision in tight times, said MIA technology officials.) Cost: $6.95 per hour. Band capacity for streaming video is on the way.
Retail therapy: You can now grab a book at Borders, gadgets at Brookstone, a great-looking tropical shirt and Timberland shoes at Havana Shirt Shop, earrings at Taxco Sterling, surf duds at RonJon Surf Shop, any type of brush you can imagine at the Brush Company, a Montblanc pen at the Prestige shop. Most new shops are located outside security near Concourse G.
Grab a nab: Miami International Airport Hotel, located outside security at Concourse E, offers day rooms for $95 plus tax on a first-come first-serve basis; overnight rooms can be reserved in advance at varying rates. Alternative: The salon at Concourse G has two comfy Jetsonesque sleep pods that play brain-wave relaxation sounds for 50 cents per minute.
Salon: And yes, MIA now has one, near Concourse G. Manicures, pedicures, facials, waxes and massage (chair and table) are available at typical airport spa prices: $35 for a pedicure, $25 for a manicure, $15 for a 10-minute chair massage and $75 for a 40-minute table massage. Open 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.; 305-876-0011.
Wrap it up: Commercial shrink-wrap services are located at concourses D/E, G and in the South Terminal outside J/H.
Medical services: A medical facility is coming to the area near Concourse H, with on-duty medical personnel and a small pharmacy. The clinic should open within the next six months.
Rental cars: All rental cars are off-campus. Shuttle buses pick up at the lower (arrivals) level.
Baggage storage: A storeroom is located at Concourse E on the second (departures) level; ID is required to use the service. Prices vary by baggage size. 305-869-1193.
Chapel: Located on Concourse E, on the second level.
Local info: Visitor info booths are now located near concourse E and in the South Terminal outside concourses H/J.