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Your Take: Flying vs. Driving Your Next Trip

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One of the common dilemmas we face is whether we want to drive or fly whenever we go home for the holidays. We’ve done both, experienced the headaches of both, and my opinion is that flying is “better.” But is it? I always thought that the price would be similar, given fuel costs and tolls, but I never actually did the math (this is for one person, with two people the price to fly is considerably higher).

Then I discovered a fly or drive calculator that would do all the math for me (thanks Kim Lankford of Kiplinger!).

This tool is great because it takes pretty much every factor into consideration. Getting a ride to the airport or parking at the airport? How many hours would you drive a day? (factors hotel stays) How much would your plane ticket cost? What about transportation once you get there? I checked how much it would cost to go from Baltimore to where my parents live in New York. Flight, door to door, would be 3 hours while driving would take a little over five hours. Flying would cost $160, driving would cost $82 (I noticed that it didn’t take tolls into consideration, tolls are substantial too if you go through NYC – which I would do). Is it worth $80 to save two hours and deal with an airport? Or is it better to drive?

So, my initial opinion was that flying was better but it’s not. It’s a little more expensive… but I think I’d probably pick flying (plus, you can usually get a Southwest flight for around $120 round trip).

Do you prefer to fly or drive?

{ 33 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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33 Responses to “Your Take: Flying vs. Driving Your Next Trip”

  1. Scott says:

    Interesting. I wonder how they calculate “wear and tear” on the car. It’s nowhere near the ~$0.50 per mile cost of personal car use that you use for tax purposes.

    Also (more importantly) you have to figure that with driving YOU are doing all the work whereas with flying someone else is. I can work on my laptop or read a book or something in the airport and during a flight. I can’t do that while I’m driving and supposed to be looking at the road!

    • Glenn Lasher says:

      I did an experiment once where I computed all of the costs of car ownership (kept a log, really annoyed my wife in the process) over a couple of years. I don’t, at this point, remember what the exact numbers were, but I do remember coming up with a number that was over the IRS number. I partly suspect that this was because I was driving a slightly above-baseline car (1998 Subaru Impreza, and the experiment ran from 2000-2002) but I also believe that the IRS mileage rate is a deliberate, but slight, underestimate so as to make sure you can’t write off too much while still making it close enough.

      Incidentally, they just raised it from 50.5¢ to 55.0¢.

      • mannymacho says:

        Also, the personal car rate is the same no matter what car you drive, be it a sports car or a jalopy. I suspect that for most cars more than a few years old the actual cost of wear and tear is less than the reimbursement rate.

  2. Glenn Lasher says:

    I try to avoid flying whenever it is feasible to do so. The primary reason for this is that I hate dealing with authoritarian douchenozzles, such as those you might find operating the TSA checkpoints and sometimes operating the airlines themselves.

    When it is feasible to do so, I like taking the train. From where I am in the Capital District of New York (i.e. Albany/Schenectady/Troy area), this is very feasible for trips to New York or Washington; a little less so for trips to Boston or Montreal; a little less for trips to some of NY’s western cities (e.g. Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse) or to Toronto. Beyond that, I would consider other means, including flying.

  3. partee875 says:

    I love flying. You don’t have to worry about traffic (substantial on holidays), the airport has tons of food and shops in case your flight is delayed, you can read without getting car sick, you can find a plug and watch movies on your laptop (and not worry about it dying), you can get on the internet, i love falling asleep on planes, and it’s so much safer than driving. People are maniacs on the road.

    • Tony says:

      @partee875

      I hate flying. You do worry about traffic (a throusand people at the airport, even more during holidays), rude TSA agents, fear of flying, fattenig food, overpriced shops, you have to fight somebody for a plug to your laptop, overpriced internet access at the airport, etc.

      See how you can have two completely different points of view..

      • partee875 says:

        Traffic can be just as bad on the road, there are nice TSA agents (especially if you are nice to them), fear of driving, nonfattening food (no one is making you go to McDonalds), regular priced shops, you can politely ask someone to share a plug if you can’t find one.

        See how you can have multiple points of view :)

  4. Anthony says:

    If it takes six hours to drive, I usually consider flying. Shorter than six, I make the drive.

    I haven’t done the math behind it, but avoiding the hassle of the airport is why I drive. On the other hand, 6 hours is too long a drive…

  5. mannymacho says:

    With 1-2 people I usually prefer flying, but once you add kids into the equation, flying (and the security lines and all else that comes with it) becomes a whole different monster. If it’s a really long (cross-country) distance, then you’re screwed either way and you just need to make the best of it.

  6. cubiclegeoff says:

    Depends on how far and where and how long. If it’s a quick weekend, relatively close by, I drive. If driving will be a hassle because of the cost of parking or traffic (such as in NYC), I’ll take the train if I can. Further than Philly (from Boston), I’d most likely consider flying.

  7. freeby50 says:

    The calculator is a neat tool.

    I tested it with a few cars and they seem to be using wear&tear costs of around 4-5¢. Thats actually realistic with my 2004 Toyota but not so realistic with a $100k new 2011 Maserati.

  8. Steve says:

    Flying takes 3 hours door to door between Baltimore and NY?

    I find that it normally takes 3 hours before the plane takes off. A drive may take 45 minutes from my house until I can park the car at the airport. The shuttle from the car to airport takes 15 minutes. And, you are supposed to check in 2 hours before take off.

    Once the plane lands, it takes 15 minutes before you can get your bag. Then, it takes 30 minutes before you are driving out of the car rental lot. Add 15 minutes to get to your destination.

    Add an hour flight (assuming it is on time) and you are at 5 hours, which sounds about right.

    Obviously, this can be reduced if you live close to the airport, pay extra to park close, don’t check bags, arrive closer to the departure time, and have someone pick you up at the airport.

    • Martha says:

      Yes, it does make a big difference how close you live to the airport and if you check your bags!

      If I don’t check my bags 1 hour is enough time to get through security and get to the gate with time to relax before they start to board.

      Even nicer, if you don’t check a bag is that when you deplane you’re ready to go!

  9. Dave says:

    Flying is so much better. I have never understood why people get so stressed out about flying – I’d rather wait in a couple of lines to have someone check my ID a couple of times and x-ray my stuff than sit in a car for 6-8-10-12 hours driving somewhere…

    I was in the airport a couple of months back and the lady on line in front of me was complaining about the security lines and how terrible and inconvenient they were, etc. In my brief conversation with her, I found out she was going to France. All I could think about was how limited her view was: She was complaining about the horrible 20 minute wait on line at the airport when she never even considered how miserable getting to France another way would be…

    • partee875 says:

      I concur wholeheartedly. People just like complaining and will always find something to be annoyed about. I wonder if they would fly if there was no security at all!

      • partee875 says:

        actually, they should have two airports. one with security and one without. let’s see which one they would choose.

        • Carpe diem says:

          I would choose the one without security. In fact I fly without security checks almost every other week (private plane) and it is so much better. It is like pre 911 days and when I enjoyed/have my rights and freedom.

          The fact is all that security is for show. If a determined terrorist want to get explosives or weapons through they could. Heck, I can think of at least 5 different ways as I type. And did you know that all the security line do is create a bigger target right there at the airport.

    • Carpe diem says:

      Why does the other way need to be miserable? Maybe she likes sailing and to her going to France would have been more enjoyable on a large boat.

      Look most people are stressed about flying is because they see their freedoms being slowly eroded and then be reminded that not only do they have to risk their lives due to possible mechanical failure, but a possible terrorist attack as well. (both small in my opinion). Not sure how old you are, but there was a time when many people flew without these level of security checks and the world still had hijackings by terrorist before 9/11. Yet, before 9/11 there wasn’t that kind of scrutiny being applied to the passenger. (Israel being the exception)

      So why should anyone have to choose between being molested or be exposed by unnecessary radiation, just so they can fly? Why are we letting the terrorist win by being afraid of them?

      They put the doors on the cockpit and lock the pilots in now, which was the whole issue with 9/11. Now it should be up to the rest of us to stay vigilant and take action should some one try to hijack a plane. And the TSA should doing behavior profiling instead of all this other security theatre.

      • cubiclegeoff says:

        I would say people are just stressed by flying because most people don’t do it on a regular basis. Decades ago, most people that did fly did it regularly, so there were fewer stressed people.

        And I wouldn’t say our freedom is being eroded. Rather our freedom has a higher cost than before. Previously, conflicts were more localized, but with our global world, they are on our doorstep more than before. That requires more vigilance and acceptance to continue top live the lives we want to live.

        And I think a lot of people wouldn’t mind flying on small planes, but the cost is prohibitive, so it’s not really a choice for many.

  10. Gerrys72 says:

    Six months ago I returned from Myrtle Beach, SC to Centennial, Co, a trip of approximately 1900 hundred miles. Think it cost more than twice as much to drive as compared with flying and it took 5 1/2 days because I lost 1 1/2 days because of weather.
    I think when you start getting 3 people or more traveling, the economics change because you hopefully have more drivers, somebody to talk with, and it can become a mini-adventure.

  11. I hate driving. I put about 3,000 miles on my car last year, so that should give you a good idea of how much we drive.

    While I used to prefer flying everywhere, even if it cost more, I just had my first kid so my opinion of flying is quickly changing. Dragging car seats, strollers, and tons of other crap through security while getting groped by TSA agents just isn’t that much fun.

    Thanks for link to the calculator- it should come in quite handy now that driving is beginning to have a bit more appeal.

    • cubiclegeoff says:

      Agreed, although I found flying with an infant under 9 months wasn’t a big deal. As they get older, it becomes a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

  12. Jerry says:

    Baltimore to NYC. Bus and train are better than flying and driving.

    • Martha says:

      I can’t agree; train is more expensive and the bus can get stuck in traffic. Plus buses break down, and the train gets delayed for track sharing issues…

  13. bill jones says:

    i will never fly again. A person is stupid to fly now if they don’t have to. Drive and enjoy. Planes are a pain and you have to get to the airport and be groped or radiated. They’ve never had trouble with people on the planes. They were all false flags to make you have to endure the having your privates examined. That’s why the had the shoe bomber and then underwear bomber. I know the cunt boomber or anus bomber is just around the corner.

  14. skylog says:

    thanks for the calculator…pretty cool! if i had my choice i would just fly everywhere, but that is not an option. i’d say anything over 5-6 hours and i am seriously consider flying.

  15. This is a problem that we encounter every time we want to take a family cruise. The actual cruise is pretty cheap, getting there is the problem. The cost of the flight for myself and my wife is about $700 (from Kansas to Florida). A 4 – day cruise is about the same price or cheaper for two people.

  16. adam carolla fan says:

    flying is fun, but such a pain sometimes – being on a specific timetable, making sure you get a ride (and pickup) from the airport, dealing with TSA, etc.

    i live in california, and i love to drive. i’ll fly if i need to travel a long distance, but prefer driving.

    in fact i’m leaving for a 200+ mile drive tomorrow down highway 99, and i can’t wait.

    and PS – never fly delta airlines. they freakin charged me $300 (150 per ticket) to modify our flight plans. should have booked with southwest airlines. doh!

  17. eerg 5 e says:

    By reading your Article, i can simply say that ‘things just go ON whatever you do everyday’. As i am writing this comment for your awesome article, even the time is passing, then i would do some other work, you know what i mean to say. Again i say thanks for your article, i have bookmarked your site. Will wish to see something more like this. :)

  18. I just had to make the choice to fly or drive from Atlanta to Columbus, OH. Sometimes it is just a financial choice. It was me, my wife and mother-in-law. It cost us about $400 total for the drive, hotels and food. So, in this case it made sense for the three of us to drive.

    If it was just me, flying would make more sense. But I am one of those that would rather not be on such a strict schedule, so I generally drive anywhere less than 10 hours. Sounds crazy, but it works for me.

  19. Cricket says:

    I really hate the hassle of flying but I do it out of necessity from time to time. We live in the mid-west where it is a long way to everywhere, even by air.

    I prefer driving. I like to be able to pull off the interstate to explore the area. It helps, too, that I am comfortable driving for several hours at a time. My car seat is, by far, roomier than a plane seat and I don’t have to fall over anyone to get to a restroom.

    Once in a while we get in the mood to go out West, usually with 7-10 days to spend traveling. That is when flying makes sense financially and for time required. We do plan to take an extended car trip once my husband retires in a few years. I don’t know if the trains still offer the zone sale but, if so, we may investigate that.

  20. Jeroen says:

    I love riding a train over long distances, the previous summer we went from The Netherlands, where I live, to Luxembourg by train which was absolutely stunning when we went through the Ardennes. Next year we will be going to Scotland for our honeymoon and will probably be taking the plane. Driving a car is not really an option, I don’t have my license, and taking the ferry is very expensive, would be fun though.


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