Like it or not, gas prices and the cost of airfare are both high these days. So, as long as you’re not crossing any oceans, how do you know which one is the better option?
Here are a few questions to help you determine if your next trip will be via wings or wheels.
What’s Your Budget?
Whether you’ve been saving your pennies for a long time, or you’re ready to splurge on short notice, a budget is often what steers the decision to fly or drive.
The financial aspect generally goes one of two ways: 1) You look at your bank account (or credit limit) and determine where you can afford to go; or, 2) You choose a destination and make it fit within your monetary limits.
No matter how you come up with the magic number, the amount you’re willing to spend plays a significant role in the deciding whether to fly or drive.
When crunching numbers, remember it’s not only the plane ticket versus the cost of gas. Also, keep in mind the smaller costs that add up.
Costs of Driving
What’s the price of gas and what kind of gas mileage will you get? The cost of fuel in the United States can vary by $.40 or $.50 per gallon depending on where you travel.
Do you have a car capable of safely going the distance, or will you rent one? If your car needs repairs, figure that in. If your car is in good shape, wear and tear of driving long distances can result in needed repairs later as well. If you don’t have a car, add in the cost of renting one and don’t forget any extras you may need, like insurance.
Costs of Flying
How will you get to the airport? Depending on where you live, the cost of getting to the airport can range from minimal to a hefty chunk of change.
If you drive (or a friend takes you), will it be a quick trip or will it take half a tank of gas and a couple of hours to get there and back? Will you pay tolls and/or pay for parking? Will you call a cab or car service? Add these dollar bills to the ticket price.
How much luggage will you need? Don’t forget those pesky baggage charges that gouge you each way if you decide to check your bags.
When I lived in the northeast, it was usually more expensive to fly in and out of Connecticut instead of the major hubs like JFK or LaGuardia, which were only 80 miles away. I often chose the higher fare because driving into the city — sometimes in New York’s rush hour traffic — plus the exorbitant tolls and parking rates rarely made it worth the slightly cheaper fare.
Where Are You Going?
You’ll also want to put some analysis into where you’re headed. Will you stay within one or two days’ drive or will you be trekking cross-country?
A common rule of thumb says if the driving distance is 4 hours or less, it’s more cost effective to drive.
But many times, driving 5, 6, or even 10 hours is still a better deal than flying, depending on where you’re going. This is often the case if your destination airport is in a small town or has limited flights.
You may also find an airfare that’s pricier than driving, but it’s worth it to pay extra if you’re short on time.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Once you nail down how far you’re going, think about how long you plan to be away.
Your vacation spot may be thousands of miles away or just a quick 4-hour drive, but if you can only stay for one or two days, a flight is often the better option.
On the other hand, if you have a little more time, but must travel on specific days of the week or on set dates, driving can give you some level of control where flight schedules, weather delays, and other air-travel variables can throw your plans off course.
What’s Your Plan?
The purpose and plan of your trip will also help you figure out whether to fly or drive.
Will you need a car when you get there, or will you be using public transportation? If you’re staying within a crowded city, having to park a car may be more of a hassle than a help.
If you’ll need your own wheels on the ground, weigh the cost of renting a car once you arrive — should you fly — against the overall cost of driving to your destination. If you’ll be with friends or family who will happily do the driving, leave your car at home and enjoy the ride.
Who Is Going?
Sometimes when you see who is joining you, the fly or drive decision is a no-brainer.
If it’s a toss-up, the number of people going, as well as their ages and health status are important considerations. Traveling with children or elderly or those with special needs may easily rule out either flying or driving, depending on your specific circumstances.
If you’re traveling solo, you may feel more comfortable flying. If you drive, you will do all the driving and carry the financial burden, which may or may not be feasible when you look at your budget and time constraints.
If others go along who can help with driving and will split gas costs, it may make more sense to drive when you compare the cost of multiple plane tickets.
What Experience Is Important to You?
It shouldn’t be overlooked that travel is about much more than money and logistics. Although it may cost less to fly, driving may give you the experience of traveling slower and exploring in ways that jet-setting won’t allow.
On the other hand, it may make more sense to drive, but maybe you’d rather get there in a hurry, so you can spend more time discovering new places and creating memories once you’re there.
Everyone’s style of travel may vary from one trip to the next, and narrowing down the decision is a combination of personal preference and circumstance. The important thing is to plan a getaway that suits you, regardless of whether you fly or drive.
Photo Credits: marc31&gracey, katmystiry, Krappweis, stevex64, gracey, and Ladyheart.