"It's just cheaper to fly!" Or is it?

Have you heard that before? "It's just cheaper to fly!" I hear this a lot, when people decide to book airline tickets for their destination, rather than drive. It's not a bad choice, per se, but I've often wondered if it's true. Our family has chosen to drive most of the time, because even with gas prices sky-rocketing toward $4/gallon, it is often more cost-effective for us to drive. Want to know how we know that?

Let me introduce you to a handy little tool called AAA's Fuel Cost Calculator. It's awesome! It's completely free, easy-to-use, and you don't have to be a AAA member to use it. I use it whenever we're tempted to fly somewhere instead of drive. It always brings me back to reality. To give you an example...

We're planning an upcoming trip that will be around 808 road miles round trip. For the sake of this example, and just to cast a wide net, I'll compare the cost of the trip using AAA's Fuel Cost Calculator and Travelocity.com.

We are a family of four--2 adults, 1 child, and 1 infant. Our upcoming 808 mile round trip journey on an airline would cost us around $1300-$1800+, and that's not even calculating the cost for extra checked car seats and/or baggage. I selected the cheapest flights available during our travel dates (about 1 month out). The length of travel time would be 6+ hours each way (about the same amount of time to drive to the same destination). Oh! And we haven't even rented a car yet! Or paid for the gas in our rented car, while we drive around.
  • Flight cost: $1300-1800 (depending on airline) round trip
  • Rental car cost: ??
  • Gas cost for rental car: ??
  • Travel time: 6+ hours each way; 13+ hours round trip
Using AAA's tool, I put in the parameters of our trip, and our vehicle's make/year/model. AAA uses the average gas prices around the nation to calculate the trip costs. Our average cost right now is around $3.78/gallon. We don't have to check our bags--they fit nicely in our vehicle. Car seats are already installed, and don't need to be checked. According to AAA's tool, from our city to our destination city, the total round trip mileage is 808 miles. According to Google Maps, from doorway to doorway, the total round trip mileage is 846 miles. So, there will be a little bit of variation in the total cost for the trip--but not by much. Based on all of that, AAA says our trip will cost us a whopping $153.00 (thereabouts). And we won't have to pay extra for our luggage at all. The total travel time will be approximately 14 hours round trip--7 hours each way. And there's no additional cost for renting a car.
  • Driving cost (gas): $153.00 round trip (~$77/each way)
  • Travel time: 7 hours each way; 14 hours round trip

So, for almost the same amount of travel time, I can save (at least) almost $1200.00 and just drive. Plus, I'll gain the pleasure of teaching my kids about different parts of the country, and the ability to get fresh air or stretch my legs whenever I want.

If you haven't thought about it before, try saving some money this spring and summer by driving! When in doubt, compare the cost of your trip using the Fuel Cost Calculator.

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