When to Drive and When to Fly

I am not a fan of long-distance driving. Yes, road trips are fun, but there’s a limit for me.  Sitting for hours on end, listening to the same music over and over, going stir crazy, and suffering from malnutrition due to eating only gas station food is not my ideal Saturday.

I have a theory that I will explain later. But first, let’s break this down into two categories: cost and comfort.  A lot of people opt to drive to save money.  Some fly for comfort.  Who wouldn’t want to sleep for 1.5 hours instead of drive for 8 hours?

First let’s talk cost, which tends to be the most important factor to most of the people I talk to.  After looking at Google Flights, I found a round trip ticket on Delta for $348.  This price is usually available in non-peak season if you book at least 1 month in advance.  Let’s add baggage fees of $50.  Airport parking is $16/day equaling $64 for a 4-day trip.  A cheap economy car rental for 4 days is about $120. We will eliminate all the costs that are equal in both flying and driving.  Food is a wash.  Hotel is a wash. Missed pay at work is a wash.

So we have a total cost of $582 for flying round trip.

Next, let’s drive and calculate the cost.  It is 455 miles and 6.5 hours driving.  If we get 25MPG, the gas cost is $50.96 x 2 ways = $101.92.  We could also calculate in oil change, wear on the car, wear on the tires, etc.  My best estimate after 20 minutes of wasted time, was $14 for the round trip.

So we have a total cost of $115.92.  Unless you blow a tire, which I did on my last trip adding another $350 in cost, but let’s assume this won’t happen.

Now that we deem driving to be the cheaper option, let’s look at comfort. Flying is the best medicine, right?  Do you get air sick or fear flying? We will assume no.  If you do, then driving might easily win out.

But if flying doesn’t bother you, then we move on.  1.5 hours flying is much shorter than 6.5 hours driving so the answer is easy.  Not so fast. I usually arrive at the airport 2 hours early.  We will assume the plane is on time, even though it hasn’t been the case for me the past two times I flew.  After landing, it takes close to 30 minutes to get to the baggage claim, get your bags, fight the crowd, and figure out where the car rental place is.  I have never rented a car at an airport and it taken less than an hour.  You then need another half hour to get to your hotel or destination.

So now we are 5.5 hours deep into the flight.  Thought you were saving time right?  You saved only one hour and spent $466 in additional cost.  So after all the time, stress, and hassle of flying, why not just drive?

Well there is a cut-off.  Mine is around the 6 hour mark.  If it is a 9 hour drive, I will pay the money and fly.  But that is your call.

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