If you’re trying to choose between driving on a road trip or flying to your destination, then one of the first things that will enter your mind is comparing the cost of both travel methods.
It might be an amazing experience to have a road trip, stopping off at countless hot spots along the way, but does it fit into your budget?
There’s a lot to consider when choosing between the two methods of travel, so with that being said, let’s compare the cost differences to help you make the choice of driving, or flying to your destination.
In the US, for shorter distances under 100 miles, driving will generally be cheaper, and it can be difficult to find direct flights between airports near each other. For longer journeys, over 300 miles, flying is considerably cheaper.
Even so, when driving, it’s possible to cut costs by splitting them with passengers, using gas-saving cards, and pre-planning your route.
US States have varying gas prices, which equals to a different amount spent on fuel depending on where you’re driving.
For instance, in California, for a gallon of gas, prices are $4.36, and in Texas, it’s $2.66, so you’re going to be paying considerably less if driving through Texas, which might sway your decision to fly or not.
What car you’re driving also makes a difference, as the gas price is going to be much higher when driving a large SUV, compared to a ford focus, for example.
Flight vs. driving cost comparisons
For shorter distances of 100 miles and under, then driving your car is most likely going to be a cheaper option than flying. However, as you are preparing for a road trip, medium and longer distances most likely apply (over 300 miles).
Assuming you can drive an average of 25 miles per gallon with a cost of $3.15, let’s run through some comparisons between shorter and longer distances.
Many smaller airports in close proximity to each other don’t have direct flights between one another, and in this instance, with a layover included, they can cost in excess of $100 for a one-way trip. As an example, traveling the short distance from Austin Airport to San Antonio Airport includes a layover and a $150 price ticket.
However, driving between the two destinations has a distance of 77.2 miles and a gas cost of $9.73 for a one-way trip, and $19.46 for a round trip. As we can see, for traveling distances under 100 miles in the US, driving is generally going to be a cheaper option.
As an example of a realistic distance of 300+ miles to compare flying to driving, to fly from the Harry Reid International Airport to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, single tickets can be purchased for $25, and roundtrips for $39.
In comparison, if you were to drive the 302-mile trip, then gas would cost you $38.05 for a one-way trip, and $76.10 for a round trip.
So, we start to see the price difference widen, with flying becoming the cheaper option.
For traveling longer distances, over 2000 miles, the gap widens even further.
For instance, if we were to fly from Los Angeles Airport to Baltimore/Washington Airport, ticket prices can be found starting at $60 one way, and roundtrips returning the following day can be brought for as little as $120.
If we were to drive the 2,663 miles between the two destinations, the gas cost for a one-way trip would be $335.54, and for a round trip, it’s $671.08.
So for traveling longer distances, it becomes crystal clear that flying is more cost-effective.
Additional factors to consider
Even though the distance covered by a road trip is going to be cheaper flying, there are other factors to take into consideration that can bridge the price gap.
The number of passengers
We can see that it’s clearly cheaper to fly between far-away destinations. However, if we take into consideration other factors, it’s possible to cut down the costs of driving.
By using the above example of driving from Los Angeles Airport to Baltimore/Washington Airport, if there were two people in the car, and you were both splitting the fuel costs one way, then this equals $167.77, or for a round trip, this equals to $335.54. If you were to split gas with a third person, this equals $111.84 one way and $223.69 for a round trip.
So, as you can see, in terms of gas cost, even if you split the cost with two or three other people, driving will still be more expensive than if you were to buy a round-trip plane ticket. To add to this, as you’ll be driving with the extra weight of 2-3 people, the gap widens even further.
Using gas-saving cards
These days, many companies offer loyalty programs that provide upon gas purchases. As you’ll be regularly filling up the tank, you can earn some nice savings on fuel.
As an example of a gas-saving app, GasBuddy aids in locating nearby filling stations and also lists their prices. Then, after you’ve filled the tank, you can use their gas card to pay, which will save you roughly 0.25 cents per gallon. Additional perks include challenges that earn you rewards and enable you to enter prize draws that can win you up to a $100 free gas card!
Research your route
To avoid sudden, unwelcome charges on your road trip, it’s important to research the general route you’re driving. Some routes across the US will incur additional charges, such as toll roads to pass through. These include California, New York, Texas, and more.
You’ll also encounter toll bridges and tunnels, such as the Lincoln Tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York City, and when crossing The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Charges to drive through prominent parts of the US are going to expand in the coming years. For instance, New York is the first State to introduce plans to charge between $9 to $23 daily to enter Manhattan’s central business district from 6 am to 6 pm.
Car maintenance costs
A routine check-up before your road trip is essential to minimize potential costs, so you can remain level-headed as you set off on your trip.
According to AAA, car maintenance costs work out at roughly $0.09 per mile. So, if you are planning on a lengthy road trip, then you’ll need to factor this into the overall cost. For instance, a 2,000-mile trip equals a maintenance cost of $180.
If we factor in general wear and tear, car faults, breakdowns, accidents, and other situations that can occur during the journey, then the potential of costs rises when compared to the static costs of flying.
Having the correct insurance is also a vital part of your trip. If you’re from the US and intend on driving your own car, then your car insurance policy covers you in all 50 States and Canada. You’ll also want to make sure you have liability car insurance (which is required in most States), as this covers accidental property damage and injuries to others.
Optional coverage includes collision and comprehensive insurance, which covers unexpected damage, such as items randomly hitting your car, animal collisions, alongside weather and fire damage.
If you’re driving internationally, then you’ll need to look at the rules and regulations governing the country and purchase the necessary insurance plan.
Over shorter distances, it’s practical and also cheaper to drive your car. But when considering a road trip, it’s often longer distances we plan to travel. In this instance, flying may be considerably cheaper.
When we factor in additional costs, such as States charging different rates for gas, car maintenance costs, toll roads, and so on, it becomes even clearer that flying is the most cost-effective option when traveling longer distances.
AAA: GAS PRICES (link)