Last month, my family and I traveled to Destin, Florida for spring break. We decided to drive across the country — from Minnesota to Florida and back — because we thought it would be cheaper than flying. But to be honest with you, we only assumed that was true.
We never actually ran the numbers.
The Cost of Driving
I went back and added up the costs incurred on our drive to and from Florida. We broke up our trip to Florida over three different days, so we had to spend two nights at a hotel. On the way home, we drove straight through, as we were anxious to return home.
We certainly could’ve reduced the cost of our trip by driving all the way to Florida in one day, and we also could’ve spent less on our meals. (I’ve rounded the numbers for simplicity, but I don’t believe it takes anything away from the spirit of the exercise.)
Here’s a breakdown of what we spent:
- Six tanks of gasoline: $360
- Two nights in a hotel: $200
- Meals: $275
Total driving travel cost for my family of four: $835
The Cost of Flying
If, instead of driving, we’d decided to fly, we would’ve had to drive about an hour north to reach the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, but we wouldn’t have had to pay for parking or taxis, since we have family in the area. The airport we wanted to fly into is fairly small, so there are a limited number carriers to choose from.
For this exercise, I chose Delta, as that was the carrier my mother-in-law used to join us for part of our stay. If we flew, we wouldn’t have had transportation once we arrived in Florida, so I also included the cost of a rental car in my total.
Here’s an estimated breakdown of what we would’ve spent:
- Four round-trip airline tickets: $2,800
- One tank of gas: $60
- Airport meals: $50
- Rental car: $215
Total estimated flying cost for my family of four: $3,125
Flying would’ve been almost four times as expensive as driving! Obviously, the price of the airline tickets is what breaks the bank in this comparison, so if I’d found a great deal on airfare, it might be a different story. (I also didn’t factor missed time at work, wear and tear on the vehicle, or general convenience into this equation.)
In this case, it was well worth it to drive instead of fly — but there may be scenarios where it’s not as clear cut. The point is: It’s always worthwhile to plan out your travel expenses ahead of time and compare your options before making any decisions.
Have you ever calculated whether it would be cheaper to drive vs fly to a destination? Have you ever found a situation where it was cheaper to fly?