Instructions to fly or drive calculator
This fly or drive calculator will help you determine the cheapest way get to your vacation this year. The decision to fly or drive is not as easy as simply comparing the cost of airline tickets to the cost per mile you calculated at the Art of Being Cheap’s driving cost calculator. The decision to fly or drive involves many different factors including whether or not you will need to rent a car if you choose to fly or whether you will need to leave a day early and rent an extra night in a hotel if you choose to drive. The calculator above will help you make this decision.
The first step to figuring out how much it will cost you to drive to your vacation destination is to calculate how much it costs to drive a mile in your car. The only place I know of that can help you figure this out is ABC’s driving cost calculator. Although I highly recommend using this calculator because the cost of driving can vary significantly depending on a wide range of factors if you want to skip this step and just get a rough estimate then you might want to use the IRS’s standard mileage rate of $.565/ mile
When you figure out your cost per mile, you should only use the figure labeled driving cost, and not the total cost per mile. The total cost per mile includes fixed costs such as insurance and property taxes which will not go up one bit if you decide to drive to your vacation.
Beyond that, most of the costs involved in driving have to do with the extra time it takes to drive vs fly. Because you will be on the road for a longer period of time, you will need to eat, so the cost of extra meals should be factored in. If you are going to stop at a nice restaurant these costs will be significant, but if you bring a cooler full of stuff to make sandwiches then these costs should be no more than eating at home. Snacks are another area that might cost you more if you drive. Snacks purchased at a gas station are usually more expensive than if they had been bought from a grocery store, so these should be factored in as well.
If you will be dividing your driving time up among multiple days then you will probably need to pay for a hotel for a night, so that should be factored in as well. Please note that you should only add the costs of hotel stays in getting to your destination, not the cost of the hotel once you arrive. Because the cost of the hotel at your final destination should be the same no matter if you fly or drive then this is not factor in your decision.
Although I have tried to think of all the most common expenses in driving, it just isn’t a practical thing to do since all trips are unique. Do you have to pay a baby/ house/pet sitter more because of the extra time you will be gone? Add those costs in the “other” line item. Will you get paid less since you take more time off from work? Will you spend money on fun things to do along the way? Add those costs too. Take a minute and think about your trip and if you can come up with any other costs unique to driving, add those also.
Cost of flying
The cost of your ticket is the most obvious and significant flying expense, but there are other relevant costs as well. Don’t forget to add baggage fees and other junk fees the airlines charge to the cost of your ticket.
If the airport you are flying out of is some distance from your house then you should add in that cost of driving to the airport as well as parking fees from the airport. You will also need to consider transportation costs once you arrive at your destination. Since you won’t have your car with you it may be necessary to pay for some kind of shuttle to take you to your final destination or you might need to rent a car.
If you will have a long wait at an airport it might be necessary to eat at the airport, so these costs should be added to the calculator. Food at airports is notoriously expensive so you would do well to bring your own food. Another good trick is to bring an empty bottle with you. After you have gone through security you can fill up your bottle at a water fountain to avoid the high cost of bottled water at airports.
Finally I have also added an “other” line to the flying cost section of the calculator where you can add up any other costs you feel are relevant.
Other factors to consider
This calculator will tell you whether it will cost more to fly or drive, but there are other considerations that cannot be put into monetary value that this calculator will not help you figure. The most important of these is probably your time, since driving will often take longer than flying. Is saving a couple hundred bucks worth losing a day driving that you could have spent doing other things? Here are other things to think about when making your final decision:
- Will you need to take extra vacation days off from work?
- Will your kids need to miss more days of school?
- Are there fun things to do or see along the way? That could be a good reason not to fly. My parents almost never fly to the West coast because there are people they like to stop and see along the way and they like driving through the Rocky Mountains and all the various national parks you find in the western United States.
- Are you under 25? Renting a car might be fairly difficult for you.
- You can probably pack more if you are driving, but not if you will be driving an Elio.
- If you have small kids then driving long distances might be a nightmare.
- If you have a baby then flying might be a nightmare.
- If your car is less than reliable you wouldn’t want to spend your vacation at a service station waiting for a part to come in.
Photo by Alden Jewell