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Drive or fly? Check the numbers

Website's calculator isn't perfect, but it will help travelers make their decision.

By doubleace Jun 15, 2011 8:55AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


It's summer, and that means vacations, and that means the annual dilemma: automobile or airplane.


Because of fuel prices, both will be more expensive than last year, but walking from Chicago to Disney World in Orlando is only for masochists, and you don't look good enough in spandex to bike. Trains and buses don't appeal to you either. 


To help,, which humbly bills itself as "Your No. 1 resource for stretching your hard earned dollars," has come up with its Fly or Drive Calculator to help you make your decision.


Let's test-drive/fly this sucker to see how it works for a family of four: 


You type in your location (Chicago) and destination (Orlando), the number of people in your traveling party (four) and when you want to go and return (July 17 and 24). Then you answer a series of questions: type of vehicle (Honda CR-V), how many hours you want to drive each day (eight; the kids need pool time) and estimated housing costs per night (two rooms at $120 each).


Next is the flying information: Airports (O'Hare and Orlando International), how much time you need at the airport for check-in (90 minutes) and how much at arrival (45 minutes), how you got to the airport (wife's sister drove you; gotta love her) and mode of transportation to your hotel (about $12.50 each way on a shuttle, the calculator says). Add the ticket prices (four at $255 on American) and luggage charges (none; you bring it, you tote it).


Then you punch the button. And the winner is: Post continues after video.

Oops, is this a glitch? It says driving will cost you $2,364.96 and flying $1,044.60. The calculator, while it assumes you will need seven nights' lodging if you drive, has no place to enter lodging costs if you fly. This is a simple enough fix: Add the $1,920 cost of housing (which appears to include taxes and fees) to the airline costs and it pencils out to $2,964.60, $600 more than driving.


Now you have to figure out the tradeoffs. If you fly, you spend a total of five hours, 55 minutes door-to-door each way; driving the 2,400 miles will take 51½ hours of road time, plus stopovers. That's a lot less time to spend in the Magic Kingdom vs. four days blazing back and forth on I-65 and I-75, although it must be quite pretty in Kentucky and Tennessee.


Then there are the intangibles: Do the kids bicker? Do the adults bicker? Are you leery of flying? Do you love road trips? Do you hate middle seats? The calculator even computes your carbon imprint.


No recommendations are offered, only facts.


"We just do the math," BeFrugal founder Jon Lal told The New York Times. "You get to be the judge of how to assign value to those numbers."

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