Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Fly or drive? 9 factors to consider

For a family, even a trip of several hundred miles might be cheaper by car, while a solo traveler may be better off flying.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 3, 2011 10:56AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


Planning a trip to enjoy the autumn foliage or go wine-tasting? According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, 86% of respondents were planning a leisure trip this fall, and those are the top activities.


For those who traveled on Labor Day, 60% expected to drive, and 34% planned to fly. (Guess the other 6% were taking trains, boats or buses.) But how often is driving a better option than flying? In the video below, Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson takes a look at that question, using a trip calculator to weigh the costs and benefits. 

Here's the tool Jim used: BeFrugal's fly or drive calculator. Plug in some travel dates, locations, the number of people going, and some other optional information to get a side-by-side comparison. Regardless of how the money shakes out, though, Jim's right -- both modes have their pros and cons.

Here are a few things to consider before you decide:

  • Packing. Fly, and you're looking at baggage fees in the realm of $20 per bag, per person, each way. This could easily cost a family of four $160. If you drive, there are no extra fees and you can stuff whatever you want in the car. But depending on the vehicle, there may not be much space for everyone's luggage.
  • Pace. Flights require you to arrive by a certain time so they can make you stand in a long line and then sit in the takeoff queue. Plus there are storm delays and waiting at baggage claim. But the farther you have to go, the more time you save. And at least there's no traffic in the sky. Drive and you'll face lots of it, but your travel time is otherwise only restricted by your own endurance. (And maybe speed limits.)
  • Scenery. On a road trip, every seat's a window seat, and you can stop for a closer look whenever you want. In the air, you're stuck with the in-flight movie (if you get one) or the snoring guy in the next seat.
  • Distance. Where long distance is a factor, so are overnight accommodations. Unless you plan to sleep in your car or drive all night -- not the safest idea -- you have to add motel costs to the total price, and food costs stack up too.
  • Numbers. The biggest cost factor is how many people are traveling with you. Costs multiply per person on a flight, while driving allows you to pool gas money.
  • Safety. According to the Smithsonian Institution, planes are far safer than cars: "More people die in auto accidents in three months in the United States than have lost their lives in the entire history of commercial flight."
  • Multitasking. Driving duty leaves you with little time to relax or get work done so you can enjoy time off at your destination. Take a plane and you can sit on your laptop or smartphone -- maybe with in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Comfort. Sitting in a car for hours is no fun, but at least you can get out and stretch. That's impossible while crammed in a plane, and you may have to jostle others just to reach the bathroom.
  • Destination travel. Flying may leave you without a free ride from the airport, and may mean public transportation or cabs to get around. Bringing your own vehicle can save on that expense.

Bottom line? The choice between flying and driving isn't always obvious. If you weigh the benefits and plug some numbers into a flight calculator, you might be surprised.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Oct 4, 2011 10:38AM
Flying coach is like riding a Greyhound bus in the 50's.  I would rather drive if I have the time rather than standing in long cattle lines and sitting in smelly, jammed up planes. 
Oct 3, 2011 8:03PM
Would rather drive alot less hassles an i can stop when i want
Oct 6, 2011 1:42PM
TSA!  No stripping down to your underwear.  No nasty jerks that make you undergoe every kind of indignity you never faced anywhere else.  I used to love flying but now I hate it so much it something I only do when I absolutely have to.
Oct 3, 2011 6:49PM
Davi D, I take "pulbic trancents" almost every day. It is perfectly safe! And if the motor breaks down you don't fall 10,000 feet. Smile
Oct 4, 2011 12:25PM
If I have to weight 9 factors about my method of travel, and start plugging numbers into a calculator, there is only one conclusion. You're too broke, and you need to find an additional/different way of making money!
Oct 6, 2011 8:07AM
The biggest factor me is time - If it's across country, flying and renting are the way to go.  Since I'll be somewhere I don't usually get to see I want as much time there as possible and to spend as less time scrunched up in a car as possible, especially if it's half of the trip time!
Oct 6, 2011 8:04AM
Flying for some, may be cheaper and faster. But the biggest problem, that was not mentioned about flying, is being stuck at your destination by not having a vehicle once there. That cost can become expensive having to rent-a-car or use a taxi.
Oct 4, 2011 11:53AM

one big reason not to fly, TSA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Its worthless, un-american, anti-freedom, and a waste of time and money.

If u want to be frisked go ahead, be a follower, do what some dumb **** security flunky tells u to do....................


A solo is Sfer driving, as Bus cost money Taxi cost money. Also have little furter protection from people incountered in Pulbic transcents.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.