Should You Fly or Drive for Vacation?

Last Updated on November 21, 2012 by

Quite often we take trips that bring up the question, “Should we fly or drive?”  In our home this isn’t a question to take lightly; my husband is a contractor so no work = no pay.  Often we fly because the additional expense is less than the loss of income due to an extra day or two on the road.  This decision involves a crazed mathematical equation that looks something like this:

If flight cost  is > cost of gas + food + lodging + extra travel time at Doug’s pay rate then we drive.

If flight cost is  ≤ cost of gas + food + lodging + extra travel time at Doug’s pay rate then we fly.

Don’t forget to figure in checked baggage costs!

But, lately, I’ve noticed a rather disturbing trend that we have had to take into account as our “international” airport is rather small.  If flights are delayed-or, heaven forbid, canceled- it may take an additional day for us to return home.  This has happened on the last two trips I took and has made me look a bit more closely at our drive vs. fly equation.

Something else I’ve noticed, again from our airport, is that driving and flying can often take the same amount of time due to layovers and delays.

So, though it takes more time in the decision, these are the criteria I use for whether my family takes a roadtrip or flies to our destination.  These are in addition to the original equation.

  • What is the flight time – including lead time to get to the airport and layovers?
  • What is the drive time- including (approximate) potty breaks?
  • Will the drive include a hotel stay?  How many nights?  (To destination and return trip.)
  • Can we plan return flight for Saturday so if we do have a problem and can’t get home until the next day Doug won’t miss more work?
  • Is there anything really interesting that we could experience on a roadtrip that we might not otherwise see?

After figuring the equation and adding in these factors we end up driving more than flying as anything within 12-15 hours is often equal to flight time, with no additional costs, possible delays and lost baggage.

How do you decide whether to fly or drive for your vacations?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Note:  I use AAA’s Trip Gas Price calculator to help determine how much gas will cost.  I can input starting city, destination, and vehicle type.

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  1. Very logical post! I love number so this one is up my alley. 🙂

    I am not as careful as you when deciding when to drive or fly. But for us, I guess anywhere we can drive within 12-15 hours, we drive. Even with one night stay in the hotel I think we still come out ahead of flying for the family of 4.

  2. With four kids, driving is almost always cheaper for us. We have considered flying, but if we would, it would be direct flights only. The thought of a long layover or delay mid-stream with four children terrifies me.

    Another reason we like to drive: if we need to cancel at the last-minute, or change plans due to weather, we can be more flexible with a car trip. If something happens so we can’t make our flight, we’re out a lot of money for the vacation.

    Interesting post!

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