Should I drive, or should I fly? This is a question that’s occasionally asked by people who are taking a trip that’s not exactly short, but not cross-country either. Money and convenience come into play as parts of the equation when trying to make a decision on whether or not to drive or book a flight.
I thought of this question recently, because it applied to me! Specifically, I had to make a decision on how to get to FinCon – the Financial Blogger Conference. This edition of FinCon is to be held in St. Louis, which is around 300 miles from where I live in suburban Chicago. Round trip, we’re talking about just over 600 miles for this journey. Not exactly local, yet not across the country either.
My first reaction was that I would drive. Once a person gets out of the massive, sprawling Chicagoland area, it should be a traffic-free drive all the way to St. Louis. Not too bad! However, even though you don’t have to buy a plane ticket, there are additional costs to consider. Let’s use my trip as an example of how a person could consider whether or not to fly or drive.
Cost of Driving
For over 600 miles round trip, I’m looking at about 25 gallons of gas. At current prices, this should be at least $80. Clearly, it’s not cheap to drive! It’s a good thing to keep in mind even when driving locally – each mile adds up.
Wear and Tear on the Car
Cars generally have a useful life. They don’t go on forever, as much as we would like them to. I’m someone who embraces car longevity, having taken a prior car to well over 200,000 miles before selling it.
Let’s say you have a car that would cost $20,000 new. If it has a useful life of 200,000 miles, it would be worth $0.10 per mile. Now, I know this is an inexact estimate and absolutely has inherent flaws. However, just as a ballpark measure of how cars can lose value as they’re driven more, this works well enough.
In my case, this would cause an estimated $60 in depreciation with the 600 miles of driving. Now, let’s say that I would have driven 100 miles anyway had the trip not been planned. Okay, so that would bring the incremental miles driven down to 500, which means that we’re looking at $50 in depreciation.
Wear and Tear on the Driver
I’ll be driving alone, with nobody to share driving. Not that 300 miles each way is a huge deal, but having done long commutes to work before, I can tell you that driving does take a little something out of you. It’s way easier to be sitting on a plane or even waiting at an airport for a flight, where you can multitask easier. Or, just veg out. Plus, driving can take additional time versus flying.
Anyway, while not quantified here, let’s say that there is some value to convenience.
Sometimes, there could be extras associated with driving. One which will come up for this trip is parking. Apparently, it might cost over $80 to park at the actual hotel. There seem to be other alternatives, but aren’t free anyway and don’t offer the perceived benefit of parking at the actual hotel. Even if some other alternative was found that cost only $30, it would still be cash outlay!
Cost of Flying
Its great to look for bargain fares, and try to focus on getting the best price well ahead of time. Fares can really vary wildly for the same route, depending on when someone looks.
In the case of my trip, the best fare I found was about $185 round trip. Not bad! Unfortunately, I procrastinated and fares went up to $234. So, that’s the cost of a flight.
Spending Money at the Airport
Okay, this is something people overlook when flying. However, it can be costly to buy anything at an airport. I once spent $13 on a sub sandwich and water at an airport! If one plans ahead and considers ways to save money at airports, it could help curb costs. In my case, I would make sure to spend nothing!
Transportation to/from Airport
People could rent cars, take taxis, or go on public transportation once they arrive at their destination. If I took the latter, and spent maybe $10, that wouldn’t be too bad either.
Of course, we can’t forget the cost of getting to the airport before you fly out – and the cost of getting home! If you can get a ride from someone or take public transportation, it would be great. In my case, it would entail parking at the airport – which would probably be over $40 for the duration of the trip.
Overall – Drive or Fly
Clearly, there are different factors to consider when deciding on which way to go. In the specific example shared above, I estimated the costs of driving to total around $220. The costs of flying would be around $290.
Of course, money isn’t everything. If we could save time, that has value too. After all, time is money – or more important, really. Also, there is some value to convenience and letting someone else do the work.
What did I choose to do? I chose driving. If I could have found a lower fare, I would have planned to fly, as I think that the cost of driving clearly goes beyond just fueling up your car. So while in many cases I would absolutely choose flying, the difference in this case was enough for me to find it worth driving. While that stretch of driving is not the most exciting, I did stop by my local library to pick up a few audiobooks to make the drive interesting. Between that, music, and the fall colors, I’ll be fine 🙂
My Questions for You
Have you ever had to make a decision on whether or not to drive or fly?
If so, what factors did you consider?