Driving vs. Flying: How to Decide

This is a very exciting time of year for me. It’s not just the excitement of a new year, and the opportunity to set new goals and figure out what I plan to do with my career and my money.

No, the real reason that I get excited at this time of year is due to the fact that it’s time for me to work out my travel plans. Where will my son and I go this year for spring break? Where will my siblings and their families meet for the annual camping trip? When should we head out to see my husband’s parents?

And, of course, I have to figure out how we will get to where we’re going. Should we fly? Or is a road trip more appropriate?



One of the first considerations is cost. Depending on where you are going, and how many of you are going, there can be a big difference in cost between flying and driving. When it’s just my son and me going more than 1,000 miles, flying often costs about the same, or less, than driving. We can usually find good deals on discount airlines between the cities in question, and the cost — even if we rent a car — is often the same or a little lower than driving. Once you add up the gas, the meals, and the hotels along the way, driving can be rather inefficient when it comes to cost with only two people.

Work up the numbers, taking into consideration your route, the time you plan to spend, whether or not you need to rent a car at the other end (if you fly), and how many people are going on the trip. Estimate costs for flying and for driving, using tools like those offered by AAA to estimate gas costs, as well as by checking airfare on flights. Then, decide whether there is a big enough cost difference to warrant changing your plans.


How much time do you have for your trip? Sometimes, even if flying costs more, you might not have time to drive, so you end up paying for the time saved. I like road trips, and enjoy planning at least one week-long road trip during the year. However, I have to plan carefully; sometimes, when you’re driving, you just don’t have the time to do everything you might want. There are times when I have to leave something off my itinerary because there isn’t time. Flying, though, at least for part of the trip, can sometimes save a day (or more), allowing me to squeeze in more time for sight-seeing.


Finally, you have to decide your level of convenience and comfort. It takes about 36 hours to drive from my house to my in-laws’ house, and sometimes there are long stretches of road where we can’t stop when we want to take care of personal needs. Our entire flying operation, including layovers, can usually be accomplished in seven to 10 hours. And we’re always near a restroom and food. But, even though driving is inconvenient, it does present its own opportunities to see and experience interesting things that we might miss out on by flying over the country, rather than driving through it.

Bottom Line

Figure out what’s most important to you for a particular trip. Prioritize cost, time, and convenience, and then plan the trip that fits your most pressing requirements at the time.

About the Author

Miranda writes about financial topics for several web sites. Her blog is Planting Money Seeds, and her book, Confessions of a Professional Blogger, is available on Amazon.