Fly or Drive?
Ah, the lure of the one-hour flight. When you're facing the prospect of summer traffic and high gasoline prices, air travel starts to look pretty good. Then you study the details. Add in the travel time to sometimes congested and distant airports, and that extra hour or two for security and check-in on each end. Plus, even the cheapest airfares start to add up when the whole family is traveling together, and there's the fact you may need some wheels when you get to your destination anyway. It's no wonder so many people choose to drive, despite record gas prices.
When deciding whether to fly on those short-enough-to-drive trips, make sure to remember that all-important numberyour car's miles-per-gallon rating. For example, the cost of gasoline for roundtrip travel from St. Louis to Chicago in a Ford Explorer would be nearly $95, but it would be about 60 percent cheaper at about $40 if you could fit the whole family into a Toyota Prius. An excellent Web tool is AAA's fuel cost calculator, which is updated regularly with current gas prices and allows you to input the make and model of your vehicle as well as your travel plans.
But travelers make the drive-or-fly choice based not only on price, but on how much highway aggravation they are willing to bear. "It depends on your ability to stay alert and be patient," says Mike Pina, spokesman for AAA. That's true whether you are crawling bumper-to-bumper in the Northeast on Interstate 95 or navigating a twisting mountain road in heavy rain in the West.
Here are some examples of popular destinations, and fly-or-drive factors to consider. Each of these flights is slightly more than one hour one-way, and all of the round-trip airfares per person (excluding tax and fees) were the lowest available at Orbitz. The round-trip fuel cost is based on the bestselling vehicle, the Toyota Camry, which has an above-average fuel efficiency of 31 mpg. The driving times calculated at MapQuest assume that there is no overwhelming traffic backup; you should assume that there will be.
Trip: Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Distance: 272 miles
Driving time: 4 hours, 1 minute
Roundtrip fuel cost: $58
Hassle factor: The choke points on Interstate 15 exiting Los Angeles easily add two hours to this drive. Since the airfare is cheap, and the West has the highest gas prices in the country, it may be worth it to fly.
Trip: Raleigh, N.C., to Charleston, S.C.
Distance: 279 miles
Driving time: 4 hours, 18 minutes
Roundtrip fuel cost: $55
Hassle factor: Few direct flights on this route make it far cheaper to drive. You can pare the cost of the flight down to $197 with a two-hour stop in Atlanta, but then you'll be paying a higher price for more hours in transit.
Trip: Washington, D.C., to Boston
Distance: 453 miles
Driving time: 7 hours, 49 minutes
Roundtrip fuel cost: $91
Hassle factor: When you add $24 in tolls on Interstate 95, the cost of a flight (for one person) is actually cheaper. Also consider the time and cost of the overnight stop you'll need after fighting New Jersey traffic.
Trip: Chicago to St. Louis
Distance: 297 miles
Driving time: 4 hours, 49 minutes
Roundtrip fuel cost: $64.30
Hassle factor: Deadening boredom is the worst aspect of this drive, since the topography of central Illinois is a lot like Kansas, without the (slightly) rolling hills.
Trip: Miami to Orlando
Distance: 234 miles
Driving time: 3 hours, 34 minutes
Roundtrip fuel cost: $47
Hassle factor: The drive is cheaper, but with bugs on the windshield and tourists meandering on the roads outside the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella definitely would have traveled coach to get to her central Florida castle.
Trip: Denver to Telluride, Colo.
Distance: 331 miles
Driving time: 6 hours, 10 minutes
Roundtrip fuel cost: $70
Hassle factor: Flying is pricey since one carrier, Great Lakes Airlines, holds a monopoly on this route. However, be prepared to brave heavy rains or mudslides on winding mountain roads if you drive.