If you’re planning a vacation this year, one of your first decisions may be whether you are going to fly or drive. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and these two options can be significantly different in price, but the choice ultimately depends on your personal preferences.
THE COST OF FLYING FOR YOUR VACATION
In 2023, the average cost of a “good deal” round-trip domestic flight ranges between $328 and $463. According to the Bureau of Transportation, here is the average cost of airfare for domestic flights out of the top 10 busiest airports in the United States:
Atlanta (ATL): $411.54
Boston (BOS): $404.80
Chicago-O’Hare (ORD): $386.59
Dallas (DFW): $434.42
Denver (DEN): $361.14
Los Angeles (LAX): $447.52
Newark (EWR): $424.69
Orlando (MCO): $292.35
Phoenix (PHX): $407.12
Seattle (SEA): $437.21
There are a number of factors that determine how much your flight will cost, including the departure and arrival airports, time of year, day of week, time of day, the airline, type of flight, and more.
For example, summer months are typically more expensive, as are weekend and nonstop flights. Plus, some airlines charge additional fees, such as for checked or carry-on luggage (ranging from $25 to $89 for one bag), or for choosing your seat ahead of time (approximately $10 – $30 per seat, per flight segment).
The good news is there are also a number of ways you can save money on your flight. These include:
- Booking ahead of time
- Flying out of alternate airports
- Setting price alerts and monitoring flight prices
- Being flexible with your departure and/or arrival dates and times
- Flying with a layover, versus nonstop
- Using credit card points or miles to purchase your flight
- Traveling on budget airlines
THE COST OF DRIVING ON YOUR VACATION
The cost of driving for your vacation also varies depending on where you live, where you’re going, what type of vehicle you drive, and what you plan along the way. A general rule of thumb is to budget around $150 per person per day. Depending on how far you’re traveling, you may need to budget for:
- Vehicle maintenance
- Overnight accommodations
- Tickets and other expenses for attractions or destinations you’ll visit along the way
Today’s national average for a gallon of gas is $3.47, though it can range from $3.24 to $4.90, depending on where you live. Gas prices can change from day to day, but when budgeting for your road trip, you may want to assume an average of $3.50 per gallon.
If your vehicle gets an average of 25 miles to the gallon and your vehicle holds 13 gallons, below is what you can expect to pay for gas while traveling. Remember to double the cost if you’re driving roundtrip.
- 250 miles, you’ll pay about $35
- 500 miles, you’ll pay about $70
- 750 miles, you’ll pay about $105
- 1,000 miles, you’ll pay about $140
If you're staying in a hotel, costs can vary based on the hotel you choose. Lately, hotel prices have increased more than 50%, with an average cost of $212 per night, though you’ll likely be able to find lower costs at budget hotels.
To keep road trip costs down, you can:
- Set a budget ahead of time and stick to it
- Stay at budget hotels or cheaper accommodations if possible
- Pack your own drinks and snacks
- Purchase any tickets for attractions or destinations in advance
- Redeem fuel points for gas savings
PROS AND CONS
Besides cost, also consider what’s most important to you when it comes to your vacation, such as flexibility in your itinerary, travel time, and control. Below are some pros and cons of flying versus driving.
The Pros of Flying
- Getting to your destination faster
- Enjoying relatively safe and comfortable travel
- It can be the cheapest option for long-distance travel
- There's no planning, stopping, or getting lost—you can sit back and relax
- Makes it easier to travel long distances
The Cons of Flying
- Spending extra time in airports.
- Potential costs of renting a car or paying for transportation during your trip
- Expensive—depending on the route, season, and airline
- It can be stressful, especially if you have layovers
- Flights can be delayed or canceled
- Packing can be a challenge
The Pros of Driving
- Friends and family traveling in one vehicle can split the costs
- Flexibility and freedom with your itinerary—stop or take a detour whenever you want
- Take as much luggage as you like, and it’s easier to pack
- Pack your own foods and snacks
- Offers more privacy and comfort
- Allows for more control over your vacation budget
The Cons of Driving
- High—and somewhat unpredictable—gas prices
- Taking the risk of vehicle troubles, which could impact your plans and your budget
- Potential stress of traffic, construction, detours, etc.
- Takes more time, especially for longer trips
- Getting tired and having less energy for your actual vacation
- Getting lost
YOU DECIDE: TO FLY OR DRIVE
For a shorter trip, driving is likely going to be more economical than flying. But for longer, cross-country trips, flying will likely be a much cheaper and better choice.
At the end of the day, flying or driving for your vacation depends on your personal preference. Flying may be more expensive and stressful, but it will get you to your destination faster and easier. On the flip side, driving will take longer to get where you're going, but it's likely to be less expensive and offers more flexibility when it comes to spontaneity, budgeting, and pace.
When planning for a vacation, it’s important to weigh the options of flying and driving. Set a budget and determine which is more affordable, based on the information provided above and your own research.