Driving Vs. Flying – How Much Did We Save?

EOD_DriveVsFlyMy son and I were walking from the beach to our rental home while on vacation in Florida. We were discussing our travel plans home as the next day we were to begin the multiple day drive back to Minnesota.

“So, it’s cheaper to drive than it is to fly, right?” he asked.

Without hesitation I stated it was much cheaper for our family to drive. I didn’t doubt my answer, but I wondered just how much money we were saving. I decided to do the research and find out.

Traveling By Car



Our family van averages 25mpg on the highway, or 500 miles per tank. Roundtrip to Destin, Florida and back plus some driving around during the week we logged about 2500 miles or 5 tanks of gasoline. Currently, it costs $40 to fill up the 20 gallon tank.

Total Fuel Cost: 5 tanks of gas x $40 per tank = $200.


We broke the drive to Florida up into three different days, and the drive back into two. This required three hotel stays:

  • Hotel Stay #1 : $102
  • Hotel Stay #2 : $175
  • Hotel Stay #3 : $144

Total Hotel Cost: $421


Since we were traveling for several days in each direction, we incurred food costs.

To Florida:

  • Day #1 travel dinner : $100 (TGIFridays)
  • Day #2 travel breakfast : $0 (included in hotel stay)
  • Day #2 travel Lunch : $24 (McDonalds)
  • Day #2 travel dinner : $74 (hotel restaurant)
  • Day #3 travel breakfast: $0 (included in hotel stay)

To Minnesota:

  • Day #1 travel breakfast : $0 skipped
  • Day #1 travel lunch: $24 (Arbys)
  • Day #1 travel dinner $75 (hotel restaurant)
  • Day #2 travel breakfast : $0 skipped
  • Day #2 travel lunch : $24 (McDonalds)

Total Travel Food Cost: $321

Total Cost For Traveling by Automobile: $942

Traveling By Airplane

Airline Ticket Costs:

Airline ticket prices fluctuate significantly and frequently. To get a representative airline ticket price, I chose dates a few months in the future. As were the dates of our vacation, I chose leaving on a Saturday and returning the following Saturday. The price per ticket found in my search was $525, which seems about average from Minneapolis to the Fort Walton airport (I’ve looked at flight prices countless times over the last 6 months). Since it’s not a huge airport, tickets are relatively expensive, and don’t fluctuate much.

Airline Ticket Cost : $525 x 4 = $2100

Car Rental:

By driving to Florida, we had our vehicle as transportation to stores and sightseeing activities. If we would have flown instead, we would have had to rent a car. Looking at rental car choices, the average rental of a standard sized car is $400 for the week.

Rental car cost : $400

Total Cost For Traveling By Airplane: $2500


There are other costs associated with each method of travel. For example, we purchase snacks to have with us in the van while we drove. Also, had we flown we would likely had to have checked some bags, had some food expenses, and maybe even airport parking expenses. However, even with just this simple analysis it’s easy to see that we saved a LOT of money by driving.

There is a tradeoff, of course, and my son recognized it immediately.

“Time is money,” said my son.

He’s referring to the time we spent traveling that we could have spent either relaxing at home (it was spring break week), or maximizing our time spent in Florida.  We saved money by traveling via car, but it cost us time. On the flip side, the travel time allowed us to spend time as a family, and make memories traveling by car across the country.

Do you drive to long distance destinations to save money? Have you ever analyzed how much you save by driving versus flying?

About Travis

14 Responses to “Driving Vs. Flying – How Much Did We Save?”

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  1. Money Beagle says:

    We’re going to do a family trip to Florida next spring and we are already starting the analysis. Right now we are looking at braving a drive.

    • Travis says:

      The drive isn’t too bad…..know your driving limits and plan breaks. I can do about 3-4 hours at a crack without stopping – then I gotta get out and stretch!

  2. Love seeing the breakdown here, Travis. We will definitely be doing a lot more traveling after the debt is gone, and we’ll likely be driving most of the time. Thanks for the info!

  3. Levi D. says:

    Definitely, a family of 5. 3 adults and 2 kids, we always drive to PA from GA. We love to drive and save some money.

  4. Shana says:

    Just wondering, did you look at flying into and out of Panama City, FL. It is a larger airport than Ft Walton and has Southwest which you typically can always find deals if you start early enough. The drive from PC to Destin is very short, probably an hour or so.

  5. Marty says:

    Very good analysis. I have done an analysis many times for traveling. Car will always beat the airplane for price, when factoring everything. Something that I always try to do that you didn’t do here, is calculate the depreciation on our own cars, if we were to drive them and put the miles on it. They add up quick. I would rather pay a little more and rent a car and put the wear and tear on them and preserve our cars for the long term. It depends on how many days you will be gone. Rentals can add up over long terms. Always try to find a coupon. I love driving and seeing our great county. There are so many beautiful places to see.

    • Travis says:

      We’ve done that once or twice as well, Marty. Renting a car also gives you peace of mind of a lesser chance of a breakdown (if you own an older vehicle) as rental cars are usually very new.

  6. We made the same decision for an upcoming shorter trip. Even with frequent flier miles, it’s still a better deal to drive for this particular trip. And we’ll save the miles for the long trips.

    Hope you enjoyed Florida. We make three or four trips per year to south Florida. Have even thought about relocating. Maybe some day.

  7. Ashley says:

    Speaking of “Time is money”, I’m curious to see how your calculations would change if you included the cost of your time.

    • Travis says:

      Well, Ashley, I’m not sure if I should add cost to our total for the time spent….or SUBTRACT. You see, even the post you link to makes the point of getting the most value out of our time. I’m all for that. My kids are at an age (17 and 14) where it’s hard to get them to spend time with their parents. Even on this vacation once we got to Florida they were off doing things with the other kids of the family we were on vacation with. But during the ride to Florida, they were trapped with us in our van. We talked about infinite subject matter, and made some memories that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives. So what kind of value would I put on the time we spent traveling with our kids? PRICELESS. 🙂

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