Should You Fly or Drive? How to Make the Most Cost-Effective Decision

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This post is sponsored by #Shellcrowd, however, all opinions and insane amount of hours traveled by car are 100% mine.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.

If you're thinking of traveling cross-country for a Summer road trip, or to visit friends and family for the Holidays, you might be wondering if there's a scientific formula to help you decide whether to fly or drive. This post helps you consider ALL the costs, and even provides a printable worksheet so you can compare real numbers!

When I moved to the balmy Sunshine State, I knew trips back home for Holidays, weddings, and just because would quickly become another column in my budget spreadsheet. And since I live so far away, I’ve also had to decide whether to drive or fly each time.

This can be a really tough decision!

While I certainly like the convenience of flying, ticket prices keep climbing, and extra airport fees only serve to fuel my frustration. I don’t fly into a popular airport either, so I never get to take advantage of those $99 round-trip deals every discount travel site seems to be advertising lately.

Since I’m a numbers girl, it almost always comes down to the final cost. If you’re thinking of traveling cross-country for a Summer road trip, or to visit friends and family for the Holidays, you might be wondering if there’s a scientific formula that will help you decide whether to fly or drive.

I’m here to help you figure that out!

Know Every Cost Involved

First off, before you begin comparing your plane ticket price to gas prices, you need to factor in ALL the extra costs. There are a ton of variables you probably haven’t even thought of yet!

Flying Costs:

  • Time Flying
  • Ticket Price {per traveler}
  • Baggage Fees
  • Airport Parking
  • Food Stops
  • Rental Car {if needed}

Driving Costs:

  • Time Driving
  • Fuel Cost
  • Hotel Stays
  • Food Stops
  • Tolls
  • Wear and Tear on Car

At a quick glance, this seems like a lot to figure out, and cause for a slight headache. So of course, I created a printable worksheet to make it easy!

If you're thinking of traveling cross-country for a Summer road trip, or to visit friends and family for the Holidays, you might be wondering if there's a scientific formula to help you decide whether to fly or drive. This post helps you consider ALL the costs. Use this printable worksheet so you can compare real numbers!

Download the Fly or Drive Worksheet

As you search for ticket prices, make sure you also run this Fuel Cost Calculator to get an accurate number of how much you would spend on gas. Then keep track of all your total costs in each designated column, and run the final numbers.

FYI: To calculate wear and tear on your car, use the $.14 per mile rate that the IRS gives as a mileage reimbursement for charitable drives. Just make sure to subtract all fuel costs from that amount so you don’t double count!

A Personal Example

Just to show you how this works, let me give you a quick example of a sample trip from our home to my parents house — just over 2,600 miles.


At first glance, driving is a little cheaper, but is a $30 savings worth the hassle and time that comes with being in a car for 22 hours straight? Not to mention more wear and tear on our tires, and less time between oil changes! A discussion with Joseph would probably cover these bases:

  • FLYING: Time to fly is much shorter, and would eliminate the cost for hotel rooms.
  • DRIVING: We could potentially skip the hotel and drive through the night, which would knock the cost down even further.
  • FLYING: Tickets aren’t too expensive because there’s only two of us and we always fly in or out on Tuesday or Wednesday {Psst….these are by far the cheapest days to travel!}
  • DRIVING: Gas is incredibly cheap {March 2016 National Average} and we could use our Fuel Rewards at Shell gas stations to save even more. Learn more about why I love and recommend Fuel Rewards HERE, and get yourself signed up STAT!
  • FLYING: We don’t have to buy as much food if we fly because we eliminate multiple breakfasts, dinners, lunches, etc.
  • DRIVING: We could pack our own food.

Looking at the overall cost, I would choose to drive and skip the hotel rooms, especially since gas is so cheap right now. Even though it will take almost twice as long as flying, we keep ourselves occupied with podcasts and some pretty crazy discussions!

As you can see, the decision not always cut and dry as it first seems. There’s a lot of trade-offs. But when it comes right down to it, gas prices and number of travelers are going to be your two major factors in deciding whether you fly or drive.

If you have 3-5 plane tickets to buy, the cost to fly is going to skyrocket. If gas prices are under $2.00/gallon, driving will be much more economical. Miles driven cross country versus the next state door will factor in as well. There’s cost and preference benefits to both. You have to weigh all options!

Now it’s up to you to decide which one is best for your next trip.

Want more? If you are looking for more ways to manage money better, including ideas for spending less on travel, you’ll want to check out this resource page where I’ve compiled more than 60 amazing posts for you!

How about you – Do you usually fly or drive?


Everyday saving doesn’t have to be stressful. The Fuel Rewards® program helps its members save at least 3 cents per gallon just by swiping a free membership card, and includes even more ways to save through groceries, restaurants, and even online shopping! Sign up and learn more about Fuel Rewards HERE.

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. We generally fly (although we don’t travel much at all anyway) if we’re going somewhere that’s more than an 8 hour drive away. Neither of us particularly like driving, and flying is so much quicker.

  2. Growing up my family used to drive everywhere. We’d drive as far as miami and we racked up 330,000 on the family car. Now that I’m on my own I don’t have many vacation days and we don’t get any holiday time so if i’m traveling now I almost always fly. I’d rather spend as much of my time off at my destination rather than traveling πŸ™‚

  3. Thank you for this great post and printable. I usually don’t have to think about flying or driving, because I don’t have a car. But if I am travelling with my parents, this will come in handy.
    I usually have to decide if I fly or take a train. My aunt lives about 850km away in another country and we visit her a few times per year. We used to take the train most of the time, when I was a child, because there was a direct one (means 10 hours on a train) and there are big savings for children. (you only have to pay 50% and that only in the other country. Children could travel for free in my home country when the family has a discount card) So the decision was made easily. Nowadays I have to pay the full price, there is no direct train available anymore (means more stress with changing trains) and less time to spend on holidays in general. We usually fly nowadays, as it takes about half the time (door to door) and it usually costs about the same. I think although costs are the major factor in deciding wheter to fly or drive, other thing have to be considered as well.

  4. Honestly, this is a sheer case of cost-benefits. Obviously, driving is often cheaper. But is it really “worth” the cost, if driving takes 3x more in transit time, and it’s arguably less safe the longer the distance (you get tired, it gets dark, etc.). For me, I think it depends on how big the price differential is: if I’m only saving a few bucks, I’ll fly instead. πŸ™‚

    1. Absolutely, Frank! Once you figure out the price points, it’s important to factor in the time. My husband and I love road trips so for us driving doesn’t feel like a hassle – but I know many people do not share that feeling. πŸ™‚ Less hassle can be worth paying for, it’s just good to know how much you are shelling out for the convenience {or of course, in some cases the more convenient option is actually cheaper!}

  5. We drive to our summer holiday spot (Croatia). It’s a 12 hour drive and it’s just a tank worth of fuel. We’re 3 people so it’s very cheap (not to mention we can carry more stuff, since we’re in our car). When we go to Spain for instance, we take the plane. Driving there would be at least 2-3 days, more tanks to fill, hotels etc. It’s not worth the hassle, especially when the airplane tickets are pretty cheap.

    1. You are making me jealous, Ramona. Visiting Europe is on my bucket list! I would love to be able to drive from country to country admiring all the beautiful scenery.

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