Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's Usually Cheaper To Take The Car

Tip # 72 - It's Usually Cheaper To Take The Car. If you own a car, then you might as well use it for vacation. It's generally cheaper than taking other forms of transportation - even long distances. If you are going on vacation, the car is almost always the cheapest method to get there, unless you are traveling alone. Taking a family of five on an airplane and then renting a car at your destination will often cost at least twice as much as driving your car.

Let's look at some examples. Driving to Florida from the Mid-Atlantic is about 1,000 miles each way or 2,000 miles total. Assume that gas costs $2 per gallon and that you get 25 miles to the gallon. You will be putting approximately 80 gallons of gas in the car for your trip (2,000/25) for the cost of $160 ($80*2) in gas. If your car only gets 20 miles to the gallon then your trip would cost $200 in gas.

Let's look at the cost to fly. For five people, the airline rates to Florida are usually about $250 per person round trip or $1,250 total. But remember you need to get to and park at the airport. The parking at the airport for a 7-10 day trip will be about $100 plus the gas to get there. And then when you get to your destination, you will need to rent a car, which will cost another $200 for a total of $1,550.

So you can lay out $1,550 for airline tickets or $200 for driving. Now of course, each situation will be different. For a family of 3, the cost of flying will be much less. Or you may get a special airline rate of $200 per ticket which brings down the cost of flying. Or you may not need a car at your destination which brings down the flying cost. Or you may have to spend a night in a hotel which brings up the cost of driving. Or you may have a family of 6 which brings up the flying cost. Or the price of gas goes up to $4 a gallon which also brings up the driving cost.

Of course some may argue that the cost of driving is much more than the price of gas. There is wear and tear on the car and depreciation. They would be right. The car would need an oil change sooner. It will need the tires rotated sooner. And you are devaluing it faster by putting more miles on it. However, if you already own the car and the car has a significant number of miles on it, then the additional mileage won't have much of an effect. And the cost of regular car maintenance shouldn't add significantly to the price.

In general, the more people you have traveling with you, the cheaper the cost of driving becomes. And as an added benefit, it makes the family appreciate their destination that much more. As in my post yesterday about saving for something you want, the longer the build-up is to something, the more it is appreciated. The buildup from cold weather to warmer weather to tropical weather that you experience when driving is in sharp contrast to the "magic" of getting on a plane in 30 degree weather and arriving in your destination 2 hours later in 75 degree weather. In some ways, the airplane ride is like a credit car in that it is instant gratification. And taking the car is like saving for something and paying cash. You appreciate the end result so much more.

In Real Life (IRL) - I will say right off the bat that I am biased. I do not like to fly. No scratch that. I HATE to fly. So maybe this whole post is a justification to my husband about why I make us drive to Florida each year. :-) Seriously, though, one must consider if the cost of flying to your vacation is worth it from a financial point of view.

I will give you a real-life compare and contrast example. We drove to Florida in January to visit our family. Gas prices were between $1.69 and $1.89 per gallon the whole way down, and we put 900 miles on our car getting to our destination. Loaded down, our van probably got 20 miles to the gallon as we did all highway driving at night in no traffic. So we used 45 gallons of gas at an average of about $1.79 per gallon for a total of about $80 each way. For a round trip car ride this would be $160. (We took the train home.) We needed a car when we got to our destination. We obviously used our own. We changed the oil in the car before we left for a cost of $20. The total cost of driving: $180 for a family of 5.

Our friends decided at the last minute to go to Florida when we did since there was a school holiday. They are a family of 3. They were able to secure pretty inexpensive airline tickets for only $200 per person. They took a taxi to and from the airport which cost about $80. And they rented a car when they got to Florida which cost about $200 for the week. They spent a total of $880 for a family of 3.

Driving cost $180 for a family of 5. Flying cost $880 for a family of 3 - adjusted to family of 5 it would have been $1280. That is a huge difference. Yes, their trip was quicker and if that's important because you are short on time, then flying will always win. If you have to take a day or two off from work to drive and you lose pay, then you will need to factor that into the equation. But from a purely straightforward comparison, driving is usually cheaper than flying. And now I'm off to show this post to my husband. :-)


Luu Pham said...

Thanks for the concise breakdown.

We're thinking of driving from Baltimore to Fort Myers for Thanksgiving (2 adults and a 1 year old). Wondering if you have any suggestions for trip itinerary and best times of the day to head out.

Luu Pham said...

Meant to thank you for your response. It's now incorporated into our plans.

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