Generally speaking, the average traveler will find it cheaper to drive than fly for a vacation if the destination is two days’ or less drive and there are at least two travelers. The formula I use to determine whether I should fly or drive is as follows: If, Airport Parking or Transportation + Airfare + Car Rental< Cost of Gas + Cost of Hotel + Food, then, we fly.
Consider a vacation for 10 days from Minneapolis to New Orleans for two people.
Flying costs the following:
$120 parking/airport transportation
$600 airfare (I usually see airfare to New Orleans at about $325 per person, but it is possible to pay less)
$200 car rental (you can do without a car rental but if you want to leave the city, you would need to book a tour)
$334.80 gas (2668 round trip miles, driving a 2006 Suburu Forester, according to Cost To Drive)
$320 hotel (average $80 per night per 8 hours of driving. New Orleans is almost 20 hours from Minneapolis, and we average four hotel nights)
$100 food (Tom and I are pretty cheap on car trips. We try to stay at hotels with breakfasts and we make the best of convenience stores)
I did not include the opportunity cost involved in losing two extra days of valuable vacation time. That sometimes makes a difference, especially if you work for yourself or you have very limited vacation time.
As you can see, driving almost always makes sense if it’s a two day car trip and more than one person is traveling and opportunity costs are not included. When it’s a three day car trip, you may find flying more economical.
For example, Miami is a three (or four) day car trip from Minneapolis (1775 miles or almost 30 hours one way). The cost of a car trip would be:
$480.08 gas according to Cost To Drive
$480 hotel (six nights at $80 per night)
Airfare would have to cost approximately $400 per ticket for it to make sense to drive from Minneapolis to Miami on a vacation for two. Since airfare between the two cities generally fluctuates between $270 and $370, flying is almost always cheaper than driving. Considering that the opportunity costs of six days of transportation are much likely to be greater than the opportunity cost of four days of transportation, flying becomes even more attractive.
And remember, you cannot drive to Hawaii.