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Cheaper to Fly or Drive?

by Jack Penning

kgw.com

Posted on May 19, 2006 at 11:30 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:46 PM

Tonight on NewsChannel 8 we report the results of our survey, indicating just how similar the cost is to fly versus drive, with gas prices at an all-time high. Airlines are raising airfares to compensate for increasing fuel costs, but airfares have not gone up as quickly as has the prices at the pump. That means the airlines still have some deals for summer travel, when you consider how much it would cost you to drive on the same trip.

In most cases, if you're traveling alone, it's cheaper to fly, even if you don't take into account how much time you're saving. In many cases, it's a wash for a couple to fly instead of drive. That's where the time calculations really come into play. For a family of four, it's still considerably more expensive to fly. Our survey shows, most of the time, a family of four will pay about double the fuel cost to buy airline tickets. But again, time considerations, and wear-and-tear on a car come into play at some point. Those are hard variables to quantify. They mean something different to each of us. So we left those considerations out of our calculations.

We completed our survey at noon on May 10th. We calculated the cost of three trips, all departing on July 12th and returning on July 19th.

We calculated the fuel cost for two different vehicles. The first: a 2004 Toyota Camry. The second: a 2004 Ford Explorer. We chose those vehicles because they were the best-selling cars in their respective categories (sedan and SUV) for the 2004 calendar year.

We used the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator website to do the math for us. It uses regional gas prices, to come up with an accurate representation of what each trip will truly cost. The day we did our calculations, these were the regional averages:

Pacific Coast: $3.26
Mountain West: $2.83
Southwest: $2.85
Midwest: $2.72
Great Lakes: $2.82
Southeast: $2.81
Mid-Atlantic: $2.92
New England: $2.94

In addition to the cost of gas, we allowed for hotel nights in each direction on trips longer than 12 hours. We calculated the cost for all trips with and without a hotel stay. For hotel stays, we chose a city equidistant from the departure and arrival cities. We used hotels.com to find the lowest possible rate. All hotels chosen were rated as 2-stars.

For trips by air, we searched for the lowest available airfare for the given dates, to any acceptable airport in the destination city. Airfare searches were also completed on May 10th.

We, then, calculated the cost of all trips for a single traveler, a couple, and a family of four.

All calculations are roundtrip.

Fly or Drive Survey Results

Portland to Los Angeles
Ground Mileage: 1910
Air Mileage: 1668

Single, 2004 Camry
Gas: $205.32
Hotel: $126.66 (two nights in Sacramento)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 30:16
Total Transportation Cost: $331.98

Single, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $313.38
Hotel: $126.66 (two nights in Sacramento)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 30:16
Total Transportation Cost: $440.04

Couple, 2004 Camry
Gas: $205.32
Hotel: $140.60 (two nights in Sacramento)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 30:16
Total Transportation Cost: $345.92

Couple, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $313.38
Hotel: $140.60 (two nights in Sacramento)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 30:16
Total Transportation Cost: $453.98

Family of Four, 2004 Camry
Gas: $205.32
Hotel: $140.60 (two nights in Sacramento)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 30:16
Total Transportation Cost: $345.92

Family of Four, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $313.38
Hotel: $140.60 (two nights in Sacramento)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 30:16
Total Transportation Cost: $453.98

Single, Flight from PDX to Los Angeles Int'l
Airfare: $317 (Alaska Airlines, non-stop)
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 8:30
Total Transportation Cost: $317

Couple, Flight from PDX to Los Angeles Int'l
Airfare: $317 (Alaska Airlines, non-stop)
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim):
Total Transportation Cost: $634

Family of Four, Flight from PDX to Los Angeles Int'l
Airfare: $317 (Alaska Airlines, non-stop)
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim):
Total Transportation Cost: $1268

Portland to Denver
Ground Mileage: 2482
Air Mileage: 1982

Single, 2004 Camry
Gas: $248.98
Hotel: $113.70 (two nights in Ogden, UT)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 36:08
Total Transportation Cost: $362.68

Single, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $376.38
Hotel: $113.70 (two nights in Ogden, UT)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 36:08
Total Transportation Cost: $490.08

Couple, 2004 Camry
Gas: $248.98
Hotel: $127.34 (two nights in Ogden, UT)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 36:08
Total Transportation Cost: $376.32

Couple, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $376.38
Hotel: $127.34 (two nights in Ogden, UT)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 36:08
Total Transportation Cost: $503.72

Family of Four, 2004 Camry
Gas: $248.98
Hotel: $127.34 (two nights in Ogden, UT)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 36:08
Total Transportation Cost: $376.32

Family of Four, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $376.38
Hotel: $127.34 (two nights in Ogden, UT)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 36:08
Total Transportation Cost: $503.72

Single, Flight from PDX to Denver Int'l
Airfare: $321
Elapsed Time )Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 8:48
Total Transportation Cost: $321

Couple, Flight from PDX to Denver Int'l
Airfare: $321
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 8:48
Total Transportation Cost: $642

Family of Four, Flight from PDX to Denver Int'l
Airfare: $321
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 8:48
Total Transportation Cost: $1284

Portland to Chicago
Ground Mileage: 4198
Air Mileage: 3502

Single, 2004 Camry
Gas: $429.58
Hotel: $126.52 (two nights in Cheyenne)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 61:46
Total Transportation Cost: $556.10

Single, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $655.58
Hotel: $126.52 (two nights in Cheyenne)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 61:46
Total Transportation Cost: $782.10

Couple, 2004 Camry
Gas: $429.58
Hotel: $126.52 (two nights in Cheyenne)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 61:46
Total Transportation Cost: $556.10

Couple, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $655.58
Hotel: $126.52 (two nights in Cheyenne)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 61:46
Total Transportation Cost: $782.10

Family of Four, 2004 Camry
Gas: $429.58
Hotel: $126.52 (two nights in Cheyenne)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 61:46
Total Transportation Cost: $556.10

Family of Four, 2004 Explorer
Gas: $655.58
Hotel: $126.52 (two nights in Cheyenne)
Elapsed Time (Driving Time): 61:46
Total Transportation Cost: $782.10

Single, Flight from PDX to Chicago Midway
Airfare: $337
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 11:28
Total Transportation Cost: $337

Couple, Flight from PDX to Chicago Midway
Airfare: $337
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 11:28
Total Transportation Cost: $674

Family of Four, Flight from PDX to Chicago Midway
Airfare: $337
Elapsed Time (Flight Time Plus 4 Total Hours for Check-In/Bag Claim): 11:28
Total Transportation Cost: $1348

Comments? E-mail me at jpenning@kgw.com.

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