Are road trips cheaper than flying? Here’s what you need to know

Tim Ervin plans to take a road trip with his son this month from their home in Portland, Oregon to Northern California, but it wasn’t the call of the road that got him driving.

Ervin, who has family and friends in Chico and Folsom, said driving is cheaper for the couple than flying.

“If money wasn’t an issue, I’d be flying because I’ve lived in Portland for 26 years now, and my family has always been there,” said Ervin, 52, who estimated he made the trip about 80 times. “That’s good; I can almost do it with my eyes closed now, but there’s nothing particularly surprising.”

Ervin, a construction project manager, estimated flights to Chico – just over an hour in the air and four hours door-to-door – for him and his 12-year-old son Alex would cost between $400 and $500, while driving about eight hours in his Toyota Prius would only cost $100.

Road trips can be a cost-effective alternative to flying, especially since travel costs have skyrocketed due to inflation, but that’s not always the case.

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Is a road trip cheaper than flying?

It depends.

“I would say the easiest rule of thumb is that the more people go on a trip, the more you can generally save (by driving),” said Kaleigh Kirkpatrick, founder of travel agency The Shameless Tourist, a subsidiary of Avenue Deux Voyages.

A family of five may find a road trip more economical than buying plane tickets, she said. However, if only one or two people are going on the trip, driving may not be the most affordable option once gas and food are factored in. Additionally, drivers may spend less time at their destination and may need to spend more time away from work, Kirkpatrick noted.

Road trips may make more sense for shorter distances, Kirkpatrick said. “If you can make the trip in a full day or overnight, maybe spending a few hundred dollars on a hotel room, that can be a good saving.”

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States is $3.47, a little up from a week earlier, but lower than a year ago and well below its high of around $5 last summer, according to AAA.

With travel costs rising amid high inflation, Kirkpatrick has noticed an increase in flight prices – especially for international travel – over the past two months and has seen customers cancel trips or postpone plans. due to prohibitive prices. And even travelers with longer distances that would require hotel stays might be better off driving.

“It totally depends on when you book and what you book and all that, but … I think there are a lot of cases where flights have overtaken (increasing hotel prices),” she says.

How to save money on car trips

There are also ways to reduce the cost of a road trip. Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel at AAA, recommended taking measures such as bringing enough food and water for the trip rather than spending money on fast food restaurants and avoid idling too much.

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“A car engine uses a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour when idling, but a hot engine only takes about 10 seconds of fuel to restart,” she said in an email. Turn off your engine if you are going to be stopped for more than a minute (if it is safe to do so).

Travelers should also watch their speed. “Fuel economy peaks at around 50 mph on most cars, then declines as speed increases,” she said. “Reducing highway speed by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy by up to 14 percent.”

Kirkpatrick said driving also offers a different type of travel than flying, with opportunities to stop and sightsee along the way, play games in the car and create more bonding time for families. “I think (road trips) are an interesting way to travel, whether you’re trying to save money or not,” she said.

Nathan Diller is a mainstream travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at

USA Today

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