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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Should You Fly Or Drive? Calculator Helps You Decide

Is it cheaper to fly or drive? A new calculator can help you find out (xlibber and danorth1, Flickr).

by: Sharon Silke Carty
As someone who routinely has to take long car rides from Michigan to New Jersey to visit family, I often find myself somewhere on Route 80 in the middle of Pennsylvania wishing I'd flown.

We live right at the border of where driving home seems reasonable. If we lived in Chicago – or even two hours away in Grand Rapids -- I doubt we'd ever drive back to New Jersey.

But we do. With three antsy kids in the back, a husband resistant to bathroom breaks (because each stop adds a half hour on to our already 10-hour drive), and spotty cellphone coverage along the route, it's easy to think flying would be easier. If it weren't for that pesky TSA, the checked baggage fee, and having to pay for five airplane tickets, flying would be a no-brainer.

Thankfully, there is now a tool for people who often debate whether or not it makes sense to fly or drive.'s Fly Or Drive Calculator compares the time and cost of flying versus driving. It asks you where you're going, when you're going, what you would drive if you were driving, and how much you'd pay for a hotel if you had to stay overnight. It also adds in the cost of parking at the airport if you're flying, plus car rental costs.

And for folks interested in their environmental impact, it calculates the carbon dioxide impact for each mode of travel. It also tells you how many hours you'll spend in the car or in the airport.

These days, it's hard to balance the cost of gas versus the hassle of flying. BeFrugal's calculator helped me plan an upcoming trip to New Jersey – I think I'll drive. But I've got another trip coming up, this time to Cape Cod. According to the calculator, that trip would take way too long to drive, and wouldn't save me much money if I figure in that I'll have to stop and sleep somewhere after 12 hours of driving.

I ran some of my upcoming trips through the calculator, and here's what I found:

To my mom's house in New Jersey: Flying would take 5 hours, 7 minutes door-to-door, and cost $1,595 for five people. Our carbon footprint would be 4,279 pounds. Driving would take 10 hours, 54 minutes (not sure if that includes rest stops), and would cost $306.57. Our carbon footprint would be 1,294 pounds. Verdict: We'll drive

To a wedding in Plymouth, Mass.: Flying would take 5 hours and 32 minutes, and cost $414. Carbon impact is 1,216 pounds. Driving, on the other hand, takes 14 hours and 14 minutes, and would cost $389.78. Carbon impact is higher, given my car is a 2005 Buick Rendezvous, at 1,698 pounds. Verdict: That's easy. My plane ticket is already booked.

To visit a friend in Marietta, Ga.: Flying would take 5 hours, 23 minutes, and would cost $1,320 for five people (and no checked luggage). Carbon impact is 5,186 pounds. Driving would take 11 hours, 15 minutes, and would cost $327.30. Carbon footprint would be 1,395. Verdict: Again, the cost makes this a no-brainer. We'll drive.

To go skiing in Colorado: My husband sometimes entertains the idea that we'll all drive to our annual ski trip, instead of fly. Flying takes the whole day: The calculator says it takes 7 hours, 57 minutes door to door, and costs $1,755. Carbon footprint of 8,564 pounds. Driving, on the other hand, takes 1 14-hour day of driving, plus another 7 hours and 17 minutes on the road. Driving would cost $1,033, and gives us a carbon impact of 2,640 pounds. Verdict: Flying would be the best option for my marriage.


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