Driving Vs. Flying: Which is Cheaper? | Budget Rent a Car

 

Is It Cheaper to Fly or Drive? Running the Numbers

Your bucket list is calling your name—but you also want to keep your bank account out of the red. If you’re struggling to make travel plans on a budget, chances are a question on the top of your mind is, “Should I fly or drive?”

Although the answer won’t be the same for every trip, this article runs the numbers in every expense category. Use this information to do the math on the most budget-friendly travel option for you.

Breaking Down the Costs of Driving

The Car

If you have your own ride, this expense is free—sort of. You don’t pay anything out of pocket, but with every mile you drive, your car wears down. Eventually, that wear and tear leads to repairs and part replacement. A 2017 AAA study reveals that car maintenance costs are about 6-10 cents per mile. 

The Cost of Car Maintenance = Miles in your trip * Maintenance price per mile

Renting a Car

Before you make your final choice, consider renting a car to travel to your vacation spot. Renting a car vs. flying can actually save you money in two parts of your vacation budget: getting to your destination and getting around once you get there.

 

Getting There

Renting a car can be cheaper than flying because the travel expenses look a lot like driving your own car. You’ll pay for the use of the car, fuel, and e-Toll service (if you use it)—but you don’t have to pay for depreciation or insurance (unless you opt for add-on protections/insurance). 

Most rental cars also come with some perks that make driving to your vacation spot even nicer:

  • Unlimited miles, for most cars (confirm with your rental location).

  • Pristine interior and exterior 

  • Option to bring a pet with you

  • Excellent maintenance record

  • Late-model features

  • Luxury vehicle options (sports carsconvertiblesluxury sedans, and more!)

If you don’t have your own car, if you prefer not to add the extra miles to your personal ride, or if the car you have won’t fit your whole travel group, a rental car is a great alternative to flying.

 

How Much Will it Cost to Rent a Car?

Is renting a car cheaper than flying? We can’t predict what flight prices you’re seeing, but you can preview your cost for a rental car by submitting your supposed rental dates and ideal pickup and drop-off locations in the form at the top of this page. Once you submit your travel details, you will see which vehicles are available and how much they cost.

 

Getting Around

Many travelers have to get a rental car after a flight so they can easily get to their hotel, tour around the city, and fully enjoy their vacation destination. You can skip that step and start exploring the very moment you arrive if you rent a car to drive there. Plus, you don’t have to pay for plane tickets and a rental car; you just have to pay for one.

 

Fuel

Unlike car maintenance, this travel expense does come straight out of your bank account. To calculate how much this part of the trip will cost you, you need to know a few things about your car:

  • How many gallons of fuel its tank holds

  • How many miles it can travel on a full tank

You also need to know how many miles you’ll actually be driving AND what gas costs along the way. 

The Cost of Gas = This can be very difficult to estimate, especially for a long-distance trip. But the fuel calculator at FuelEconomy.gov can do it for you in minutes.

 

Auto Insurance & Car Payments

Wondering why these costs are listed here? After all, you pay the bills every month whether you go on a road trip or not. But think of it this way: the cost of an airplane ticket isn’t just the value of your seat on the plane. It factors in all of the airline’s costs to run the plane: employee salaries, fuel, insurance, etc. 

To truly compare the cost of flying versus driving, you have to take these expenses into account.

Auto Insurance & Car Payments = (Insurance + car payment) / 30 days * Number of days on your trip

Example: ($75 insurance + $315 car payment) / 30 * 5-day trip = $65

 

Tolls

This is one expense you won’t encounter on an airplane. If you’ll be driving through a part of the country with toll roads, you can save yourself time by using them. They can be less crowded during heavy traffic times and are often maintained better. 

Of course, you also have the option to ask your map application to take you around toll roads, eliminating this expense altogether. 

Renters who want to drive on toll roads can request affordable e-Toll services from Budget. Our cars have electronic transponders that let you drive past the cash-toll windows (no juggling change in the car!).

The math: An app like TollSmart comes in handy here for estimating toll expenses.

 

Breaking Down the Costs of Flying

Airfare

This will always be your biggest expense if you choose to fly. This price also goes up with every person you add to your trip. 

Airfare = Cost of airline tickets * Number of people flying

Luggage

Most airlines charge a set rate for every piece of luggage. You can try to fit everything in a carry-on, but the overhead compartments get cramped quickly. And remember, some items like electric razors and big bottles of shampoo legally cannot be tucked away in a carry-on.

Luggage Fees = Cost of per checked bag * Number of checked bags

In-Flight Services

Feeling a little chilly? That on-board blanket might cost you. What if you’re bored? The in-flight entertainment system might charge you to watch that movie. And if you get hungry, a nice drink or a premium snack also costs.

 

Getting to and from the Airport

You have lots of choices for getting to the airport, each with its own costs. 

  • Train/public transportation: $2-15 per person (plus lugging your bags on and off)

  • Taxi/ride-share: About $3 per mile or $0.20 per minute, plus service fees

  • Ride from a friend: Free!

  • Airport parking: $30-50 per day

The math: Multiply the cost for public transit or taxis by 2 if you’re making a round-trip journey. If you’re parking at the airport, multiply the number of days by the daily parking fee.

 

Travel Insurance

Things happen! Travel insurance lets you cancel or reschedule your flight instead of losing all your money if you can’t make the trip. Peace of mind can be pricey, though. Expect it to be at least 4% of the cost of your ticket. So on a $600 round-trip ticket, insurance would be at least $24. Your airlines will also expect you to pay for travel insurance on each ticket.

Flight Insurance = Travel insurance cost * Number of airline tickets

Is It Cheaper to Fly or Drive on Vacation?

So which option will make the smallest dent in your savings? When it comes to driving vs. flying, driving will win almost every time. Even if you don’t have your own car, renting a car to go on a vacation will cost less than buying plane tickets, especially if you’re not traveling alone.

If you need a rental car for an upcoming trip, book it right now with one of our exclusive Budget.com deals.

 

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