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TravelIs it cheaper to fly or drive?

Is it cheaper to fly or drive?

If you’re traveling domestically in the U.S. and trying to save money on your journey, the decision of whether to drive or fly to your destination can be an important one. The cheapest option isn’t always what you might think.

You may assume a road trip is always cheaper for those traveling on a budget. However, there are times when flying is not only the fastest way to reach your destination but also the most affordable — especially if you learn how to maximize points and miles for travel.

Of course, every situation is different; in some cases, driving might make far better financial sense, especially if you have a large family or pets in tow.

Here’s how to determine which transport mode is best for you and your budget.

How to calculate the cost of driving vs. flying


It’s best to always start off by breaking out some pen and paper (and ideally a calculator) and doing the math. Let’s examine the numbers of a hypothetical trip between Louisville, Kentucky, and Chicago.

A June 2024 flight between Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) costs as little as $99 round-trip with United Airlines if you choose a basic economy ticket.

If you make the same trip in your car, you’ll drive 590 miles round-trip. At the time of writing, average U.S. gas prices are hovering around $3.60 per gallon. Assuming a gas tank capacity of 14 gallons and a fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon, you would need to fill your car with fuel 1.68 times to get from Louisville to Chicago; this would add up to a total of $84.67.

For a solo trip, driving between Louisville and Chicago is only slightly cheaper than flying. That minor cost difference may not be worth spending five hours in the car when the flight time is only an hour and a half.

However, if you’re traveling as a family or with more than one person, driving may be a far cheaper option per head.

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Let’s look at a second example with a longer trip that requires an overnight hotel stay to break up the drive.

A June 2024 flight between Atlanta and Miami costs as little as $40 round-trip on Frontier Airlines or $157 on Southwest Airlines (if you want a more full-service experience that includes checked and carry-on bags). This nonstop flight is right around two hours.

The drive between Atlanta and Miami is 1,326 miles round-trip. Assuming the same gas mileage and tank capacity as above, you must fill your car’s tank 3.79 times for the full journey. The total gas cost would be $191.02 — only slightly less than five Frontier Airlines tickets for the same trip.

Related: Here’s how to save money and earn rewards on gas purchases

The drive time is about 10 hours, so you may also want to stop and spend the night in a hotel during your road trip. This would add at least $100, plus the cost of meals, to the total price of your trip.

This sample trip is a perfect example of when flying is sometimes cheaper than driving.

Here are other things you should consider when choosing between driving and flying.

Consider how many people are in your travel party

If you find a great flight deal or book with a low-cost airline, you can score one-way flights for less than $50. However, that cost goes up when you throw in a spouse and kids. If you travel with a large group, flying may be more expensive than driving — even if you add the cost of gas, meals and an overnight hotel room.

Use a calculator to help compare costs

How do you determine whether flying or driving is the more affordable trip for you? The best way is to crunch the numbers, as shown in the examples above.

Consider how much it costs to fill up your car’s gas tank and how many times you’d need to do so for the trip. Then, add estimates for food stops along the way as well as any accommodations you’ll need if it’s a multiday journey.

Tools like AAA’s easy-to-use gas cost calculator do most of the work for you. Simply plug in your point of origin, your destination, and the make and model of your car to find out how much you’ll pay in gas to get where you are going.


Compare that price to the flight prices for everyone taking the trip. Flights on weekends or holidays will likely be more expensive, but if your dates are flexible, you may be able to find a good deal.

Choose a flight to anywhere


If you really want to play a wild card, you can use sites like Google Flights or Skyscanner to search for flights to multiple destinations by typing in only your airport of origin and travel dates. The results will show pricing to multiple destinations so you can find the best fit for your budget.

Consider the time commitment

Finally, you can’t forget the time commitment between driving and flying. For long road trips, is it worth spending all that time stuck in a car staring at the highway to reach your final destination? Would you rather pay more money to be able to spend that time at home or at your destination? Or is the journey part of what makes the trip appealing?


On the other hand, flying can take nearly as long as driving in some cases. You must arrive at the airport at least an hour before your flight (sometimes more), and if you have a connecting flight, you may have to wait through a long layover.

Bottom line

Driving isn’t always the cheapest way to get where you’re going. Quick road trips can be a great way to save money, but flying can be a surprising way to save money when booking your domestic getaways this year.

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