Cost Comparison, Two-Week Trip: Drive or Fly?

I make the trek to Spokane, Washington at least twice a year, usually driving my own vehicle, typically a large luxury car. This year alone, I’ve put 35,000 miles on my Cadillac Seville (now at 145,000 miles), not to mention another 8,500 miles per year of local driving on my charming old Saab 900.

As much as I’ve enjoyed seeing the country including The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas, the California coast, scenic Oregon, and the Rocky Mountains, I have to wonder how cost-effective it is, especially now that fuel prices have settled at $3-$4/gallon. Additionally, I’ve seen the western half of the country several times over, including the hidden gems accessible only by state routes.

I thought I’d compare the cost of flying from St Louis to Spokane and renting a car for two weeks (for local driving) versus driving the entire way by myself. I have no real intention of changing the way I travel, but my not-so-inner accountant wants to see how the numbers play out.


Here’s a cost evaluation of my normal travel agenda:

Car: Cadillac Seville
Economy: 21 mpg overall mixed driving


Round Trip: 3,700 miles (Chesterfield MO to Spokane WA)
In-Town Driving: 500 miles
Fuel Cost: $3.60 for regular unleaded
Total Fuel Cost: $720.00

Lodging: $150 (Three nights, Motel 6 or Priceline. I stay at my dad’s place once I’m in town.)
Wear and Tear for 4,200 miles: $300

Total Cost: $1,170


-Visiting friends around the country
-Bringing my dog
-Great stories, photos, and experiences
-More flexible schedule
-No harassment from the TSA.
-No luggage fees.
Costs fall dramatically if more than one person is along for the ride, sharing expenses.

-Wear and tear on car
-High overall cost
-Possible breakdowns
-Safety (flying is statistically safer)
-Realistically, because traveling by car is more flexible, that 4200 miles soars to about 7000 miles due to the detours I take to see things, and fuel costs then go up by hundreds of dollars.

Connecting with great people along the way.


Here’s an alternate plan, flying and renting a reasonable midsize car for two weeks upon arrival:

Rental Car: Ford Fusion, 4-cylinder automatic
Economy: 24 mpg overall mixed driving
Rental Cost: $379


Round Trip Flight, St Louis to Spokane: $293 (Approximately the same for Amtrak round trip)


In-Town Driving: 500 miles
Fuel Cost: $3.60 for regular unleaded
Total Fuel Cost: $75.00

Lodging: Free (I stay at my dad’s place once I’m in town.)

Total Cost: $747

-More than $400 cheaper.
-Flying is statistically a lot safer.
-No worries regarding vehicle breakdowns, tire blowouts, snow and ice, tornadoes, or deer.
-No fatigue from driving long distances.

-Dealing with TSA, lines, lost bags, and the general misery of modern commercial aviation.
-Driving a standard midsize car around town instead of my Cadillac is quite unappealing.
-Air travel would probably stress out my dog.
-Airlines love to charge luggage fees, and I carry quite a bit.


Flying makes practical sense. Sensibilities, however, are boring.

One Response to Cost Comparison, Two-Week Trip: Drive or Fly?

  1. ray says:

    I know you don’t work a typical job, bnut you could also account for lost vacation day(s) driving vs flying. While the advantages/disadvantages are still the same, you can easily lose 4-5 days in just driving; thus limitinmg the amount of time you actually stay at your destination. Especially if said destination involves a woman or a tight schedule.

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