Should You Fly Or Drive? Calculator Helps You Decide

Calculator adds up fuel costs, time spent flying or driving, and the environmental impact

Editor's Note: When this article was originally written there were significant cost differences - relative to today's - in both the price of gas and the cost of airline tickets. To that end, we've provided an update using the original premise and destinations, but applying current costs – for both the road expenses and airline tickets - into the conclusions.

As someone who routinely has to take long car rides from the Detroit area 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 upcoming trips through the calculator, and here's what I found:

To my mom's house in New Jersey: Flying would take 4 hours, 45 minutes door-to-door, and cost $3,072 for five people. Our carbon footprint would be 4,227 pounds. Driving would take 9 hours, 6 minutes (not sure if that includes rest stops), and would cost $184.80. Our carbon footprint would be 1,226 pounds. Verdict: We'll drive

To a wedding in Plymouth, Mass.: Flying would take 5 hours and 36 minutes, and cost $2279.25. Carbon impact is 5453 pounds. Driving, on the other hand, takes almost 11 hours and would cost $219.40. Carbon impact is lower – using a 2015 Toyota Highlander as the model – at 1,455 pounds. Verdict: That's easy. My plane ticket is already booked.

To visit a friend in Marietta, Ga.: Flying would take 5 hours, 5 minutes, and would cost $2,362 for five people with checked luggage. Carbon impact is 5,149 pounds. Driving would take 10 hours, 39 minutes, and would cost $220.71. Carbon footprint would be 1,464 pounds. 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 most of a day: The calculator says it takes 6 hours, 19 minutes door to door, and costs $2,988. The carbon footprint of 10,715 pounds. Driving, on the other hand, takes one 12-hour day of driving, plus another 9 hours and 25 minutes on the road. Driving would cost $876 (adding a room night and food), and gives us a carbon impact of 2,961 pounds. Verdict: Flying would be the best option for my marriage.

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