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jun 20 2011

Fly vs. drive: a new website can help you decide

Is it better to fly or drive? (Courtesy uzi978/Flickr)

Last month, in our effort to get to the bottom of the age–old dilemma—is it cheaper to fly or drive?—we shared some tips on how to price both travel methods out. Looks like online coupon site BeFrugal.com has been mulling over the same question—on June 7, they launched a Fly or Drive Calculator, which uses a series of algorithms to determine the cost of your trip on the road versus in the air.

All you need to get started is your point of origin and your destination. Once you've entered those, you can skip straight to the results, or you can enter additional details about your trip for a more accurate estimate.

Overall, the process is quick and, by the looks of it, thoroughly done—the calculations are based on data from a number of sources, such as AAA, and give you an approximate calculation not only your flying and driving time, but also your CO2 emissions. If your road trip spans several days, the cost of hotel stays is incorporated into the grand total (their default hotel rate is an appropriately frugal $75 per night). BeFrugal.com discloses margins of error ranging from 10 to 25 percent for the various elements of the calculation (flying time; cost of airfare; driving time; driving costs), and stands by a claim that in most cases, their data is "accurate enough to be used to decide between flying or driving."

Wanting to test the site out with a real–life example, I borrowed a friend's Fourth of July plans—New York City to Boston, July 1–4—and went to work. There are four steps, and most of the required info is basic and easily accessible (what airports will you travel out of and into? How will you get to the airport? What's the make and model of your car?). I have to admit there was a step or two that had me scratching my head: when asked how many hours I would drive daily, the system wouldn't let me enter less than six. Considering that the entire NYC–Boston drive takes about four hours, give or take, I stared for a minute, brow furrowed, before reluctantly selecting six and moving on.

The verdict? Driving wins big on the budget front, with a total of about $91 (against $387 to fly). On time, flying wins by a slim margin: 3 hours and 51 minutes door-to-door, including transportation to and from the airport, versus 4 hours and 17 minutes door–to–door driving time (but let's be honest—the extra 25 minutes of driving time could easily be matched at the airport with an unexpected delay on the tarmac or a long bathroom line). Flying also wins by a nose in CO2 impact (426 lbs. in emissions vs. 442 lbs. for driving).

When all is said and done, I'd feel confident telling my friend to make her Boston getaway a road trip—that is, if she hadn't already opted for secret option #3: busing it.

For more info on how the Fly or Drive Calculator works, visit BeFrugal.com's FAQ page.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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