Deciding If It’s Cheaper to Fly or to Drive to Walt Disney World

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Disney World is located in a great place weather wise, but for the vast majority of the U.S. it’s not a very convenient place to travel to. After you’ve picked the best week to take your Disney World vacation, the next step is to decide if you should fly or drive.

There are several factors to consider when it comes to flying or driving.
How long would it take to drive to Orlando?
How long would it take to fly to Orlando (including to/from and wait times at airports)?
How old are your children, if any? 
If you fly how much will a rental car cost, and do you need one?
If you drive will there be extra nights needed in hotels and extra food expenses?
What’s the cost to fly/rent car vs. drive/extra food/hotel/time off work?

These are just a few of the things to think about.

My decision making process went something like this: “There’s no way I’m driving 16 hours 1-way with a 5 yr old and almost 3 yr old who will likely be potty training!” Decision made. Period.

Now, those of you who know me, realize that I was half serious.  Mostly because I make several 5-7 hour road trips with the kids by myself each year to visit family. But I have calculated all the costs of driving to WDW and it’s pretty close.  The age of our kids tips the scale toward flying, but I did weigh the options.  That went something like this:

Once I chose the week we were going, I looked up plane ticket prices for that week in the current year. (I started thinking about/planning this trip about a year and a half in advance)  For that week in 2012 the tickets were about $250 each if we flew out of Dallas (2.5 hours away) with Southwest airlines. It was about $400 each if we flew out of Tyler.  This gave me a price point to try to beat once the February 2013 tickets were available. Then I had to really look at total cost of flying and total cost of driving.

Expense to fly: ~ $1550:
Plane tickets for 4 – $1000
Rental car and gas in Orlando – $250
Parking at the airport – $90
Parking at WDW (we stayed offsite) – $60
Fast food during travel – $20 (of course we brought our own snacks to supplement too)
Mileage to/from Dallas airport (110 miles each way) – $110 ($30 in gas and $80 delayed cost in wear/tear/vehicle depreciation etc)

Time needed to fly: ~ 10 hours x 2 = 2 days off work total
2.5 hours to drive to Dallas
2 hours wait time in Dallas
4 hours total flight and layover time
1 hour to claim baggage/get rental car
0.5 hours to get to hotel or condo

Expense to drive: ~$1400
Mileage to/from Orlando (1000 miles each way) – $1000 ($280 in gas and $720 delayed cost)
Mileage in Orlando $125 ($40 in gas and $85 delayed cost)
Parking at WDW – $60
Fast food during travel $50
2 nights hotel $160
2 extra days off work for my husband ????

Time needed to drive 20 hours x 2 = 4 days off work total
16 hours road time
4 hours for pit stops/gas/meals

When considering 2 extra days of my hubby’s salary in addition to the expenses for driving, it actually would save us money and resources to fly – not to mention we’d be a happier family when we arrived!

I can see why some of you would calculate only the gas usage for a trip such as this, but we consider mileage even for a 5 mile round trip in town!  A vehicle costs a chunk of change to buy and costs a chunk of change to keep it running.  We feel that needs to be considered with every mile we drive.  If I’m not calculating that cost of those miles for a road trip up front then I’m not really giving it a proper comparison.

Take some time to truly consider both the cost and time of driving, as well as the potential mood your family will be in after a lengthy drive.  If we could drive and be there within 10 hours we’d probably find that was a better option.  But cheap flights do exist!  I’ve seen flights to Orlando via Southwest (with 2 free checked bags!) for as low as $49 one way.  We ended up getting our tickets for just shy of $200 each, so our total cost to fly ended up being $1400 – same as the cost to drive!  But we were in a better mood upon arrival and we were able to save 2 of hubby’s vacation days.  Because our kids are so young we decided to go ahead and book when they dipped under $200 so we’d have a better choice of flight times and layovers.  Both flights were within bedtimes and had a stop but no plane change- no running to catch another plane with a 3 and 5 yr old!

If you’re considering flying and plan to rent a car, be sure to check rates for flying from a local airport into Tampa, Florida as well for flying from another airport in your region into Orlando.  When we went to WDW in 2005 we flew from our local airport to Tampa and saved about $100 on each ticket = $500 savings.  The drive from the airport to the condo was right at 2 hours so it was well worth the savings.

If you decide you do want to fly, be sure to mark your calendar to check the ticket prices monthly.  Once prices reach the initial estimate check more often and watch for sales.  You can always see how many seats are still available so you’ll know if it’s going to be risky to wait longer for a bigger price drop.

Weigh all your travel options by cost, convenience and time.  A Disney World trip is a big deal and while you want to make a budget conscious decision you don’t want to regret it for it’s inconvenience and putting a damper on your trip.  Sometimes paying a bit more money is well worth the happiness!

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