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Is It Cheaper to Fly or Drive for the Holidays? (And How It's Actually Not Too Late to Get a Fairly Priced Ticket)

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"Prices appear to have moderated."

Thanksgiving is only two weeks out. You haven't finalized what means of travel you'll be using to get to grandma's house yet and you're left with a debate: to fly or to drive.

These questions run through your mind:

  • Which option is cheaper?
  • What do plane tickets even cost this close to the holiday?
  • Is it worth putting up with ground traffic to save some money?
  • Is it worth my time to take a longer trip driving over faster flight?
  • Do I really want to battle airport security?

Brian Ek, travel editor for Priceline.com, told TheBlaze three factors come into play when making travel plans for the holidays: comfort, stress and budget.

"Comfort is do you really want to be sitting in a car for X number of hours and then stress is do you want to be in that car for that number of hours with your family," he said. "And other factor that you have to weigh for airlines [is] holiday travel can be stressful in its own way at airports."

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

As for the cost, Ek has watched gas prices drop to a four-year low while the average airplane ticket recently jumped $4. Despite cheaper gas, Ek found that it's still cheaper to fly in most cases, depending on the size of your party and how far you're going.

"Generally speaking, when gas prices were up in high threes to $4 range, you would find at least half the time it was actually cheaper to fly," Ek said. "Half of the routes that I pulled, including a surprising number of close-in routes — routes where roundtrip was 700 miles or less — might have been cheaper to fly than drive. This is again if you’re only buying one ticket, if you’re solo. I found this time around that with gas around $3 a gallon in a number of instances, yes, it is cheaper to drive.

"In many other cases the price tag was just so close that then you had to look at 'Is it worth that little extra for plane ticket if I don't have to deal with holiday traffic?'" he added.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

But can you even get a decently price plane ticket this close to Thanksgiving? Apparently so.

If you were traveling from Chicago to New York City, for example, from Nov. 22 through Nov. 29, the airfare would cost you about $250. Chicago to Pittsburgh, you're looking at $242. Now, there are expensive tickets out there too, take Chicago to Orlando, which is going for more than $500.

Surprisingly, some of these tickets might actually be cheaper than what people who booked last month paid.

"I would say that the prices appear to have moderated somewhat," Ek said. "I first looked at the airfares in very early October. People buying tickets then were predominately the people who said, 'I’m stressed out enough for holidays, I don't want to have to stress about buying airfare later too, so I don’t care what it costs.' Even though you were months away from the travel date, the fares were high. Once that group had their tickets, then you started to see the ticket prices moderate a little bit."

This same thing might be going on with some Christmas bookings as well. A look at the fares out of Chicago reveals that some Thanksgiving tickets are actually cheaper than tickets around Dec. 25.

This isn't to say you should put off buying a ticket in the hope that prices will drop. Ek pointed out that if you have some flexibility in your travel, you could try to bid on a ticket that is up to 20 percent less than the listed cost on Priceline.com. He said travelers doing this have to be prepared to travel anytime during the days they select and could expect a connection with a layover.

If you're still debating on whether to fly or drive, you could search for airfare options and compare it to the cost of fuel for your trip in a car. The U.S. Department of Energy has an online tool that allows you to input your starting point and destination and the type of car you plan on driving to give you an estimate on how much you'll pay for gas. For longer trips, be sure to consider the cost of tolls, food and lodging.

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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