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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cheapest way to travel

I had to pay for two round trip airfares between New York and Los Angeles this week. A quick look on Expedia showed that the cheapest fares were roughly $650. I was dismayed that the cost had gone up so much, given that just four years ago a round trip ticket could be had for as little as $340.

What's surprising, though, is not how expensive a ticket is now, but rather how cheap they were a few years back.

At the same time I could get a round trip airfare for $340, a one way ticket on Amtrak from Stamford to Boston was $119. Compare those values. For the $340 airfare, you were getting roughly 6000 miles in a vehicle traveling at roughly 550 miles an hour. For $119, you were getting roughly 200 miles at 60 miles per hour.

Amtrak's prices haven't gone up in the past four years, but airfares are still relatively inexpensive. Even at $650, you're paying only 11 cents per mile, compared to roughly 60 cents on Amtrak.

Or look at it this way. If you drove across the country and back in a car which got 30 mpg, and paid four dollars a gallon, the trip would cost you over $800 (highways are not as direct as air routes). That's ignoring the wear and tear on your car -- and assuming you slept in it the entire way.

Air travel is not the bargain it used to be, but it's still a bargain.

(This post was designed to make you a little nostalgic for rock bottom airfares, and maybe just a little less so for the SATs.)


Anonymous said...

Great post, As you know I just came back last week from LA, my airfare was about the same $590.00 Three weeks before that I had a non stop flight from Laguardia to Cleveland, that one cost $1250.00 The pricing on flights makes no logical sense to me at all.

Mad Dog

John Craig said...

Thank you Mad Dog, yes, the trick seems to be to take advantage of off-peak times.

Anonymous said...

Having travelled frequently via plane and Amtrak, your comments are entirely correct. Though I'm no fan of flying, it's the hands-down winner when compared with the train. Most of the time I'd even prefer to drive myself. The only advantage to Amtrak over car travel is that someone else does the driving. You save neither time nor money on the train. Throw in the fact that Amtrak doesn't offer any security screening whatsoever once you're on board, and even car travel seems like a better option.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you.

I'm the same way, prefer the freedom of driving myself, even though any sort of long distances give me a stiff back and a severe case of rump-itis.