By Chris Malek
Do you face a travel dilemma every time that you book a vacation to Walt Disney World? Do you prefer to fly or drive? The purpose of this blog is to provide you with information so that you can make an educated decision on which way suits your family best.
Before I start, we should go over some basic travel parameters and beliefs so that you can translate some of my information into usable data based on your geographic location. First and foremost, you must be willing and able to fly. Many of my friends (and podcast hosts) have an intense fear of flying and will only drive to WDW. Second, the driving distance between Chicago and Lake Buena Vista is approximately 1200 miles, but for argument sake, I will use 1000 miles as my mathematical comparison. Third, in comparing airfare, I only travel on Southwest Airlines. I have been tracking airfares to Walt Disney World for years on many sites and have found that Kayak is my preferred search tool when looking at the major carriers. In the last 4 years, I have not found a lower airfare on Kayak for all the major carriers than what Southwest can provide. When comparing airline costs, be sure to know all the extra fees in advance. Examples of additional fees can include checked baggage, overweight bags, airplane food and drink, early check-in, cancellations, and flight changes due to rescheduling, etc. Fourth, I am using cost generalizations. Your regional costs may be lower or higher than mine, so please adjust as necessary. Fifth, I will assume that you are staying on-property. A stay on property also includes free parking at the theme parks. If staying off property, the Walt Disney World theme park parking fee is an additional $17 and up per day. Lastly, for my equation, the total amount of people traveling is 5. (Please see the conclusion for families that are either larger or smaller than 5 total people)
So you think that Driving is better? Let’s run some numbers…
The last time I drove to WDW, I drove an 11-year-old GMC van with 70,000 miles on it. The vehicle had a 5.8 V8 and was in winter time (so the A/C was off for the majority of the trip). At that time, a full tank of gas would allow me to travel roughly 375 miles and would hold a maximum of 25 gallons of gas (though I would never let it run empty). The national gas average was much higher than it is today ($2.67), but for comparison sake, I will use a round number of $3.00 per gallon of gas.
- $120 (The basic mechanical checkup including oil change, tire inspection and rotation, wiper blade change, etc.)
- $216 (1000 miles = 3 gas tank fill-ups. 3 tank fill-ups X 24 gallons = 72 gallons X $3.00)
- $216 (You are planning a return trip…right?)
- $45 (15 gallons that are used from travel to/from the stores, other parks, etc.)
- $100 (A 1000 mile trip should take 16-20 hours. Driving straight through can be arduous. You may choose to stay overnight in a moderate hotel that can sleep 5 people.)
- $100 (You are planning a return trip…right?)
- $145 (Assuming you left at 2:00pm arrived at 10:00am the next day, your family would need to eat at least 2 meals (probably 3) plus snacks at each gas station fill-up (3). Including tax (and potentially tip if sitting down) each meal = $50. Each snack stop is $15.
- $145 (You are planning a return trip…right?)
- $50 (Other travel expenses not mentioned)
- $1,137 (So far…)
Please note that the equation above does not include some costs which are difficult to calculate. Some example of costs which are difficult to calculate include the heavy wear and tear on your vehicle, physical and emotional stress and exhaustion on the primary driver (and the rest of the family as well), sacrificing 1 vacation day both ways due to travel time, and sacrificing ½ day while on vacation due to “catching up on sleep” so you can enjoy the rest of your vacation.
So you think that Flying is better? Let’s run some numbers…
Again, I fly Southwest airlines almost exclusively. The expenses comparison data is gathered from a Chicago (Midway Airport) to Orlando (Orlando International) on a non-stop, early morning flight both ways. This also assumes use of Disney’s Magical Express bus service both to and from the airport.
- $65 (Driving your vehicle to the airport and parking in a safe location for the vacation duration.)
- $1500 (I have traveled to Orlando multiple times on Southwest with my party of 5 and never paid more than $1531 and less than $1330. This total includes all airlines costs and fees as mentioned above and represents a round-trip flight for 5 people.)
- $35 (Good luck not stopping at the airport McDonald’s on the way down to Walt Disney World)
- $35 (Orlando has one as well for your return trip)
- $1,635 (So far…)
Please note that the equation above does not include some costs which are optional. Some example of optional costs includes limo service, car rental, airport (duty-free) shopping, and the ever-present temptation to purchase nearly everything in the “Sky-Mall” magazine.
Before I get to my family’s conclusion, I wanted to help clarify some costs for families of either larger or smaller than 5 total people. When driving 1 or 10 people (assuming you own a vehicle large enough to transport your crew on a regular basis and that you wouldn’t need to rent a van for this trip alone) all costs would remain fairly similar. Your food costs may drop or raise slightly depending on the size of your family, but things like preventative maintenance and gas would remain the same. The $1,137 cost is a fairly accurate number. So if your family is larger than 5, then driving becomes a much more attractive option. If your family has 3 or 4 people, the table starts to really shift in favor of flying. Subtracting each unneeded person’s round-trip airfare would quickly reduce the bottom line cost and offer the benefit of quicker travel.
My family’s bottom line – We have driven and we have flown to Walt Disney World. For the last 4 years and the foreseeable future, we are committed flyers. We’ve learned that our time on vacation is far too precious and passes by way too quickly. We figure that the added costs of flying are more than made up in exchange for additional time spent in Walt Disney World and well-rested family members.