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Driving or flying for Thanksgiving? Costs, inconveniences to consider

November 22, 2013|By Catharine M. Hamm, Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • You could drive to your destination (cheaper, takes longer) or fly (expensive and crowded). Which is right for you?
You could drive to your destination (cheaper, takes longer) or fly (expensive… (Plane photo by Luis Sinco/Los…)

Gasoline prices have fallen to $3.585 a gallon in the Los Angeles area, good news for Thanksgiving travelers driving to their destinations. Or you could be flying, and paying about $407 for a ticket. Which to choose? Here are some factors to consider.

You’ll be paying about 40 cents less per gallon of gas this year than last, the Auto Club of Southern California reported Thursday. The record high price was $4.705 on Oct. 9, 2012, the club said.

If you choose to fly, domestic airfares for Thanksgiving are averaging $407, Priceline reported this week. (They’re about $43 more for Christmas.)

You'll have plenty of company. Airlines for America, an airline industry advocacy group, projects that 25 million people will fly during the Thanksgiving holiday, which it counts as Friday (today) through Dec. 3. That’s about a 1.5% increase from 2012.

If trends continue this year, more people will be packed into a plane: Through the first eight months of the year, domestic flights have averaged 84% full, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Given a choice between an expensive, packed flight and a less expensive but potentially packed car, which is the better deal? Depends on your tolerance for pressing the flesh, as it were, especially if it’s the flesh of someone you’re not related to.

Here’s one more tool to help you decide whether to fly or drive, whether it’s during the holidays or any time. The government maintains a gas mileage calculation tool that can give you your approximate cost.

It tells me, for instance, that if I were to drive from Los Angeles to, say, Phoenix in a car that gets 34 mpg, the fuel for that 375-mile trip would cost a little more than $78 round trip.

The best ticket price I could find on Thursday on Kayak was $390 from LAX to Phoenix on US Airways.

The big drawback to driving: Google says the car trip would take five hours and 20 minutes; the flight time for the air trip is 1 hour and 13 minutes.

There's always the train, of course. Drawback: Amtrak doesn't go to Phoenix. If you left Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, you to go Flagstaff (10 hours and 21 minutes), get off the next morning, and take the bus to Phoenix (three hours and 10 minutes). Best fare found on Thursday for Nov. 27-Dec. 1 (actually Dec. 2, because the return is overnight): $288.

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