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Rock, paper, scissors: The road trip, including an Uber, beats flying in a lot of cases for shorter holiday trips in December 2014. Still, under many scenarios, we'd prefer to see you at Gate A11.

U.S. airlines have been adverse to passing along fuel savings to travelers in the form of reduced airfares, and with gasoline prices at their lowest in three years, travelers will find that it is much cheaper to drive than to fly over the Christmas break to certain destinations, especially for distances around 2,500 miles or less.

Conversely, for longer trips such as Chicago to Phoenix or Miami to Chicago, it can be cheaper to fly than to drive or the difference isn’t much this Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza season.

Of course this is all based on purchasing just one flight ticket. If a group or family is purchasing three, four or more airline tickets, then the cost savings to drive would skew more dramatically toward the automobile.

“I found there are several factors in play, and they all influence the equation, including price of gas, rising airfares as we get closer to the holidays, major hubs versus secondary airports and, of course, who’s flying there,” says Brian Ek, the travel editor of, which crunched the fly versus drive numbers. “However, all-in, 2,500 miles roundtrip appears to be the current tipping point when flying becomes cheaper than driving.”

There are lots of other things to consider in drive versus fly decisions over the upcoming holiday break, including time on the road or in the air, traffic, tolls and the family traveling-together road trip experience.

And, oh yes, the chorus of kids in the back seat screaming, “Are we there yet?” would be a consideration, as well.

But with gasoline prices nationwide averaging $2.84 per gallon, the lowest since November 2010 according to a Lundberg survey, the drive vacation comes increasingly into play.

Here’s a sample breakdown, according to

Destinations Cheaper to Drive Than to Fly for the Holidays

Itinerary Miles Gallons Gas Cost Best Airfare
Boston-New York 428 18 $51.12 $170
Las Vegas-San Diego 664 27 $76.68 $249
Los Angeles-San Francisco 766 31 $88.04 $140
Chicago-Pittsburgh 624 37 $105.08 $266
Washington D.C.-Atlanta 1278 52 $147.68 $224

Destinations Cheaper or Similar to Fly Than To Drive for the Holidays

Itinerary Miles Gallons Gas Cost Best Airfare
Chicago-Phoenix 3604 144 $408.96 $363
Los Angeles-Chicago 4038 162 $460.08 $492
Las Vegas-Dallas 2472 99 $281.16 $206
Phoenix-Atlanta 3696 148 $420.32 $342
Miami-Chicago 2754 111 $315.24 $300

Thus, excluding factors such as tolls and the cost of a taxi to the airport or parking, an individual could save around $120 driving from Boston to New York ($51.12 for gas) instead of taking a flight ($170).

And for a group of three or so, it would be cheaper to take an Uber than to fly. An Uber app estimate today pegs the fare from the center of Boston to New York Penn Station at $278 to $370. (The rate doesn’t take into account the possibility of Uber surge pricing over the holiday period.)

When you consider that you can fit four or five people in a car instead of paying for four or five airfares, then the savings multiplies.

On the other hand, a Phoenix to Altanta flight ($342) for an individual flyer would amount to a savings of around $122 compared with the cost of gas to drive ($420.32).

Again, you’d have to factor in how many flight tickets you’d need to purchase for the trip versus driving together to the destination.

While airlines generally haven’t shared savings from their lower fuel costs this holiday season with their customers, and fares usually rise around the holidays, Ek of Priceline points out that airfares this Christmas holiday season are essentially flat compared with last year, although in 2012 they rose around 3 percent compared with 2011.

To calculate the gas prices and airfares, assumed vehicles were getting around 25 miles per gallon at $2.84 per gallon, the national average. Airfares were estimated based on flights departing December 22 and returning December 30.

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Tags: holiday travel, priceline

Photo credit: Highway 1 in California. Thibault Martin-Lagardette / Flickr

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