Family Road Trip: The Cheapest Way to Travel

A family of four traveling from Washington, D.C., to Boston for a holiday weekend faces a range of options: air, train, bus and car. But which one is best? Robert Siegel measures the cost of traveling for two adults and two teens and learns that, despite higher prices at the pump, gassing up the car is still a bargain.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, assuming for a moment that you actually do get on a plane and there's no delay, air travel has the advantage of being very fast.

However, there still are many competing ways of getting from point to point. And we wondered in these days of record high gasoline prices, is gasoline so expensive that it might actually be cost-effective to fly? And so we imagined the hypothetical trip for hypothetical family of four going from Washington, D.C., to Boston one-way. So we started out by calling up Jeanenne Diefendorf(ph) at Orbitz.

Ms. JEANENNE DIEFENDORF (Orbitz): Okay. Right now, there are fares round trip from Washington to Boston from $133.

SIEGEL: Five hundred twenty, round trip, $260 one-way for the family, add on the cab fares at either end - about $350, we'd fly that weekend.

Ms. DIEFENDORF: That's correct.

SIEGEL: Well, I'm going to say then that at least flying up to Boston with our hypothetical family of four from Washington and getting to the airport and then getting from the airport would be somewhere one-way around $400.

Ms. DIEFENDORF: You could safely say that.

SIEGEL: Well, Janine Diefendorf of Orbitz, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Ms. DIEFENDORF: Thanks for having me.

JULIE: Hi. I'm Julie, Amtrak's automated agent...

SIEGEL: Hi, Julie.

JULIE: I invite you to visit our Web site. Okay. Let's get started.

SIEGEL: Okay? I'm sorry.

JULIE: I think you said you want to hear that again. Is that correct?

SIEGEL: I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to interrupt, Julie.

JULIE: My mistake. Please say the departure city and state again.

SIEGEL: Washington, D.C., Union Station.

JULIE: And what's the arrival city?

SIEGEL: Boston South Station.

JULIE: How many passengers will be traveling?

SIEGEL: Four.

JULIE: I've pulled up the one-way total for three adults and one child. Coach class will cost a total of $472.50.

SIEGEL: Julie, thank you very much.

JULIE: Sorry, I didn't understand.

SIEGEL: That was Julie, the automated voice of Amtrak. And as you heard, the key number there was $472 for our hypothetical family of four to go from Washington to Boston one-way. We're going to throw in some cheaper cab fares this time because the train stations are more centrally located.

So it's about $500 and that is $100 more expensive than the $400 we got flying from Washington to Boston. So far, air travel cheaper than the train on this trip.

GRACIE(ph): Hi. Thanks for calling Greyhound. I'm Gracie, your virtual travel consultant. For buses leaving from Washington, D.C., press one.

SIEGEL: Here we are.

GRACIE: Now, I need to know the state the bus is going to.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GRACIE: Okay. There's a lot of states to choose from.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

GRACIE: Please press the key on your telephone keypad that contains the first letter of the state you are going to.

SIEGEL: M.

GRACIE: For buses going to Massachusetts, press one.

SIEGEL: There we are.

GRACIE: For buses going to Boston, Massachusetts, press one. Okay.

SIEGEL: Okay.

GRACIE: To hear how much the trip costs, press two. Washington, D.C. to Boston, Massachusetts, the fare is $77.

SIEGEL: And that $77 one-way for our family of four, it's about $300. And to get to the bus terminal, we'll throw in an extra $25, say, $325. So, so far, it's $325 by bus, $400 by plane and $500 by train.

Mr. JOHN TOWNSEND (Manager, AAA): And by car, it is $70.40 for fuel, tolls it's $25.60...

SIEGEL: Now, I should introduce you. This is John Townsend from AAA. And Mr. Townsend, it's just a bit under $100 one-way by car.

Mr. TOWNSEND: Right.

SIEGEL: Now that's $70 in fuel assuming current record high gasoline prices?

Mr. TOWNSEND: That's true.

SIEGEL: And how much mileage per gallon?

Mr. TOWNSEND: Twenty-two gallons of fuel one-way.

SIEGEL: Twenty-two gallons of fuel one-way.

Mr. TOWNSEND: And there's 453 miles.

SIEGEL: So you're assuming a car that gets about...

Mr. TOWNSEND: Twenty miles per gallon.

SIEGEL: Twenty miles per gallon. If gasoline costs $10 a gallon, $220 plus $25 for the tolls, the cost by car would still be $250 or considerably cheaper than train, plane or bus.

Mr. TOWNSEND: True. So the best deal around will be to travel by car.

SIEGEL: This, of course, explains why even though the trains and planes and buses may be crowded, it will be bumper to bumper on the New Jersey turnpike and up on I-95 over the weekend because gasoline would have to cost something like $15 a gallon before it was truly more expensive for the family of four to drive.

Mr. TOWNSEND: And that's why you see 32 billion people traveling by vehicle this weekend.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Townsend, thank you very much.

Mr. TOWNSEND: Thank you, Mr. Siegel.

SIEGEL: It's John Townsend from AAA. We also spoke with Janine Diefendorf from Orbitz and, of course, Julie from Amtrak and Gracie from Greyhound.

(Soundbite of music)

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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