Updated on 06.18.08

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Flying Costs Come Home to Roost Edition

Trent Hamm

For quite a while, my wife and children and I have been planning a trip to Seattle this summer. We have family there and were planning on getting a hotel room, visiting lots of people, and taking our two year old up on Mount Rainier and out to the ocean. We’ve been trying to schedule a weekend for the trip that works for everyone involved, and just a few days ago, we figured out what would work.

I log onto a few travel websites, start looking for flight prices… and almost choked. $1,600 just to fly out there? The era of flying relatively cheaply is over, it seems.

Instead, after figuring up gas mileage costs for everyone, we’re actually planning on visiting Colorado and/or southern Montana on a car trip this summer. We’re going to stay in the cabin of an acquaintance for a few days (I believe) somewhere in Colorado and perhaps camp a few places as well. Much, much cheaper, since our car is actually very good for gas mileage.

For the first time, our life choices are being directly affected by high oil prices. Before this, we felt the pinch but hadn’t made changes in our plans because of it. The reality is hitting close to home, I guess.

Here are some personal finance articles of interest to read.

How to Save $1,300 in Less than Two Hours by Shopping Around for Car Insurance If you’ve never shopped around for car insurance, this is really good advice. We recently switched car insurance and saved a few hundred dollars a year. (@ free money finance)

75 Tips to Survive a Down Economy Lots of good little tips in there. I’m all in favor of cloth napkins – we are slowly excising paper towels and napkins from our home. (@ frugal dad)

How to Be a Hypermiler For a while, I was doing this for fun, seeing how high I could get my gas mileage by driving in particular ways. I was shocked how big of a difference little things like removing a sandbag from the back of my truck or airing up my tires could make. (@ gather little by little)

Credit and Debit Card Blocks at the Pump Whenever you use a debit or credit card to pay at the pump, your credit card company puts a “hold” on a portion of the funds that can stay in place for many days. This can cause over-limit fees and so on. The best tactic? Simply don’t use cards at the pump that are close to the edge in terms of balance. (@ master your card)

The Greatest Frugal Generation The battles fought in Europe during World War II have been often lauded, but the frugal choices on the home front made them possible. We can learn a lot from it. (@ personal finance advice)

Buying a Cheap Gas Guzzler May Backfire We’ve reached a point where fuel costs are a serious part of the car-buying equation. A cheap car that drinks gas like it’s going out of style isn’t a big savings. (@ mighty bargain hunter)

A Fully Funded Roth IRA at Age Eighteen Could Net You $3.5 Million That’s a lot of money. Take a look at the figures. (@ no credit needed)

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  1. Megan says:

    I just recently purchased plane tickets to fly to my hometown for Christmas. I’m flying solo, and I choked at the prices. Of course, I expect holiday prices to be high, but most of the tickets were over $650, and the times/connections were awful.

    Thankfully, I managed to get a flight using reward miles. Not the best times, of course, but for the price I paid (just taxes), I’ll take it.

  2. NCN says:

    Thanks for the link-love…
    My folks need to fly from Florida to Ohio next month.. and I was shocked by how expensive their tickets will be. It looks like the rise of oil prices, the high price of insurance, and the costs associated with providing more security are beginning to really, really add up.

  3. I heard a news commentator this morning say, “The era of air travel for the masses is over.” Unfortunately, this was on my clock radio as I was still half asleep, so I didn’t get the guy’s name.

    I think that’s a pretty hyperbolic statement and I don’t agree with it completely. However, I have to admit that I opted out of a trip to Las Vegas this summer because the plane ticket would have cost twice what I paid just a couple of years ago. It’s not fun to spend all of your vacation money on the flight and have to eat Ramen in your (dinghy)hotel room because of it!

  4. Flea says:

    The answer to oil prices is to regulate oil speculation. Buying oil futures on a 5% margin is very attractive. Brokerage houses are throwing there money into them and driving up prices.


  5. Eden says:

    $1,600 to fly? You must fly first class. :)

    That’s crazy. I’ve never paid more than a couple of hundred dollars for a flight (per person). I suppose prices could get nutty for a while, but they obviously won’t last if people decide *not* to fly.

  6. CBus says:

    Sorry to hear about the high fuel costs finally hitting home. I experienced dismay when Skybus stopped flying 2 weeks before my scheduled vacation. We went anyway, but tickets had increased in price significantly.

    But as far as gasoline goes, when I use my card, I always ensure that I use it at the pumps that are appropriately proportioned in terms of weight distribution.

    …certainly not those close to the edge in terms of balance. ;)

  7. PF says:

    Get the colorado vacation guide at

    It’s really helpful. I always get one and I live here!

    Email me if you want any planning help.

  8. Frugal Dad says:

    Nice roundup, Trent, and thanks for including my article. Sounds like either destination would make for a nice vacation, but I agree with you – those plane tickets are scary! I confess to being partial to the Pacific Northwest – the scenery and cooler temperatures sound quite nice with our temps topping out around 100 degrees here lately!

  9. Brandon says:

    A similar thing happened to me earlier this summer. I had to go on a business trip to Orlando, and so my wife and I thought it would be great for her and our 8 month old son to come along. At night we could go to Disney World and all those places together. My plane ticket, hotel and rental car would already be paid for by my employer, so “all” we needed to buy was a plane ticket for my wife. Just one plane ticket from Anchorage to Orlando was a little over $1000, so needless to say, I went on that trip alone.

  10. Troy says:

    Hey Trent:

    I noticed something recently that you might want to dedicate an entire post to: extrapolating out the cost of everything to a longer term to actually see the true cost.

    Many times we have been conditioned to see the cost of something per day, or per hour, or the weekly or monthly costs.

    I extrapolate everything out to an annual cost. Suddenly small benign expenses seem to add up to sizeable amounts when viewed as an annual amount.

    Cable is $1K annually
    10 miles per gallon better is close to 1K annually
    saving just a few dollars here and there each day adds up to thousands of dollars each year, which for many people is a large percentage of their annual income.

    Great work on the site. Thanks

  11. Amanda says:

    I just drove to Montana instead of flying because of the high prices on tickets.

    When in the Seattle Area you should try to go out to the San Juans. Cheapest way is to camp and there are many camp sites.. To beautiful to miss there are many free things to do on the islands as well.

  12. We live on the gulf coast in one of the heaviest vacation spots in the country, and we can definitely see the effects here. There does seem to be a slow down in the volume of vacationers. It seems like things really are starting to hit home. Although, it’s kind of nice for us here. We can “vacation at home” a bit more.

  13. Jen says:

    You can still find SOME airline deals. My husband wanted to take us all to MN and found tickets for $220 per person. We still couldn’t hack that, but that is a pretty low fare considering we live all the way down South. You don’t see those kind of deals too often now though.

  14. "Mo" Money says:

    I will be vacationing locally. Driveing a short distance and going to places of interest locally.

  15. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “$1,600 to fly? You must fly first class. :)”

    You haven’t looked at prices lately. $400 a pop to fly from Des Moines to Seattle, and I’ve got a family of four.

  16. Chad @ Sentient Money says:

    The high cost of plane tickets are the result of two factors; high oil prices and the realization by the airlines that their previous business model sucks. It’s going to be awful hard to get airlines to drop prices back to pre-credit/pre-oil crisis levels.

  17. Kacie says:

    Don’t babies fly free? Or at least half price?

    Maybe that’s a thing of the past as well.

  18. Julie says:

    Wouldn’t this fall under your “saving for priorities” category? Didn’t you write a post about that…maybe it was someone else. We go overseas to visit family each year and pay $1500 PER TICKET! But, it’s important to us and something we sacrifice in other areas in order to manage it. We are a family of 3 soon to be 4, so believe me, it hurts. But, we talk about it at length every year and we are all close our family over there, so it’s always worth it. Luckily though we don’t have to spend any on accomodation and little on food. And we had 2 free tickets from miles (from our American Advantage credit card which we charge everything on to accumulate miles) this year which was really nice!

  19. Julie says:

    Oh yeah, and we most certainly do NOT buy anything other than coach…Australia is just expensive to get to. :)

  20. Andy says:

    See ya in Colorado! Thats our destination this summer, too, toward the end of June. We live in Kansas, so its not too far.

  21. Valerie says:

    I fly to Des Moines several times a year from the East coast and I find there are rarely any good deals because there is not much competition at the airport and no low cost carriers (to my knowledge). I am going there this weekend: $500 round trip. I could have saved some money had I gone with less convenient travel times but I wanted make the most of my time out there.

  22. margo says:

    Trent, I think Eden misunderstood and thought you meant $1,600 per ticket. Which is, hahasigh, still cheaper than first class, probably.

  23. Wow! You have some solid resources here. The 75 tips post is amazing. I’ll have to share that one with friends. Thanks!

  24. Shevy says:

    Don’t babies fly free? Or at least half price?
    Maybe that’s a thing of the past as well.

    The last few times I flew with a baby or toddler I had to buy a ticket for her to sit in her car seat in a separate seat. I believe the time she was 4 mos old and I flew cross-country to a wedding I had the option to check the car seat and hold her in my lap, but 5 hours with an infant in your lap is pretty rough even not considering safety issues.

  25. Rick says:

    Well, Trent, Colorado is my home state. If you come here I might like to meet you. I’ve been reading your blog almost since it started, and you just seem like a great guy.

  26. MES says:

    We live in the Seattle area, so we have the ocean and all those lovely mountains at our fingertips. Sorry you’re going to miss out! Colorado sounds like a fabulous 2nd choice.

    Since the arrival of our 2.5 year old, and with the impending arrival of a new baby, we feel the air travel crunch too. Not just the base price of tickets, but also the new limitations on baggage. I try all the time to get great-grandma to understand that she could visit us 4 times for the price we would pay to visit her once. Plus she can stay longer than we would be able to.

  27. MVP says:

    Um, $400 is a bargain. I fly from Washington state (usually a smaller airport or Portland, Ore.) to Michigan a couple times a year to visit family and have always paid at least $400 for each ticket every time. I’m sure from now on, it’s going to cost far more, but get used to it. The key is budgeting for vacations. We came to the realization long ago that once kids come along, we’re going to really have to save up money if we ever want them to know their grandparents 3,000 miles away.

    We’re driving rather than flying to Colo. for a summer vacation in a couple weeks. It’s likely going to cost us far less than flying, even with the high gas prices and car rental. And I’m thrilled we won’t have to deal with any airport hassles.

  28. Erin says:

    $400/seat is quite reasonable these days, especially for those of us the “fly-over states” where there’s not much competition from major carriers (I’m in PA). I have to say, though, while I understand you needed to coordinate plans – even in GOOD economic times there is simply no way to get a good deal on tickets unless you buy in advance (i.e., months in advance). Even buying in advance and then paying a fee to change dates, if necessary, generally comes out ahead of buying only days or weeks ahead of the event. Also: isn’t your youngest child under 2? Why would you pay for a separate seat for her?

    If you get a chance…Could you talk a little bit about what factors *other than price* went into your decision? Obviously, long car rides with young children (especially a breastfeeding infant) are no walk in the park, and now you’re not going to be seeing your family in Seattle. (I’m also assuming that you’re not going to be saving *that* much now that gas prices are over $4/gallon throughout much of the West.) What factors in favor of visiting Colorado outweighed the convenience/family factors of the original Seattle trip? DH and I are planning a trip sometime later this summer and are weighing these factors ourselves, so any input would be appreciated!

  29. Aaron says:

    Yeah, it really sucks. The wife and I will be traveling to Leadville, CO in august for a mountain bike race. We checked plane ticket prices and *almost* died. It was going to be over $1000. Then, we’ve got to pay extra for the bike (both ways) AND we’d have to rent a car to get around.

    Needless to say, we’re driving now.

  30. Forget Colorado…. come to Montana!! If you can hit Butte in mid-July you can attend the National Folklife Festival.

    And if you need some ideas about frugal car travel with tots just ask.

  31. I know the US has some high gas costs right now but just imagine how it is in other countries. This is why they have been involved in mass transit for years. We Americans are now finally deciding it is too much to have our own cars and necessity creates change. It will be interesting to see how this changes things.



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  32. Elizabeth says:

    I have always heard that flying takes more fuel (or at least creates more emissions) per passenger than driving — I guess now that fuel costs are higher, the tradeoff is more obvious.

  33. Jessica says:

    That’s interesting…I have family in Seattle and when I did a search for tickets I came up with fares for $200-$250. Then again, I’d be flying out of Chicago, and I did it as a flexible date search.

    Another reason why I want to travel more before having kids.

  34. Madelaine says:

    We’re going to Seattle, but we bought tickets during a sale back in January.

    Flying to Seattle in the summer always seems expensive to me. It’s a really looong drive, though.

  35. Sharon says:

    Be sure to hit the McDonald’s on the interstates and pick up a lodging coupon book. You can save a substantial amount. Some Welcome Centers have them, but the McDonald’s are more reliable.

    Also, in the morning, be sure to figure out how far you will go and make a reservation for that evening. The coupon book hotels usually won’t make a reservation but if you travel late it can literally be a lifesaver. Falling asleep while driving can take out the whole family.

    And be sure to stop in at Pueblo! We have a great little city here. If you plan to visit, Trent, e-mail me and I’ll introduce you to my family. Bring Milkbones!

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