My grandmother has been agitating for us to come back out and visit again this year. As you well know, flying has become out of the question, so I spent a bit of time crunching the numbers on both driving and taking Amtrak. Surprisingly, Amtrak is a fairly competitive way to travel.
For comparison’s sake, let’s toss in the cost of airfare. Since Liam is way past the “infant in arms” stage (in terms of age, size, and general squirminess), we’d have to buy three plane tickets. Delta sells round-trip tickets at $441 a pop for a total of around $1325 for all three of us. We’d also have to pay to park our car for $7/day for around 10 days and buy food for at least 4 meals. The total cost of flying with all of the particulars ends up in the $1475 range, but you’re only spending a total of 7-8 hours each way.
Google estimates the drive at around 1840 miles. That puts us at around 71 gallons each way which at a cost of $3.30/gal (estimating high) comes in at around $235 for gas. Factoring in three hotel stays and food, a round trip should be in the $1900 area and take around 3 days each way, though a die-hard road warrior may be able to do it in 2.
So how does Amtrak compare? The tickets themselves are pretty cheap ($780!), but that’s just seats. If we’re going to be on a train for a few days, you can bet your sweet bippy we’d be getting a room. That jumps up to a staggering $2400+ and three solid days of travel. That sounds terrible until you start factoring in a few particulars. For one, meals are included, so there’s no extra cost there. There’s also 4-5 hours between trains in both Chicago and Washington DC, so those are some fun excursions to take along the way. In addition to this, I can telecommute by tethering with my phone, so I’m actually earning around 40% of the total cost of the trip. Once you factor all of these in, Amtrak becomes about the same cost as flying, just with no TSA agents manhandling my bits and some extra stops in cities I wouldn’t mind visiting for a few hours.
Granted, not everyone can telecommute. You might drive faster, get better mileage, accept cheaper hotels and food, and not care about the extra stops. That said, I think Amtrak is actually making a pretty good case. They’ve also got some stellar deals for folks who want to tour the country. If you want to travel and don’t want to fly, consider taking the train.