One of the most expensive items on your Disney travel budget is going to be your transportation to and from Orlando. Whether you are flying or driving, there is a lot to consider on both sides of the coin before you pull the trigger on your transportation. I wish there was a magic formula or calculator out there that could tell you definitively if you should fly or drive, but so far no genius has come up with one. That being said, I’ll walk you through what I think you should consider before you make your final decision.
I think most of you might automatically think that driving will automatically be more time consuming than flying. If you live in the Southeast corridor, you already know this isn’t the case. If you live anywhere on the east coast and even some parts of the near Midwest, you might be surprised that the time it takes to drive isn’t that much longer than flying. As someone who flew 30 roundtrip flights for her ‘day job’ this year, trust me when I say that air travel time can quickly add up. I think air travel feels faster because you often get a break with a layover or connection versus driving where you’re literally sitting down for the long haul.
You want to consider that you should be at the airport two hours before your flight is scheduled to take off. I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, and you can certainly manage with less time, but even though I have TSA pre-check, I still plan to arrive at the airport an hour and thirty minutes before my flight leaves if I’m planning to check any luggage. You don’t want to start your vacation day off being stressed out about whether or not you’re going to make it on time.
Remember that unless you’re getting dropped off at the airport, you’ll need to find parking, and if you’re flying out of a major airport, that often means taking a shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal itself. If you don’t have an e-boarding pass, neglected to print your boarding pass at home, or need to check luggage, you’re going to need factor in some waiting in line time. I’m fortunate that lines at my home airport are generally a few minutes long, but I’ve flown out of other airports where it’s taken me 30-40 minutes just to check a bag. The length of time can also be impacted by the airline you are flying and what their setup is like. You may also want to factor in time to use the restroom and grab a cup of coffee or snack before you board. The lines at an airport Starbucks easily rival any of the ones I experienced while living in Manhattan.
And don’t forget, even small regional jets start boarding 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure. Larger planes can start boarding 45 minutes to an hour before take-off.
If you live in a smaller city, or don’t have the option to fly to Orlando directly, you’ll also need to factor in time for a layover. At most airports, the shortest legal connection time between flights is 30 minutes, although depending on your airline, you might be waiting as long as 3 hours before your next flight.
Depending on the time of year, you might also consider the likelihood of weather-related delays. Keep in mind that even if the weather disturbance is nowhere near where you are travel from, to, or through, it can still be disruptive to flight patterns.
Once you arrive in Orlando, you also need to consider that if you’re renting a vehicle you’ll need to retrieve your bags from baggage claim, which can take 20-30 minutes and MCO there will be another line at the rental counter to get your vehicle (which can be lengthy depending on the time of year you travel) and then need to drive to your resort.
If you’re planning to take the Magical Express, keep in mind that while it is magical (at least to me), it is not Express. Plan for at least an hour from the time your flight lands until you’re arriving at your resort. Keep in mind that the Magical Express stops at more than one resort. Depending on where in that order your resort falls, this option might take even longer.
To use me as an example, it’s going to take me a total of 9 hours from the time I leave my house to head to the airport, to when I estimate I’ll be arriving at my Disney Resort. If I drove, it would take me 18 hours. While that is double the time, if I had a large family, and factored in the enormous cost savings, that extra 9 hours may not be a huge deal to me, especially if there was someone to share in the driving responsibility.
If you’ve flown in the last few years, then nothing I’m about to share with you is likely to be ground breaking or earth shattering. Before purchasing airfare, you’ll want to consider the ‘real’ price of your ticket which is rarely the price that is displayed when you purchase your ticket online.
Depending on your airline, the initial rate displayed when you complete your search may not include taxes and fees, which can drastically increase your price depending on the initial price of your ticket, the number of connections and your departure and arrival airports.
Most airlines now operate on an ‘a la carte’ pricing model instead of all inclusive pricing like they have offered in the past. If you don’t know what to look for or expect, you’ll experience some sticker shock on your travel day.
Unless you’re flying on JetBlue or Southwest, have elite airline status or an airline credit card, you’re going to pay for any luggage that is checked. Fees for your first checked bag will be approximately $25 and your second checked bag will start at about $35. Always check with your airline directly for their exact luggage fees.
If you want a specific seat, like an exit row seat, window or aisle seat, many airlines charge a premium seat fee for these options. If you have elite airline status, these preferred seats may be available to you for no, or a reduced, additional cost.
If you need or want priority boarding – important to those who plan to carry-on their luggage and don’t want to gate check their bag – or those flying on Southwest who wish to sit together as a group, you’ll have to pay an additional fee for that, unless you have elite status or have purchased a seat upgrade. Are you sensing a trend here?
And unfortunately, if you’re traveling with children over the age of 2, they don’t fly free, or even discounted. If you’re taking up a seat, no matter how little of the seat you’re occupying, you’re paying the full cost for it.
Most airlines continue to offer complimentary water, juice and soft drinks and light snacks such as a bag of peanuts or pretzels. If you need something more substantial, you may want to skip their snack boxes (ranging in price from $10-$18) and load up on sundries at the airport before you board, or better yet, bring them from home. You’ll stay a premium price buying snacks at the airport, but snack boxes, in my humble opinion, are the biggest rip off the airlines have going currently. #NotWorthIt. Most airlines have completely done away with complimentary meal service on domestic flights, unless you are flying in First Class.
If you’re considering driving some costs you’ll want to consider maintenance costs if you’re planning on driving your own vehicle or the cost of a rental car. You’ll want to factor in the cost of gas, road tolls, meals while you’re on the road and intermediate hotel stays (depending on the length of your drive). One of the best ways to estimate your fuel cost is to use the Trip Cost Calculator at Gas Buddy here.
Consider the added convenience of having your own vehicle while you’re in Disney. If you’re staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel, self-parking is complimentary at your resort and the theme parks.
And while it’s closely related to price, the last thing to consider when deciding if you should fly or drive is:
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Is – And Yes, I’m Talking About Spirit and Allegiant
If you take only one thing away from this post, I hope it is to avoid the oh so very tempting rock bottom fares that Spirit and Allegiant offer. Seriously, just don’t do it. You work so hard for your money and for your time off work to go on this trip. You spend months planning the perfect trip for your family. Don’t gamble it on these airlines. I’m not joking, I’m not being dramatic, and you will find people out there who tell you Spirit and Allegiant are the greatest thing to happen to them. They’re just lucky.
First, let’s talk about their fees. In a study completed by IdeaWorks and originally appearing in USA Today, it was determined that 40% – that’s Forty. Freaking. Percent. of Spirit’s revenue came from FEES. The FEES they collected were only a few percentage points less than the revenue they collected from the actual airfare. So, in short, take the price you are looking at on your screen and DOUBLE it to find out what your ‘real’ cost will be.
When it comes to luggage there are 28 (Yes, that’s a two, followed by an eight) different luggage fees depending on when and how you pay. I mean – come. on. How flipping ridiculous is that. If you’re carrying on anything other than a purse, you’re paying for it. It’s actually MORE expensive to carry on a bag than it is to check one. Carry-on bag fees range from $35-$100. $35 if you pay your fee at the time you book your ticket, $45 if you pay during online check-in, $55 at the airport and $100 at the gate. Your first checked bag will range from $30-$100, again depending on where and how you pay. Every other major airline carrier allows checked luggage to be up to 50 pounds with no fee. Spirit only gives you up to 40 points. If you go over 40, you’ll take on an additional $30-$150 depending on how far overweight or over size your bag is.
If you can’t, or forget to print your boarding pass at home? You’ll be paying a $10 per person fee for the airline representative to do it for you.
Want a soft drink on your flight? There’s a fee for that.
Want to recline your seat? Can’t do that because there isn’t room to do it. I’m not being sarcastic – Spirit’s seats don’t recline.
Want to sit next to your children? You need to pay up to $50 (per person!) to do that. Want a window seat or an aisle seat? You’re paying up to $50 for that, or have to chance it at check-in.
Want Wifi? Can’t, not even with a fee.
While their fees are already ridiculous, the worst thing about flying Spirit or Allegiant is how things are handled in the event of a weather delay or mechanical failure.
You have to consider that they may be operating only one flight a day into your location. Allegiant is even more stringent, sometimes only operating 2 or 3 flights a WEEK. If there is a delay on the other end or a mechanical issue, there is no ‘back up’ plane they can put you on. Spirit and Allegiant do not have codeshare partnerships with other airlines to rebook you. That means if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you need to wait for the next Spirit or Allegiant flight, along with everyone else. You have to consider you might be stranded or delayed a day or two if things go south.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.
What’s your favorite Disney-related travel tip?