Subscribe

Don’t give up the car just yet: Most of the time, it’s just about the cheapest way to get where you want to go.

Even at almost $3.28 a gallon for regular gas at AAFES, it costs more to fly a family to many major European destinations than it does to drive.

The main reason for this has to do, in a way, with butts.

In a car, the cost of driving from one place to another is about the same regardless of how many butts are inside. In a plane each butt is charged to take a seat. The same goes for trains — when they are running. German rail workers have threatened open-ended strikes if they don’t get a pay raise.

Take, for example, a round trip to Amsterdam from Kaiserslautern, Germany. That trip is about 305 miles one way, according to MapQuest.com. The average U.S. auto gets about 20 miles to the gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so it would take 30½ gallons of gas to get there and back, on average. At the current price of regular gas — $3.278 per gallon at Army and Air Force Exchange Service in Germany — that works out to about $100.

And it’s $100 pretty much regardless of how many people are in the car or how much baggage they have.

By plane it’s a different story.

According to SatoTravel, the cheapest round-trip flight from the nearest major airport, Frankfurt, leaving Dec. 14 and coming back Dec. 17, is 16 euros per person — plus taxes.

“That’s where they get you,” said Ann Strawhorn, the advertising and promotions manager for SatoTravel in Heidelberg. Taxes add about 100 euros to the price, she said, bringing the total to about $171 per person.

For a family of four, that’s $684. Gas would have to skyrocket to more than $22.40 per gallon before it would be as economical to fly. For someone making the trip alone, gas would have to rise above $5.60 a gallon before it’s thriftier.

By train the outlook is a bit better. A single person traveling by train from Kaiserslautern to Amsterdam on Dec. 14 and returning Dec. 17 would pay 108 euros — or $160 — for the trip. A family of four gets a better deal. For them, it’s just 153 euros — or $226 — round trip for the whole group.

Travel by train, though, isn’t always as cheap as you might think, Strawhorn said.

For example, a Dec. 14-17 train trip from Kaiserslautern to Rome — some 764 miles away according to MapQuest — was priced Tuesday by Sato at 393 euros ($581) for one adult. The same trip by plane was priced at 118 euros ($174) including taxes, Strawhorn said.

Though there is some discount for a family of four traveling by train to Rome, it doesn’t beat flying.

But here’s a surprise: Even though they would have to buy most of their gas at Italian or Swiss prices, it would be more economical for a family of four to drive to Rome that weekend than it would be to take a train or fly.

In an average car, it would take roughly 76.4 gallons of gas to get to Rome and back from Kaiserslautern. Assuming the family would have to buy all but their first tank — roughly 14 gallons — at European prices (about $7.46 per gallon) they’d still spend just about $510 for gas there and back.

By train they would spend 786 euros ($1,162), and by plane they would have to shell out $696, according to Strawhorn.

Of course, there are more options available outside Sato.

“It pays to shop and look around,” Strawhorn said.

That same weekend, discount airline Ryanair offers round-trip flights from Frankfurt-Hahn airport to Rome for about 178 euro ($263) for a family of four. Even with four days of parking at Frankfurt-Hahn’s long-term lot (28 euros), that’s still cheaper than driving.

Deutsche Bahn, the German train system, has some bargain-basement fares of its own that make train travel more attractive.

The “Happy Weekend Ticket,” for example, costs 33 euros ($48.78) each way and takes up to five people anywhere in Germany they want to go as long as they stay on local trains and travel only on the weekend. The downside is local trains are slower than cars, and, unless you’re going farther than Munich, still more expensive.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up