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Is it “really” worth it to drive to a cheaper airport nearby? I am “done” with Chicago ORD!

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hello gridlock – I hate thee!

Normally I book tickets way out. Well, at least a number of weeks in advance. When I fly I am spending my own money and do not have a corporate expense account (good for you if you can fly and let someone else pay). The bottom line is I pay close attention to the price of any trip I take and that goes for when I am spending cash or spending points.

This past week I popped down for the grand opening of the new Delta B Sky Club. I had booked tickets a while back but due to a number of circumstances I had to cancel my original tickets and book, to me, almost last minute. Prices out of my home town airport of SBN (less than an hour from my home) were just crazy for ~2 hour CRJ200 ride down to ATL and back. It was the same when from many of my fall back airports. But Chicago was still totally reasonable (thank you competition). But there is always a cost going to Chicago as you can see from the 6AM traffic situation.

Old school IFE (but working)

Now the reason I have, in the past, really liked Chicago ORD is: 1) The price. 2) Mostly mainline jet a.k.a. no CRJ200s. 3) As a Diamond I almost always upgrade. 4) They have a Sky Club. 5) There are many choices of flights.

That is one neat Sky Club ATL

On this trip, on my cheap coach fare, I did upgrade each way. But there was a cost to this little drive to the windy city. The traffic was horrible. I made it to Chicago in record time and then drove 5-15 miles per hour from the city out to the airport. There were no wrecks is was just idiots merging badly that slowed it all down to a crawl. It took so long I almost missed my flight and it would have been the first time I had ever done this (due to my fault that is). I have been very close once before, but this time I thought for sure I would not make it.

Ever walk from concourse to concourse in ATL? Neat right?

I ran / walked up to the gate as the 1st class boarding had begun. I did not have breakfast in the Sky Club as I had planned and I could not park at a discount lot as I did not have time to shuttle. So I paid the $17/ day “economy” parking to tram to terminal quickly.


My return was much delayed due to first a mechanical issue with my jet and then followed by hours of ATC delays (not Delta’s fault). That did give me some time to have a bite at THE CLUB at ATL.


As well as an overly sweet sparkling wine for dessert. But had I not chosen to fly into Chicago I would have likely been home much sooner as ground holds are much less common to any of my Midwest airports nearby.

Classy! Not 1st class feet!

And then we had the ride home. Yes, I was in first. But when we landed after the long ATC delays we took 45 minutes to taxi to our gate. Yes, driving around on the tarmac in ORD took almost as long as the flight itself from ATL to ORD. Ugg.

So while I did pay 1/3 the price for my ticket, once you add back in gas, tolls and parking it was more like 50% of the price.

I know time is money and, when things work well, it does not really take that much longer for me to pop over to Chicago. But when things go wrong no amount of money is worth the savings and I am feeling done with ORD. I guess I would love your feedback. Is it worth it to you to save big sums of money on airline tickets if it means driving to an airport an hour or two away from home? – René

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. Great post for discussion, which I am sure will be passionate.

    For myself, I love my hometown airport ATW. Even with MKE nearby the price difference doesn’t make up for the inconvenience of a 1.5 hour drive there and back. Many flights have first class and as long as I book ahead of the window I typically will get an upgrade on a Monday. Now the majority of my flying is on OPM, yet checking flight pricing typically far out there is little difference in fares and close in the difference is offset by the added cost of time. When flying on my own dime, time is a factor again along with ease. Finally, the only way to keep great flight options at a smaller airport is to use it, and so I always do!

  2. the only time I consider the 3 hour drive to ORD or MDW is when it saves me a LOT of money. I’m less than an hour from MLI and PIA and it’s sure hard to beat PIA as an airport. Sadly it means the CRJ200, but is not usually much more expensive to fly from my regional. Many times it’s cheaper. In 2014 I did drive to ORD to save $5000 on my ticket to Sweden. I call that amount ‘worth it’!

  3. Hey Rene…
    There are so many factors that go into deciding where and when (and who) to fly.
    LaGuardia is around 17 miles from my house. 20-25 minutes with no traffic; an hour to 90 minutes during rush hour. So I try to fly on Saturday whenever possible. Lower rates, no traffic, shorter time waiting to take off, less crowed Sky Club, decent chance for a Platinum to get upgraded, easy parking (if I don’t take a car service), short TSA pre-check lines, etc.
    The one thing I really HATE at LaGuardia is when you have to take a bus to the plane; just so annoying.

    • @Steve – Thanks! I would think with NYC you have so many choices with 3 massive airports near the city and city area.

  4. Renee, I did the same thing with MDT/BWI/DCA/IAD. MDT was closest and had no traffic, but meant smaller planes and more price. Fortunately, award tickets out of MDT were quite abundant. So I let my FF status lapse and flew on award tickets for 90% of the year.
    Also I paid to park infront of the airport when running that late. $20/day more and 10 minutes saved before a flight can make the difference between catching it and missing it. Infact, you could have had breakfast after all.

  5. Rene, I live in Sacramento and frequently it’s a better flight to go out of San Francisco. The traffic can be terrible – and I mean really bad during rush hour or holidays. I’ve gotten to the point where I drive down during the easy hours the evening before and pick up a hotel stay by the airport. I know that is additional cost, but frequently if you shop around it’s not bad. I use the extra time for working and since I write an armature blog on the side I can review some type of room. It can also give me a little time in the airport to check another club or some other thing I’m interested in. Most important I avoid heavy traffic which I really don’t enjoy.

    FWIW I really enjoy the original content your put up – not just a rehash of the story du jour. Jimmy

  6. Hi Rene,
    I travel to the Bay Area almost every month from MSP. DL has good nonstop flights but they are very costly and tough to get upgraded even as a DM. This week they left 34 DM’s at the curb without an upgrade on a morning flight. I had taken their $ upgrade offer for a reasonable price about a month ago. Good thing I did as 5 days out there were no fc seats available. Sometimes I’ll do OAK rather than SFO and it’s a lot cheaper and an easy upgrade. OAK is a connection and is a problem returning to get back to MSP at a decent time. The flight is a very early connection to SLC. It means an extra overnight in OAK. So when you add in the time and the extra costs, I’ve found that it’s most often better to swallow the price and take direct flights and bite on the fc offer if it’s a good deal. From MSP, flights to SFO, LAX, ATL are good times to use the RUC as there almost always is one seat at departure. Best, J

  7. We reside in Northwest Indiana and really miss having scheduled airline passenger service at GYY, Gary/Chicago International Airport. The lack of crazy road traffic to ORD and MDW, high tolls & parking rates, as well as long security lines made GYY rather convenient. (We actually had a delay getting to MDW once because there were cows falling from an overpass!) Too bad the airlines so far have been no-names with limited frequencies. Now that the main runway and safety margin has been extended, and a true Customs facility is in the works, we really hope to see one (or more) of the majors come in with a serious plan!

  8. Being in South Florida, its really a choice in between MIA and FLL. MIA is horrible with its constant state of disorganization for a departing or arriving passenger. Plus, FLL 95% of the time has a cheaper cost than it would be to fly out of MIA. In fact, the only time I used MIA was for company travel (because of them mainly using AA)

  9. Rene, have you considered taking the South Shore Line from SBN to Chicago? I bet the train connects in the Loop to the train to ORD. Parking at SBN is no doubt cheaper than ORD and the cost of both train tickets one way is less than $20 (?). Riding the train is much easier and less hassle than driving and dealing with auto traffic although it won’t affect ATC delays.

    • @John – I so need to do this. I have been told it is a super simple connection from the SS to the L to ORD but just have not done it yet. I also have been told the train to MKE is just as simple and has great wifi. HUmm…. there are often amazing runs from MKE.. 🙂

  10. jamesb2147 Reply

    This is why you stay on points/cash + points at the Hyatt Regency ORD the night before any AM flight. 😉

  11. When I use to work for Whirlpool I had the same issue, Southbend was always too expensive and Whirlpool was too cheap.. Lived there two years in Stevensville Mi and my wife HATED it, the weather and the location… 45 minutes to go to the mall in Southbend and I left and found a job in FLA

  12. Rene,
    I live in OKC and while we have driven to DFW once or twice bc I couldn’t get FF tickets on the OKC-DFW legs, I would not do it on a paid ticket. The cost of gas, parking, possible lodging needs far offsets spending a few extra dollars to fly out of OKC. The other negative is the possibility of car problems,accidents on a constantly under construction I 35. The worst part of driving to another airport is that you have to drive back!! Last thing I want to do after a long trip is drive 3 hours home. Even when my wife and I travel together we still fly out of the home airport.

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