When to Skip the Airport — And When to Really Not

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The United States is not overly blessed with a convenient inter-city rail system. We do try to make up for it with airplanes, though. Yet the constant calculus of delays, cost, time commitment, and security theater can make train travel pretty tempting, if you're able to take advantage of it.

There is a lot to love about Amtrak, including lower costs, ease of use, and that famous observation car. (Unfortunately, the equally famous dining cars are on their way out.) Choosing between long-distance rail and airplane travel has its own calculus. Luckily, the New York Times' Elaine Glusac has organized all the important questions you'll want to ask before choosing tickets.

Assuming you have access to an Amtrak station of any size, you'll be thinking first about financial cost versus time costs. According to the travel website Hipmunk, choosing flight saved money just 20 percent of the time. Beyond certain city spheres, however, it might not be worth spending 12 hours on a train when spending a little more for a 90-minute flight will do. Glusac looks at the pros and cons of each method between hubs such as Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C., as well as West Coast locations like Los Angeles and Seattle.

"The tipping point seems to be just shy of 300 miles," she writes, "making long distances more efficient by air, especially if your time is limited." Within a 300-mile radius, though, it might be worth checking out your on-the-ground options.