COLUMBIA — As fall swiftly approaches, Missouri Tiger fans are beginning to gear up for a new football season, a new conference and a new set of towns to travel to for the team's away games.
But as gas prices steadily increase and airfares are predicted to drop, planning travel to the Tigers' away games in the Southeastern Conference is looking like a pretty complicated calculation.
The following list gives the estimated costs and travel times for one person flying versus driving to SEC destinations:
Missouri Tigers vs. University of South Carolina Gamecocks, at Columbia, S.C.
Game day: Sept. 22
Drive or fly: Fly
Estimated cost, round-trip: $386
Total travel time: 8 hours, 50 minutes, based on the best connections
Missouri Tigers vs. University of Central Florida Knights, at Orlando, Fla.
Game day: Sept. 29
Drive or fly: Fly
Estimated cost, round-trip: $351
Total travel time: 9 hours, 5 minutes, based on the best connections
Missouri Tigers vs. University of Florida Gators, at Gainesville, Fla.
Game day: Nov. 3
Drive or fly: Fly
Estimated cost, round-trip: $463.60
Total time traveled: 11 hour, 15 minutes, best connections
Missouri Tigers vs. University of Tennessee Volunteers, at Knoxville, Tenn.
Game day: Nov. 10
Drive or fly: Drive
Estimated cost, round-trip: $130.47
Total travel time: 19 hours (round trip)
Missouri Tigers vs. Texas A&M University Aggies, at College Station, Texas
Game day: Nov. 24
Drive or fly: Drive
Estimated cost, round-trip: $155.94
Total travel time: 25 hours
Prices do not include hotel stay or car rental.
All fuel estimates from MapQuest and City-Data based on a mid-sized sedan (Honda Civic) with gas at approximately $3.50 to $3.70 per gallon.
All flights are from Columbia Regional Airport (KAYAK), traveling Thursday — Sunday.
"Columbia has very competitive airfare compared to St. Louis and Kansas City," said Lisa Bright of Great Southern Travel.
But with limited seats and time running out to buy tickets, fans need to act quickly to secure reliable travel arrangements..
That is, unless FareCompare's CEO Rick Seaney is right.
On the company's website, Seaney predicts that airfares will drop Aug. 20 and Aug. 21 by as much as 20 percent as airlines drop surcharges, something Bright said happens every fall.
Great Southern Travel has been booking SEC destination trips since March. MU announced in November 2011 that it was joining the SEC and officially became a member on July 1. Among the trips the agency has booked are a bus tour for a group of 80 MU alumni to the Tennessee game in November and a side trip to Florida for a family going to the South Carolina game in September.
"Not that many of the games are easy driving destinations," Bright said. "You'll see a lot more flying."
She acknowledged that some people just aren't planning to travel that far: If they can't drive, they aren't going.
The Texas A&M game is going to be tricky because it's scheduled near a holiday, when airfares typically skyrocket, Bright said.
"A lot of people were looking at Texas, but since it falls right around Thanksgiving, there are a lot of cost constraints," she said.
Suzi Davis Travel has yet to book any trips to SEC destination games but expects that to change once football season begins. Jerry Price, office manager at the Columbia office of Suzi Davis Travel, has simple advice: "The earlier you book, the better."
Beginning with the University of South Carolina game in Columbia, S.C., on Sept. 22, there will be five away games for the Tigers this season: University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 29; University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 3; University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 10; and Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, on Nov. 24.
If fans want to fly directly from Columbia to SEC destinations, round-trip tickets for under $500 were still available Monday.
The good, the bad and the pricey
The bonus of driving is, of course, tailgating from your own vehicle. Butonly one of the five away game cities — Knoxville — is less than a 10-hour drive from Columbia, so some fans will want to stay in a hotel on the way there. Once there, hotel prices in most of the SEC cities range from $69 a night to $325 a night, according to Hotels.com. The obvious benefit of driving, however, is that carpooling fans can share the costs of gas and hotel rooms.
Flying out of Columbia Regional Airport, which offers direct flights to the Southern cities of Memphis and Atlanta, can save money if driving ends up costing more than a flight. You get there faster (if there aren't delays), and if you leave on the Thursday before the game, you might save close to $300 for a round-trip ticket. But you'll probably have to rent a car, and that adds the expenses of gas, mileage fees and the car rental itself.
For the Tennessee game, plane tickets to Knoxville will fluctuate in price because the game falls on the Saturday before Veteran's Day. Because the Texas A&M game is the Saturday following Thanksgiving and Black Friday, flying or driving might be a pain. Last year, the American Automobile Association predicted that 42.5 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving weekend. That number is expected to increase this year.
Lambert-St. Louis and Kansas City International airports
While flying out of St. Louis or Kansas City might seem cheaper based solely on ticket prices — flying to Orlando is only $324 from Lambert round-trip versus $351 from Columbia Regional Airport — the air traveler has two extra expenses: getting to the airport and parking or taking the shuttle.
Who flies where
Delta: Does not offer any flights to College Station.
Frontier Airlines: Offers flights to Orlando and Knoxville.
American Airlines: Offers flights to all five destinations.
AirTran: Only offers flights to Orlando.
Southwest Airlines: Only offers flights to Orlando.
United Continental Airlines: Offers flights to all five destinations.
US Airways: Does not fly to Knoxville or College Station.
Supervising editor Katherine Reed.