‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’: How Much Would the Journey Home Cost Today?

Trains and Automobiles Planes - 1987
Paramount / Kobal / Shutterstock.com

It’s been 35 years, and the 1987 movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” remains a holiday classic. Perhaps because it’s so relatable — we’ve all had those special days you just want to be a perfect memory but everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong.

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In the flick, written and directed by the iconic John Hughes, Neal Page (Steve Martin) is trying to make a flight home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving after a business meeting in New York goes long only to “reconvene after the holidays.”

In a twisted sequence of events, his cab from Manhattan to the airport gets stolen by Del Griffith (John Candy), the two get stranded at LaGuardia and a comedy of errors ensues that involves actual planes, trains and automobiles on a very long journey home. Spoiler alert: By the end, the pair’s bond is set, and Neal invites Del home with him for turkey with the family — the perfect happy ending.

In case you’re wondering how much it would have cost Neal and Del to make their trip home, GOBankingRates has done some homework to find out the grand total for two days on the road. The costs below reflect 2022 prices, though we also share the probable price for 1987, converted using the inflation calculator on In2013dollars.com.

One-way flight from NYC’s LaGuardia Airport to Chicago O’Hare: $598

This price assumes a regular coach ticket — Neal had a first-class ticket, but a mixup put him in the dreaded middle seat in the economy cabin. It’s a 6 p.m. flight, just like in the film. One flight costs $299. Neal and Del each needed one, so we doubled it.

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Car service from Manhattan to LaGuardia: $104

We’re almost positive that today, Neal and Del would use Uber. The rideshare company estimates a $52 price for the ride, but since Del stole the first car, we’re doubling that to account for the extra trip.

Car service from Witchita airport to motel: $28

In the film, the plane from New York to Chicago gets diverted to Wichita, Kansas, because of a snowstorm in the Windy City. After the flight is eventually canceled, Neal and Del take a ride in Doobie’s Taxiola to a motel for the night. For the dollar amount here, we are pretending Neal and Del would’ve stayed at the Motel 6 on E. Kellog Drive, and we’re again assuming they would’ve upgraded to an Uber.

One-night stay at Motel 6 in Wichita: $60

For this calculation, we’re pretending Neal and Del would’ve stayed the night at the Motel 6 rather than the Braidwood Inn in the film. We have noted a price for one room only, since the two shared the accommodations.

One-way Amtrak tickets from Kansas City (aka Stubbsville) to Chicago: $156

In the film, Neal and Del hear that there’s a train out of “Stubbsville, Kansas,” but that, of course, is a fictional city. We used Kansas City to come up with a real price. A one-way coach ticket on Amtrak from Kansas City to Chicago’s Union Station is $78 in late November, so we multiplied that by two.

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One-way bus tickets from Jefferson City to St. Louis: $50

Of course the journey doesn’t end on Amtrak — the train breaks down in Jefferson City, Missouri, and the duo hops a bus to St. Louis for the last leg of their trip home to Chicago. Using Greyhound’s estimates, this would cost $25 per person.

Enterprise rental car from St. Louis to Chicago: $434

Both men try to rent their own cars at the St. Louis airport to finally go their separate ways en route to Chicago. However, Neal finds out his car is missing. Del serendipitously finds him and gives him a ride in his rental. Searching on Enterprise’s website for late November, we found an economy car for $217 total. We multiplied that by two because Neal had booked his own originally.

One-night hotel in Bloomington, Illinois: $104

After a disastrous car ride (and fire) that prevents the two men from continuing their journey for the night, Neal and Del pull over at an Illinois hotel to get some rest before continuing on the next day. We assume they got halfway from St. Louis, which would put them in Bloomington, Illinois. The cost is for one room because the men share once again.

One-way L train tickets in Chicago: $5

Finally, the duo makes it to Chicago, thanks to a truck driver who rescues them after their rental car is destroyed. Once there, they board Chicago’s L train system (the L is for “elevated” tracks), which costs $2.50 per one-way fare. The short ride brings them to Neal’s home, where the movie ends.

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Miscellaneous diner fare: $100

The two men ate at a few diners along the way, so we’re tacking on an extra $100 for their tabs.

Grand total: $1,639

Grand total in 1987: $645


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