The $200 hamburger?

May 29, 2008 by

Economic forces and tribal knowledge have conspired to set the current price of an airport hamburger at $100. But, as I discovered from cruising through our magazine archives, it’s not a fixed price. We used to call it the $50 hamburger.

The price of the hamburger is supposed to account for the cost of the flight plus red meat. But with today’s high avgas prices, at what point does the tribe decide to amend the menu? Should we go for $150… $200?

Somewhat related to this, well, price fixing, is the FAA’s standard weight for an adult. It’s been stuck at a sprightly 170 pounds for as long as anyone can remember. Fast-food burgers, meanwhile, are packing more calories than ever.

What we’re really talking about here is energy. Sure, the FAA could give the entire GA fleet a gross weight increase to make us feel better about ourselves, but all we’d do is burn more fuel.

Could there be an inverse relationship between hamburgers and pilots? If the price of a hamburger continues to rise, maybe the actual pilot weight will go down due to less consumption.

The price of the airport hamburger is ultimately up to the tribe. It’s all about perception.


61 Responses to “The $200 hamburger?”

  1. eric Says:

    A two hour round trip in our 6gph AA-1A Yankee still comes in at under $70. There are two possible answers to the problem: more efficient airplanes (LSA!) or more efficient trips (fill that Skyhawk!). We’re always talking about sharing flying with more potential pilot, why don’t more people do group trips to airport cafes? I’m not talking about type club fly-ins (as great as they are) but about dragging friends who haven’t flown before out to the nearest $100 destination.

    After all, private pilots can legally split costs pro rata, so maybe it’ll be the $100/seat hamburger.

  2. Pat Kelly Says:

    The cost one is willing to pay for the classic “Hamburger”, is directly proportional to the thickness of one’s wallet. For some, even the $100 Hamburger isn’t even on the “menu”, anymore.

  3. bryan Says:

    Its a $250 dollar hamburger now.

  4. Tony Scarpelli Says:

    Its a $250 dollar hamburger in my book.

  5. Dave Says:

    The $100 hamburger is now the hamburger you cook on the grill with your fellow pilots at the FBO or hanger after you stopped to fill up your car for the week with $95 of gas.

  6. Ron Says:

    If you’re renting a plane for that $100.00 hamburger, better call it a $400.00 hamburger…come to think of it, that’s only for the rental…better call it a $500.00 hamburger. Hope it’s Kobe beef!

  7. Jack Says:

    We still get that hamburger on a 2 hour roundtrip for about $42.00 including the burger. We have a Zenair 601 HDS.

  8. Eric B Says:

    There is an easy solution to the problem of a $100 hamburger growing to $150 or $200. Just buy a second or third hamburger on the same trip to keep the average cost down!

  9. Alan Teyssier Says:

    Funny You Should ask, LOL. Last Saturday night, a frined and I went up in my flying clubs SR-20 to view the sunset, and possibly land for dinner at either KLNS or KBLM. The flight was so beautiful that we decided to finish watching the sun go below the horizon instead of eating, then get a quick bite upon return to KDYL. I tucked the plane in, and we then headed to Burger King for a HAMBURGER! When the counter person rung up the order, I started doing the caluclations in my head for the 1.7 hours of flight time and the $9.24 for our meal, and I started to laugh. I turned to my friend and said “You rememebr when I was telling you about the $100 hamburger, well, this one just cost $300″ When I got home, just for kicks, I ran the exact claculations and it came out to be $299 and change. I must say though, it was well worth it.

  10. Brian D Says:

    A short cross country training trip last fall from Philly to Lancaster in a rented Warrior was at least $200 not including the burger. I was also kind enough to pick up the tab for my CFI which raised the cost further. I’m sure it’s much more now. Maybe I’ll give it a try next week, without the CFI.

  11. Mike Pikett Says:

    Two people,Cessna172,1.3 hours on tac. $169.06 rental[including fuel surcharge]2 meals$20 total under $200.Meal was okay ,but the flying was magnificent.

  12. Steve F. Says:

    With today’s fuel prices, my hamburger runs on Saturdays will become fewer. I have also began to shun the more expensive fuel stops and fly more into grass roots airports where the fuel prices have not escalated with the area of paved ramp surface.

    Flying for me is a sanity trip.. it lets me escape from the traffic jams, the crush of people, and the escape to the skies lets my spirit soar. So far, it is the cheapest form of therapy!

  13. Mike Hoover Says:

    I am curious as to which decade(s) it was called the $50 hamburger. I was researching for an article for my local EAA-242 newsletter and came upon John Purner’s $100 Hamburger website. I inquired about his thoughts on the origin of the phrase “$100 Hamburger.” In Mr. Purner’s kind reply, he states that “as far as he knows” he may have orininated the “$100 Hamburger” phrase back in 1962 when he was learning to fly. I would love to hear his input on the price of a “hamburger” flight this day in age. I’m figuring around $200 in a Skyhawk. Perhaps $150 in a Cub or Champ. Nice round figures like $50 or $100 might also have something to do with the trip blowing a big hole in a $50 or $100 bill in those days. Do they make $200 bills?

  14. Stefan Werner Says:

    I have given up a long time ago to calculate the cost of the Saturday just for fun Burger….way too depressing. But I would give up almost anything else before considering giving up those flights in our wonderful Saratoga.
    But I do like the idea of Eric’s first reply….bring more people along. Sure you probably have to give away the first flight…but after that they are hopefully as “hooked” as we are and are willing to share the cost.
    And three of my friends got so infected with the bug that they now own their own airplanes.

  15. Dodge Says:

    My last $100 burger came in at $92.43 – the cost of the flight (depreciation, fuel, oil, etc.), the cost of the burger itself, and the cost of driving from the house to the airport and back, plus the cost of my time that I would charge were I making the same round trip for pay (you gotta throw that in or you’re not being fair to yourself – your own time has monetary value to you, whether you think about it or not) (and no, I’m not a lawyer! – if I were, the cost would probably have been about $592.43…). If my family – wife, daughter, son – goes with me, and we all have the same thing to eat, it comes out to 26.99 per burger, which, given the cost of fast food places these days, isn’t really all that much more than us visiting the local world-wide fast-food franchise…

  16. Donavan Says:

    When are people going to actually do something about being ripped off by big oil instead of joking about it. Although my plane gets 8.5 gph, it’s still a ripoff when the price of 100LL goes up 50 cents a gallon the day before memorial day weeekend!

    It’s time to breakup Exxon Mobil, as they have shown no regard for the American people. For more information,

    Spring Green, WI

  17. Tristan Says:

    I was just talking about this the other day! I just took my friend from out of town on a lunch trip about 60nm away, with a little sightseeing. In all, exactly 2 hours on the Hobbs meter.

    Rental cost (with my CFI discoutnt): $270.

    Killer Pork Chops at Llano Texas: $30

    so I guess we went for $300 pork chops, but a burger would have cost about the same.

  18. Cameron Lerum Says:

    While the price is more like $200-$250, I like the “$100 hamburger” statement. My main reason is that it is well known in the non-aviation community. The price of admission to getting your ticket today is already high. Changing the traditional “$100 hamburger” to correctly reflect the today’s price sets the perception that flying is out of the average persons price range. This is not the message that we want to tell the world of non-aviation related persons. We need to grow the GA community, not inject any barriers – even subtle ones.

    On the lighter side, I don’t want to upgrade my t-shirt :-)

  19. Fred M Says:

    What $100 hamburger?? I have flown to more than 50 different airports in the last 2 years and there is never a restaurant at the airport or near by. There is rarely a courtesy car (except in Lynchburg, VA or Tupelo, Miss).

    Maybe we should call it the $200 package of crackers or a candy bar!!

  20. Jerry Kaplan Says:

    $100 Hamburger???, Try using a helicopter. I estimate it at about $600
    with fuel, insurance, rental.

  21. Bob Bittner Says:

    My Star-Lite burns 2.5 GPH at 120 MPH cruise. I burn non-oxygenated auto gas for $4/gal. The nearest airport restaurant is 1.5 hours away. Net: about $30 plus the burger.

    There are less expensive ways to fly. Getting the Grand Oil Party and its consolidated oligopoly out will be one way to get back to reasonable prices.

  22. Steve Says:

    Yes, $600 is closer to an accurate comparison. It is necessary to evaluate the effect of decreasing incomes. In terms of global purchasing power, our real incomes are down 75% in the last ten years. For example, ten years ago a home cost about two times annual income. Today, a home costs about eight times annual income. At the same time, incomes have been eroded by inflation. Without government adjustments, real inflation is about 10% per year. This means the joy of flying is available only to the previous generation, or those fortunate enough to have aquired housing at two times annual income. Now, if I could only increase my income from $200,000 to $400,000 per year, I would be able to afford flying again!

  23. David Says:

    $250. Typical rental is $115 to $135 per hour, including some odds and ends, 90-day or instrument currency approaches, etc. Plus the ‘burgers’ themselves. And a burger for $250 sounds like $2.50 when selling it to friends.

    “Hey, I know where we can get some great two-fifty burgers!” And then, the good news is that they aren’t $250, because divided by two, three, or four, its only around $75 to $125 each!!!

  24. Kyle Says:

    Sure, the price may be going up for gas, which makes the flight more expensive, but I think $100 Hamburger is the best way to put it. When spoken “Hundred-dollar hamburger,” it flows well, and describes a simple out-of-the-norm situation. Most people who aren’t pilots are likely to inquire, and then understand the concept in general.

    We, in the DC area, still call peak traffic “rush hour,” when it’s more like rush day. No need to continually update something that might as well be left alone.

  25. Eric Horton Says:

    Oh I do miss those hamburgers. My airplane costs in fuel what I used to rent the same airplane for ten years ago. My wife and I are investing in bicycles. The airplane is collecting dust and doing a fabulous job of it. In two months we’ll blow it off and fly from Texas to Nebraska for a family reunion. Until then, Chili’s is accros the street so we’ll settle for the $14.99 baby back ribs.

  26. Marc Zorn Says:

    The term $100 hamburger is a measurement of distance. I live in Los Angeles. When someone asks how far somewhere is to drive, the answer comes back in number of minutes. The same goes for the $100 hamburger. In my Bonanza, the $100 hamburger is about 35-40 NM round trip (including burger), if I’m going “slow” and it’s just me. As gas prices go up, the $100 hamburger distance becomes shorter. If you have passengers, the $100 hamburger distance goes up.

  27. Tom Corcoran Says:

    I bought my first $10.00 hamburger at an airport restaurant today. It came with seasoned fries, onion, tomato and the like. Tasted very good and was almost worth that much.

    My flight to Katama Airpark (1B2) on Martha’s Vineyard Island in Massachusetts set me back about $50 from 1B9 at Mansfield, Massachusetts (50nm+-) in my Beech C-23. The restaurant visit was worth it.

    Rejoice, my flying bretheren… when did you EVER think 100LL had a reasonable price?

    I always said… “I will spend my last dollar on aviation fuel”… I just did not think it would be so soon.

  28. Jim Dulin Says:

    You could go to Alaska and immediately gain and extra 15% gross weight but it would probably be just as wise to eat a $200 grilled chicken w/o mayonaise instead.

  29. Ben Coombs Says:

    My value meal is based on whether I rent the 152 or the 172… As for the ideal weight… I better start going for the $199 salad bar…

  30. Tony Clark Says:

    When I was in Private Pilot training back in 1994, we always called it a $50 hamburger. That was in a Cessna 150 at $37/hour. I got away from flying for a couple years. When I came back in the late nineties, it was the $100 hamburger. The club 182 I fly now goes for $140/hour. Even our 152 is $75/hour.

  31. Tom Andersen Says:

    Two hours in my Star-Lite would cost about $20 and get me 125 miles each way. If I ate a 99 cent Double Cheeseburger from McDonalds, I’d spend about $21 all up, and consume about 440 calories. ‘Sperimentals rock!

  32. Lin Caywood Says:

    For me, priceless.
    Let’s face it. We fly because we love it, not because it’s a cheap hobby.
    Whether it’s a 2.5 gph experimental or a 95 gph twin, I’ll keep lifting the couch cushions to find those extra coins to pay the way!

  33. Alan O Says:

    This will date me but I remember when a J-3 Cub went for $10/hr, a CFI went for $2 and a White Castle Hamburger cost $0.25 There was even a Fly-in theater in NJ Times sure have changed

  34. J.R. Silva Says:

    Apparently some of us have no idea what it cost to run our aircraft. Per hour cost is not just fuel. Its engine maintenance, (25,000 or more to overhaul), prop overhaul, landing gear for retracts and miscellaneous maintenance. For the guys in the new light sports that brag about cost for the hamburger, what did it cost for you to buy that aircraft? I have an old retractable and it cost me about 175.00 to 200.00 per hour to run it considering all of the above along with insurance, and hanger. Even the guys with the light sports are spending at least 100.00 an hour to run them with all of the above costs factored in. With fuel now topping 6.00 a gallon and still going up, G.A flying will just be a fond memory.. Reguards

  35. Mike White Says:

    You should ask the expert, John Purner.

  36. Jeff D. Says:

    One positive side effect of the cost of fuel, my hamburgers are back down to $3.99. I just grill ’em at home. I can’t afford to rent a plane anymore, and even though I’ve been saving for years to buy my own plane, I’ve largely given up on that dream as well. Afraid in a few years I’ll be left with a winged boat anchor after avgas hits $15 a gallon.

  37. Lane Says:

    Yep $200 it is. My wife and I rented a PA28-161 and headed over to 11R for a burger. Lunch ran just about $20 and it was $180 for the plane.

  38. Todd Says:

    Interesting post! I just returned from a short flight to grab brunch. My field research found that if you substitute Eggs for Hamburgers it would be appropriate to call them the $150 Eggs & Toast.

  39. Henry Niese Says:

    I learned to fly on $7 an hour Cubs & $20 an hour UPF-7s.
    The boardinghouse I stayed at was $7 a week lunch bucket & dinner included.
    I can’t figure out the price of a $100 hamburger, but White Castle’s were 5 cents each.

  40. Jay Says:

    Our hamburger cost us today almost $600 in a Cirrus SR-20. Still worth it though!

  41. Doug Allen Says:

    It still is the $100.00 hamburger! It takes 4 in our 172 to make it happen, and still remains the $100.00 hamburger for each of us!!!

  42. Kes Maciulaitis Says:

    In the world of QUARTER MILLION ($220,000) Skyhawks and $100,000 LSA’s … a $200 hamburger is a BARGAIN! It is not the price of a hamburger … its is the outrageous pricing of aircraft and FAA over regulation that will be the end of GA as e know it!

  43. Eric Schlanser Says:

    It’s not just experimentals and $100,000 light sport aircraft that are the non-solution to the esclating cost of flying.
    I just sold the gas guzzler expensive-to-maintain retractable and bought a $25,000 1946 Piper Vagabond and I’m having a ball with the money that’s left over.
    Here’s the math: 1 hour round trip to the restaurant at 5 gal x 5.00 per gal or $25 for avgas, plus the meal at $10, plus fixed expenses at about $20 per hour = $55. Yes, that’s the ticket to those high prices. Buy a puddle jumper and forget the cost because you can.
    Check out the Short Wing Piper Club or the Aeronca Society or the Cessna 120-140 Association or other vintage type group to find your own sensible solution to the high cost of flying and have more fun. That is what it’s all about when your talking about $100 hamburgers isn’t it?

  44. Eric Peterson Says:

    I look at it this way (as a student), It’s a hamburger that less than 1% of the population will ever taste. What a priviledge! And… you can share it with someone else. Even here in sunny Florida, my school’s Cherokee uses less gas than many boats do in one hour – and compared to what people pay for “everything” about their boats… I still figure I’m ahead.
    Sure things are expensive… but it’s a priviledge I’m earning… and I’m willing to save up for it.

  45. Jerry Says:

    Well, my early model C-210 w/ fuel and overhead expense makes it $250 for that Hamburger. Just the cost of owning your own aircraft. But it’s getting very close to my limit.

  46. Jeremy Nolan Says:

    For me its called the “Can’t afford hamburger.” But if it had to have a name, it would be called the $200 hamburger. I like how these fuel prices are slowing down all of our aviation dreams and goals.

  47. Rich Krogstad Says:

    I think the $100.00 hamburger refers to a stop and the gas station on the way to the fast food place.
    The trip in the airplane doesn’t count as an expense it is entertainment and a lot of times the EAA Chapter gives free hamburgers to the pilot so that makes it cheaper. My Funk uses about 5gal. per hour so get by good.
    EAA Chapter 806 serves breakfast just for a donation of what you want to give.

  48. Jess Meyers Says:

    As Uncle Bob F says, the ceapest thing about an airplane is fuel. It’s there to burn, let the grandkids come up with an alternate. Can’t take it with you, enjoy flying while we still can.

  49. Bob Detloff Says:

    I haven’t got the slightest idea of what Mr. Ferguson is talking about????

  50. Devin Caliri Says:

    Perhaps the author of this blog is refering to “solidarity” when he says that “we control the price of the $100 hamburger”? This may be true, but how does one go about organizing a nationwide shut down or strike that would actually be felt by Big Oil Co.?

  51. Todd Osborne Says:

    On Sunday, my family did the $334.91 bratwurst run. I loaded the wife and 2 of the kids in a rented Skyhawk in Middleton, WI and flew 90 miles north to Appleton. Family picked us up there, went to their house for “free” brat’s and hotdogs. So we got about 6 brat’s between us, a little less than $60 per brat. Not too bad I guess, we all had a great time. I should have gotten about $60 off the rental though, my youngest daughter puked her lunch back up on the bumpy ride home :)

  52. Justin Holder Says:

    It’s costing me $300 for a hamburger at the moment as a new pilot and a new (to me) airplane. I hope to get the costs down in next few years but fuel prices are not helping.

  53. glenn parker Says:

    The $100 dollar hamburger should have been been adjusted for inflation a long time ago.

    It probably should now be called the $500 dollar. If it were truly adjusted for inflation or current fuel prices, it would cost significantly more than $500.

    Any way you cut it, at today’s operating costs, it costs at least $300 dollars to fly my 172 to get the proverbial $100″ hamburger.

    I vote to change it to: “The $500 Hamburger.

  54. Mark Bender Says:

    Howdy all you fellow carnevours arerialiae…

    $500.00 for our weekend aerial burger, by stricly accounting measures, is about right for the entire GA Fleet including, the big shots who have the chauffer take out the G3 for that Charbroiled delicacy 600 miles away!!!

    Who remembers the $50.00 Pancakes!!! We actually had a group of 10 aircarft who flew every, and I mean every Sunday morning from Santa Monica Airport for breakfast (pancakes to lower colesterol). We got into our aircraft, waited for 7:00AM and cranked the engines.

    This was when was just getting my license in 1984. This group typied the aviation family- they were so giving and helped me so much to learn the art and joy of flying. They motivated and helped me to the point I was able to pilot a C182 across the Atlantic in 1990. I really miss them and the good times we had. $500.00 a burger-BRING IT ON, cheaper and much more satisfying if you share the joy with 4!!!

    I wish I coudl get a groupo like them going at Van Nuys airport where I fly out of now.

  55. Blain Smipy Says:

    We certainly need something in GA to beat the rising fuel cost. And speaking of such, I’ve seen nothing from AOPA about the dramatic drop in GA air traffic due directly to the current fuel crisis. My airport (FTG) is reporting an over 50% drop in T/O and Landings since last summer. The FBO’s and flight schools are going under and the airport its self is in jeopardy of defaulting on many of its loans. Is this a wake up call for GA? How about a wake up call for AOPA to start concentrating on the economy of flight, rather than gadget rich $500,000.00 speedsters. We all like to dream, but reality is what we need now. If I see another article on the Garmin G1000 or any other EFIS thing I’ll never own or use, I think I’m going to puke. Enough! Here’s an idea, how about an article on how to actually afford to continue to fly with $6.00 a gallon fuel? Things like, using max economy power settings, proper leaning, running over square, Mogas STC’s, airline flight profiling, flying weather patterns, flying light, and highlighting those aircraft that are fuel efficient.

  56. YHZ Murphy Says:

    The glass is half full. Rather than grumbling about the cost of the burger, upgrade the menu as well. $300 lobster doesn’t sound that outrageous. $500 weekend trip to the shore is a downright bargain.

  57. Elise Allaband Says:

    Nice contribution. Thanks.

  58. Osvaldo Peacemaker Says:

    It is great that you took your time to write this post; it’s nice to read another’s opinion. I respect your work on this post, and I’ll revisit for more reading.

  59. Jeff Sumeracki Says:

    Own a Piper Cherokee 6-260, so I can take 5 passengers, set just enough RPM’s to stay aloft, burn 8 gph, and still make it from KRUQ to KMTV (Martinsville, VA) in 40 minutes. BBQ place with low pries and fabulous menu on the field, 1.5 hours aloft, 13 gallons of gas total @ $5.00 is $65 split 6 ways; about $11 each.

    Sure, the hourly cost also includes fixed costs, engine reserves, hangar, original purchase price, etc., but I’m willing to look beyond that once in a while to enjoy the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and great food with family and friends.

    Before anyone asks, YES, my plane can carry 6 people, 970# useful load with full fuel, empty the tip tanks and gain another 200#

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