If you’ve read BAM’s coverage on the sacrifices young homebuyers are making to afford housing, this won’t come as a surprise. 

Among the lifestyle changes Americans are making to better afford a home in their chosen area, some are commuting an extra long distance to work. And for quite a few, that commute involves plane tickets and hotel stays. 

Introducing the super commuter of the 2020s—a new breed willing to spend hours a week traveling to and from the office (or offices) and get the most from those frequent-flyer miles and hotel points. 

Generally speaking, they do it for the following reasons: 

  • They love their jobs—or the brick-and-mortar businesses they manage
  • They also happen to like living in an area where housing is significantly more affordable compared to the metro areas in which they work (not to mention other costs of living)

We’ve rounded up a few examples of super commuters who have embraced the pros and who manage the cons, week after week, to minimize stress while living well and saving serious money. 

What does it mean to be a super commuter?

There was a time when a super commuter was someone who drove at least 90 minutes to work each way, five days a week, for a total daily commute time of three hours or more. 

Some folks took a commuter train instead, which at least allowed them to read or work on their laptop en route. 

With more companies allowing hybrid work, especially since the pandemic, today’s super commuter takes it a few steps further, commuting from hundreds of miles or even multiple states away from the workplace. 

They head to work fewer days a week but travel much longer distances. Many are taking predawn flights to a different time zone and paying a substantial sum each month for hotel stays or even a second apartment in their work city. 

Some are making impromptu flights and train rides for last-minute meetings with the boss. 

Yet even with all the costs involved in those extra-long commutes—plane and train tickets, bus passes, Uber/Lyft/taxi fares and tips, hotel stays, and meals—some of these long-haulers say they’re still saving thousands of dollars a month by super commuting. 

Some even credit their commute with a better work-life balance. So, clearly, they’re making this lifestyle adjustment work for them. 

But as even they will tell you, it’s not for everyone. 

Four super commuters and how they do it (and why)

From Ohio to Midtown Manhattan: Chip Cutter

For Wall Street Journal reporter Chip Cutter, the commute from his Ohio apartment to the Midtown Manhattan office has not been without its challenges. But what can you do when you love your job and you also love living close to family—in a much more affordable neighborhood. 

According to Zillow, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment costs $3,350 a month in New York City, compared to $1,425 in Columbus, OH. Not only that but the total annual cost of groceries housing, utilities, and healthcare in NYC is more than $70,700, compared to about $46,600 in Columbus, based on a recent analysis from GOBankingRates. 

On commuting Mondays, Mr. Cutter wakes up at 4:15 am to catch a 6:00 am flight and arrives at his Midtown Manhattan office in three hours (or more, depending on unforeseen delays). 

In his words, embracing the challenges of the long weekly commute “has been worth it.” 

“It has been worth it. It’s been a bit of an adventure. That’s been really special to be able to sort of see [family] not just on holidays, not just on weekends…It’s been sort of a thrill to see whether I could do this or not. But of course, [it’s] been a bit harder than I thought.

“I still enjoy having one foot in the Midwest and one on the East Coast, though I’m not sure how long I can keep it up. I’m writing this from Columbus, where I overlook a beautiful park outside my picture window. My lease is up, but hotel rates in Manhattan this winter have plunged now that the holidays are over. Maybe that New York apartment search can be put off a little longer.”

From North Carolina to Manhattan: Kaitlin Jorgensen

Kaitlin Jorgensen works as a hairstylist in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. To get to her salon, she commutes nearly 600 miles from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

A typical commute for Jorgensen (which she documents on TikTok), starts with an Uber to the airport, followed by a 1.5 hour flight to LaGuardia, a bus ride to Manhattan, and a train ride to the Upper West Side. 

She’s been doing this commute for nearly a year and says it has saved her thousands of dollars a month, mostly in rent. The average rent for an apartment near her salon is about $3,747, more than twice the $1,400 average rent in Charlotte. Jorgensen stays at a friend’s house and pays her a modest rent to offset the cost so the arrangement benefits them both. 

According to city data, about 64,000 supercommuters travel from beyond the tri-state area to work in Manhattan, which underscores NYC’s unaffordability crisis. The Center for Women’s Welfare reported last April that 50% of all New York City households don’t earn enough to cover basic necessities. 

From Austin, TX, to Redondo Beach, CA: Dr. Frank Croasdale

Frank Croasdale moved his family to Austin, TX, from Southern California to find more affordable housing in an area with less climate risk. But he didn’t want to give up his practice as a physical therapist. So, he flies to work three times a month to treat his patients in person and works remotely from his home the rest of the time. 

On some of his crazier days as a super commuter, he spends close to 24 hours total on the commute each way plus the hours he spends at the clinic. 

Still, he describes the arrangement as “a win-win.”

Despite the cost of those round-trip flights (around $400 each time), plus the $1,500 monthly rent for his California studio apartment, the setup has saved the Croasdale family an extra $1,500 a month, largely due to the $20,000 to $40,000 more he earns from his California practice than he would with an Austin-based practice. 

So, despite the occasional travel snag, which can easily result in a much longer workday, Dr. Croasdale considers the overall benefits well worth the cost. 

“It balances out.” 

From Dover, Delaware, to Washington, D.C.: Chris and Kristina Rice

Chris and Kristina Rice left the Washington, D.C., area in October 2020 to live in Dover, Delaware, moving into a six-bedroom home that costs $1,000 less per month than their two-bedroom apartment in Alexandria, Virginia. 

While Mr. Rice works remotely, Ms. Rice commutes 2.5 hours to D.C. once or twice a week, spending roughly $50 each round trip on gas and parking. 

The monthly cost savings have allowed the couple to pay off their student loans and start a family. Speaking of their 13-month-old son, Mr. Rice added, 

“Even having him is something we weren’t in a position to do before. We’ll do whatever we have to to make this work.”

Pros and cons of super-commuting

Plenty of studies now link longer work commutes with more stress and lower overall well-being. But from some of the stories we’ve read, it’s all in how you navigate the challenges. And some argue that a more flexible commuting schedule alleviates the potential stress (at least some of it) and makes the super commuter option more sustainable for long periods. 

Pre-COVID, around 4.6 million Americans—3.1% of the U.S. workforce—were supercommuters, as defined by the 2019 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

In 2021, that number dropped to 3.1 million (2.4%) as many employees were working remotely. 

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a super commuter? Here are a few to keep in mind: 

Pros:

  • Savings thousands of dollars a month on housing costs
  • Enjoying a lower cost of living
  • Living closer to family/friends
  • All while holding onto a job you love 

Cons: 

  • The stress of the commute 
  • The time spent commuting
  • Unforeseen complications—like canceled flights, train delays, holiday hotel rates, etc.
  • Feeling torn in two directions, with limited ability to respond to emergency situations

All-in-all, this is probably not a good long-term fit for someone who likes to keep things simple. But for those who don’t mind a more complicated life—or who work in multiple locations—there are ways to minimize the cost of those commutes and make them less stressful. 

Also, with so many Americans choosing to embrace the super commuter lifestyle and sharing their hacks online, the odds of running across someone with helpful ideas are greater now than they were a few years ago. 

For those of you thinking about embracing the super commuter lifestyle, Chip Cutter offers a few hard-earned tips:  

  1. The real super commuter experience is “completely different” from what people typically imagine. 
  2. It pays to leverage your air mileage and credit card bonuses but it’s best to stick with one airline and hotel loyalty program.