Why I love the megabus: A closer look at a seldom-used (but cheap!) way to travel

I'm in the middle of a month-long trip to the East Coast: a little work, but mostly tourism. Although the conference I attended was in New York City, I flew to Philadelphia because it'll be easier for me to get back there after I've hung out with family and friends.

That meant I needed to get myself from Philly to New York, from there down to Washington, D.C., and then back up to Philly to do my visiting. The total cost of those three trips was — wait for it — three dollars and fifty cents.

That is not a typo. I spent $1 for each of the three tickets and 50 cents to book them.

Megabus detroitMaybe you can see why I love the Megabus, which originated in the United Kingdom and has been providing cheap bus travel in the United States since 2006. Currently the system operates as far west as Missouri, as far north as Boston and as far south as North Carolina, and also serves Ontario and Quebec.

Bus trips aren't for everyone. But they might be just the thing for people disgusted by air travel (yep, TSA, I'm talking to you), who are afraid to fly, or who can't afford either planes, trains or automobiles.

Your mileage may vary, but for me the Megabus worked incredibly well — even after my plans changed due to Hurricane Irene.

How Can It be That Cheap?

Megabus has no bus terminals to maintain, insure and staff. Instead, it picks up and drops off on city streets or at existing facilities such as 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. You buy your ticket online and present a reservation number to the driver.

Ticket prices vary based on when you buy and how many seats have already been sold. As the vehicle fills and/or the departure date approaches, fares gradually go up. The average ticket price is $20 — but again, you could pay a lot less, especially on short trips.

Bus travel has a lousy reputation in this country. I've heard dire tales about “riding the dog,” i.e., endless treks on grimy Greyhound buses with scary and/or smelly fellow travelers. In fact, Greyhound is not only working to clean up this image but has also begun to experiment with super-cheap tickets. (More on that below.)

Not everyone has time to ride the bus. If you were traveling on business you'd probably hop the shuttle from New York to D.C. Then again, you'd have to factor in the trip to the airport and at least an extra hour to make sure you get through security.

For me, saving money is usually more important than saving time. That's because the cheaper I travel, the more I can do of it. And did I mention that the Megabus has free wifi? On my flight from Seattle to Philly they wanted to charge me for Internet use.

Comfortable and Frugal

I'd used the Megabus once before, during my trip to the United Kingdom. The bus took me from London to Cardiff, Wales and back, an experience that was both comfortable and frugal: cushy seats, smooth ride, ridiculously cheap ticket (just over $10 USD round-trip). The national railway would have been as much as $262.

Train travel is expensive on this side of the pond, too. As of last week, here's what Amtrak would have cost:

  • Philadelphia to New York City, between $49 and $150
  • New York to D.C., $78 to $209
  • D.C. to Philadelphia, $48 to $170

Obviously, buses move more slowly than trains. But not much slower, sometimes:

  • Philly-NYC: 2 hours by bus; 75 to 98 minutes by train
  • NYC-D.C.: 4 hours, 15 minutes by bus; 2 hours and 47 minutes to just under 4 hours by train
  • D.C.-Philly: 3 hours, 10 minutes by bus; 88 minutes to just under 2 hours by train

Those travel times are not guaranteed. For example, my Philly-NYC trip was about 20 minutes late because traffic backed up at the Lincoln Tunnel. (Surprise!)

But planes are notorious for being late, too. When I traveled from Los Angeles to Phoenix earlier this year, the flight was delayed so long (more than two hours) that the airline finally just booked me onto the next plane going out.

I always assume that any form of transportation won't work as expected. That way I'm never disappointed, but often pleasantly surprised.

Mega Tip: The Megabus isn't the only cheap-seat carrier out there. Other options include:

  • Greyhound is partnering with Peter Pan Bus Lines on Bolt Bus, which runs to eight cities on the East Coast. Tickets can be as low as $1 plus booking fee.
  • A company called GoToBus.com provides booking for inexpensive bus trips in the Northeast and South and on the West Coast.
  • So-called “Chinatown bus” companies, such as New Century Travel, Apex Bus and Chinatown-Bus.org, operate in numerous U.S. cities.

Having never used any of the above lines, I cannot vouch for them personally.

Cutting My Losses

As then-Hurricane Irene labored up the coast, I realized it would be really dumb to complete the D.C. portion of my trip. Remember, at that point meteorologists were predicting Armageddon-by-the-Potomac.

So I had my father book me a ticket for the NYC-to-Philly Megabus. Even with just a few hours' advance notice, the cost was only $15.

Note: I asked Dad to buy the ticket because using my credit card over a wifi connection would have invited credit-card fraud. As soon as I arrived I repaid the $15. Later I gave him half my cheesesteak sandwich, which took care of the 50-cent booking fee — and maybe a little interest.

Though Irene packed a punch, she wasn't nearly as destructive as she could have been. But better safe than soggy. Had things gone the other way, I'd have been shut out of all the touristy things and, worse, unable to meet deadlines if the power had gone out.

Being on the Megabus cut my losses considerably. If I'd been traveling on an uber-discounted, sorry-sucker-no-refunds-not-ever-ever-ever airline ticket from Philly to D.C., I'd have been really irritated. Yeah, I could probably have gotten airline credit to use at a later date, but it no doubt would have come with restrictions.

Eating the cost of a $1 bus ticket, on the other hand, was nothing. Ain't no collateral damage like frugal collateral damage.

Photo by Buddahbless.

More about...Transportation, Frugality, Travel

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Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

You mention casually that the buses are not always on time, but I think that merits a little bit more. My partner took the bus (either Bolt or Megabus) between Philly and NYC to commute for work three days a week for two years. The bus was NEVER on time. It ranged from 20-30 minutes late, like yours was, to sometimes two hours. On average I would say it was around an hour late. Eventually they began stretching their estimates for the duration of the trip, but the bus was still late. The wifi was not working roughly 25% of… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Tracy

I’ve been traveling a lot since January 2010 and I would have to say that few, if any, of my flights have been on time. Some were VERY late, such as the one I mentioned above. And I was sitting in a wheelchair at the time, having come from the emergency room after falling down the steps at my house-sitting job. Not comfortable, not fun, but the price I accepted for booking an airline ticket. If your partner had been driving that commute three times a week, s/he might have been late on a regular basis due to the nature… Read more »

imelda
imelda
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Not only that, but the train network in the States is terrible. You compared travel times between Philly and NYC; try comparing the train and bus times between Pittsburgh and NYC! It’ll take you like a full day to get there via train. I hate the TSA and the train network in the States is nigh-useless. When I move back there, I plan on using buses as much as possible. (note: I live in Japan right now. I would say ‘god bless the Japanese transportation system’, but that makes it sound like it was a gift from above. They have… Read more »

Peggy
Peggy
9 years ago
Reply to  imelda

I’ll say ‘amen’ to that! We were posted to Tokyo for four years; still overseas and return once a year on R&R. We used to take the Limosine bus service to/from the airport at 3,000Y/each, then we discovered the train – 1/3 the cost and it’s great!

I love the subway system there – so easy with possibility to purchase prepaid cards and a great on-line travel planner.

Karellen
Karellen
9 years ago

using my credit card over a wifi connection would have invited credit-card fraud. Um, WTF? How? Anywhere you enter/submit your credit card details should be over “https”. If that is the case (and if it isn’t, you probably don’t want to put your card details in, no matter where you are), it doesn’t matter if you’re using an unsecured wifi point where everyone can see your raw TCP/IP traffic, because the “s” in “https” tells you that everything is suitably encrypted at the next layer up. (Using “https” over a secured wifi link doubly-encrypts the traffic for the hop from… Read more »

Nate
Nate
9 years ago
Reply to  Karellen

If the wifi on the bus was compromised, someone could pose as an intermediate node:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-in-the-middle_attack

Granted, this could happen anywhere, but somehow “public access” screams “questionably secure”.

Karellen
Karellen
9 years ago
Reply to  Nate

And that’s why https uses a certificate chain, with CA root certs provided as part of your OS and/or web browser, to prevent MITM attacks.

Karellen
Karellen
9 years ago
Reply to  Nate

Actually, the very page you link to states:

Most cryptographic protocols include some form of endpoint authentication specifically to prevent MITM attacks. For example, SSL authenticates the server using a mutually trusted certification authority.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Nate

I wasn’t actually on the bus when I needed to change the ticket — I was using public wifi at a McDonald’s.
Apparently I don’t know enough about what’s safe and what isn’t safe but it just didn’t feel secure to me to send my credit card information out from a public wifi signal.
My dad was happy to do it for me — and that was BEFORE he knew he’d get to share a cheesesteak. 🙂

Lara
Lara
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Do you use your credit card in restaurants? If so, you have exposed yourself to far more risk than you would using your credit card on public wifi.

almost there
almost there
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Yeah but ya shorted him fifty cents and made up for it in half a sammich :0 I’m sure he will remember that in the will:)

matt
matt
9 years ago
Reply to  Karellen

https does not mean ‘unhackable’ like you claim it is. Even though the traffic is encrypted, it can be captured and decrypted.

Don
Don
9 years ago
Reply to  matt

Matt says, “it can be captured and decrypted.” I’m sorry, this is just not true in practice. In theory this is true. In practice, no one (except perhaps the government) has the computing power and mathematical know-how to pull this off. If your connection is https, then it is secure. Man in the middle attacks are a concern with secure links, but the certificates that protect communications are also signed. If your browser doesn’t pop up a big warning about the certificate signature, then there’s not a man-in-the-middle. I have no qualms about using wireless to make https connections and… Read more »

Amy
Amy
9 years ago
Reply to  Don

General reply to all on the security of wifi/https. I’ve worked in infosec for years, including for DoD so I do have a good amount of knowledge on this subject. So, just to clear things up on the risks here. If the site is https that doesn’t mean it’s infallible but it does mean it’s encrypted. The S stands for either SSL or TLS which are encryption protocol suites. Then again, just because something is encrypted doesn’t mean it’s secure. You have to be using sufficient encryption. Hopefully the website you use using an adequate encryption algorithm such as AES/RSA/3DES… Read more »

Karellen
Karellen
9 years ago
Reply to  matt

True. Except that none of the ciphers used by SSL/HTTPS have been properly broken yet, with only reductions of around 2^4 available against the least-secure of them.[0] And that’s assuming an HTTPS session gives the attacker enough data to work with that allows this full reduction. (Probably true though. The SSL handshake is probably enough.) That still leaves a brute-force keyspace of 2^124 or 2^252 for an attacker to search, which requires more computing power than exists in the world, for a time period considerably longer than a human lifetime, and certainly longer than the time before your credit card… Read more »

Tom
Tom
9 years ago
Reply to  Karellen

Came to read a personal finance bus story, and a wifi security discussion broke out. awesome.

STRONGside
STRONGside
9 years ago

I like the concept of the MegaBus, I just wonder about its safety. I seems like there have been a high percentage of accidents and deadly crashes involving MegaBuses in recent months. It just be my uninformed perception, but I don’t know if I would trust to put my life in the hands of a megaBus.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

No, that was a different company. Ultimately the NTSB shut it down.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

I know of one big mega-bus crash. The other bus crashes have been the “Chinatown” buses, I believe.

I wouldn’t ride one of the overnight/dead of the night buses, though. Don’t mind an overnight plane flight, but buses can’t (yet) drive themselves and one little doze and…

Joe
Joe
9 years ago
Reply to  Jen

actually they CAN (as in the technology exists) but no-one has equipped a vehicle with autopilot yet… if every car had it, we would probably see a whole lot fewer fender benders.

Michael
Michael
9 years ago
Reply to  Joe

And a whole lot more questions on insurance liability that arise when an “auto-pilot” car hits another “auto-pilot” car.

cc
cc
9 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

my sister has traveled from DC to NYC on the cheap busses (DC trailways?) without issue. i DO NOT allow ANY of my friends to ride a chinatown bus- fung wah, lucky star, etc. they flip over and injure passengers regularly. your health isn’t worth the $20 savings! i got a great bus ride from NYC to atlantic city last summer- $25 there and back, $25 in casino vouchers. i ended up losing my return ticket trying to redeem the voucher, so i paid an extra $25 to go home 😉 not the end of the world. refreshingly easy travel… Read more »

Bill Rice
Bill Rice
9 years ago

I have used the Megabus for short trips between Detroit and Chicago. It’s the perfect solution! It’s cheap, I don’t have to drive, O’Hare is a very long and expensive cab ride to where my meetings or conferences always are, and I always get a ton done with the FREE wifi.

Smart tip here!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill Rice

When it’s good, it’s very very good — and apparently, when it’s bad it’s horrid.

Mike Moyer
Mike Moyer
9 years ago

I have used Megabus, Bolt, and Greyhound going to and from NYC and DC/Philly. By far the nicest is the Bolt bus. It’s kind of amazing for $15 bucks to have wifi, leather seats, and your own power outlet. I’ve also taken the Amtrack business express to DC. While it’s nicer to have a table to sit at, it’s not definitely $345 dollars nicer. (Bolt bus $10-15, Bus. Class Train was $360).

Tatiana
Tatiana
9 years ago

I’ve used MegaBus plenty of times while visiting family in the northeast. It’s amazing, especially for college kids living on a college kid’s budget. They can also work great for work purposes: I’m taking MegaBus in the near future to commute from where I live now to my job’s main office farther upstate. And it’s only going to cost A DOLLAR. Awesome!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Tatiana

The Seattle city bus system costs me $2.25 to $2.50 per ride. It cracked me up to travel from Philly to New York for a buck.

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  Tatiana

Seconding the university/college love for Megabus- one of my uni friends uses the original UK Megabus to go home to Leeds from London for £1!

I haven’t had good experiences with buses/coaches, but I’ve only ever used National Express. Took a New years trip overnight to Glasgow and back on one and HATED it. Slow, uncomfortable, packed, got woken up at 4am by a man talking loudly on his mobile phone.
But then again, I’ve had some nightmare trips home by train, so can’t complain really.

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
9 years ago

When I was in UK, I did travel in mega bus. Leeds to London weekend trips would cost me one pound. that’s 50 times cheaper than the train cost. In Florida there’s no mega bus yet.

Ryan Sturmer
Ryan Sturmer
9 years ago

My wife and I took the Megabus for a trip from Raleigh-Durham to DC for a wedding. On the way back, our driver had some sort of episode from being over-tired and collapsed, causing the bus to nearly drive off a bridge. Fortunately the passenger in the frontmost seat realized what was happening, and managed to grab the wheel and steer the bus past the bridge, onto the shoulder, where it came to a stop after the passenger managed to move the drivers foot off the gas. Nobody was injured, but EMTs had to enter the bus from the roof… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Sturmer

Good heavens, Ryan! I’m so glad you weren’t injured.
Just as big airlines sometimes won’t make good on their foulups, smaller companies sometimes won’t admit fault. It’s appalling that you didn’t even get an apology.
Myself, I’d have made a fuss: In writing at first, and then through some other consumer guerrilla tactic, e.g., the “United Breaks Guitars” video.

jason mark
jason mark
9 years ago

Great article. Not only do I love the content, but I found this to be a VERY easy read. 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  jason mark

Thanks, Jason.

Holly
Holly
9 years ago

When I looked into BoltBus to get the $1.00 fares I didn’t know that the key was to book early …and I have just found this out from this post! Therefore, a week before our trip to see a show in NYC the fare listed on the site was $65 round-trip per person. There were five of us — pretty expensive for just a two hour drive, IMO. So I looked into other options and booked a $175 round-trip trip for five with a different discounted bus service (I won’t say which one, but the website looked legit). Of course… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Holly

Holly, I’m sorry you had such a lousy experience. Driving in New York stinks, but with five people I would think it’s cost-effective to drive and park vs. paying for a bus or train.
While I was in New York I got in line every day (twice a day on Wednesday) for the ticket lottery at “The Book of Mormon.” Didn’t get one, but I’m going back to New York in mid-October for another conference and I will try, try again.

Holly
Holly
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Yes, Donna, driving up only cost us the price of gas and $32 to park. Unfortunately, my husband had to drive back up through NY the very next day for business, so I was trying to give him a break (he won’t let me drive with himself as a passenger…it’s a control issue he has).

Good luck getting out to see the show…should be interesting!

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

Thanks for the article! I’ve been thinking about looking in to Megabus for a while, but you’re right – I can’t shake the memory of the sketchy greyhound I took from NYC to upstate NY once.

We live in Harrisburg, so getting to most places on the east coast is a relatively easy drive (and not boring, if I’m traveling with my husband). But if I’m traveling by myself, it would be nice to be able to sit back and relax on my laptop instead of doing all the driving!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Jen

I just checked the site: The Megabus goes to seven cities from Harrisburg. Those may be easy drives, but it would almost certainly be cheaper to take the bus.
Note: There is always the possibility of the wifi not working. Bring a book!

Garry
Garry
9 years ago

Driving trips between DC/NYC and NYC/Boston are just about 4 hours, and for many years it’s been my preference to drive rather than to fly (which is only marginally faster, if at all, and certainly is TSA-torturous these days). Taking these new bus lines might be a good alternative to driving or taking Amtrak.

John Snow
John Snow
9 years ago

I’ve taken Bolt and Megabus multiple times to and from NYC and have found Bolt superior to Megabus. I won’t discuss the discount buses because I see no reason to take them. Bolt and Megabus are usually the same price and provide superior service and piece of mind (many of the recent bus accidents have been on these discount carriers). I prefer Bolt to Megabus for 2 simple reasons: more leg room and guaranteed seats. Seats on Megabus are closer together than on Bolt. Megabus also oversells their buses and you must arrive ~30 minutes early to get in line… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  John Snow

I never expected to stream any video — just to check e-mail, approve comments on my website and maybe do a little surfing — so I wasn’t disappointed.
Definitely do what works for you with regard to convenience and comfort. I’d be getting in line half an hour early anyway because that’s just how I am.
A business traveler who cannot afford to be bumped on an airline would choose a pricier seat. Since I am not usually on a super-tight schedule, I can afford to be flexible.

Joe
Joe
9 years ago

While the Megabus is great, you also need to remember it is subject to traffic and breakdowns. Between myself and my girlfriend, we have taken the bus 8 times in the last 6 months with 3 breakdowns during that time and not one of the remaining 5 buses got there on time (on time being within 30 min of original arrival time). During that same time frame we have used Amtrak 10 times and 9/10 arrived on time without incident. I like saving money, but if I need transit for a weekend trip from DC to NYC, I’m going to… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Definitely not for everyone, in every situation — just as a super-cheap overnight flight with two layovers won’t work for someone who has health issues. In such a case it would be worth it to bite the bullet and pay for a daytime non-stop flight.
As I pointed out in the piece, bus travel isn’t for everyone. Do what works for you.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

I wish Megabus traveled to more interesting places from St. Louis! The only big cities we can go to are Chicago and Memphis. For me, the only bad thing about bus travel would be motion sickness for hours on end.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Generic, non-drowsy Dramamine?

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Or try the elastic bracelets with acupressure dots. They worked great for my husband’s seasickness.

cc
cc
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

those bracelets are only as good as your belief in homeopathics. i was supplied with a pair on the beginning of a boat ride, my sister was sure to snap a photo of me puking over the side of the boat, all over the bracelets and everywhere.
sorry for the gross mental picture, but we thought it was funny. it’s cold hard pills for me from now on.

Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho
Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho
9 years ago
Reply to  cc

Acupuncture, not homeopathics. But the point stands, I think.

GayleRN
GayleRN
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Scopolamine patches are the answer. Prescription item. They last 72 hours. They are the only thing that consistently works for me. Side effects Sleepiness, dry mouth and blurry vision. Transderm Scop brand name. Well worth it. Nobody in my family will travel with me unless they know I am patched. Yeah, I am that bad.

Jane
Jane
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

If you have a doctor willing to prescribe it for you or have some on hand (like I do) from pregnancy, Zofran is far and away the best anti-nausea medication I’ve ever taken. I think it was originally meant for chemo patients (hence why it is ridiculously expensive), but that stuff works.

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

I hear ginger can help, try some of the crystallised stuff, you can get it from health food shops.

Peggy
Peggy
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Whenever possible, we avoid chemical drugs/medications and opt for herbal supplements. We’ve used ginger capsules for years for motion sickness, upset stomachs, and swelling. It works for us. We get all our vitamins and herbal supplements at a reputable on-line site, but for those in the CONUS, this site has brick and mortar stores. Just be sure to buy quality products.

JakeIL7
JakeIL7
9 years ago

I think that this can be a great alternative for certain trips. I have not had a chance to use one of these yet (have never met my schedule or was not the cheapest way to go) but one should always look at all the alternative ways to get where you are going.

Jake

[rant]
PS Amtrak prices are generally horrible which is part of the reason they loose so much money every year. That difference is made up by you and I: the US taxpayer. [/rant]

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  JakeIL7

No, I think Amtrak is required to make its own costs or turn a profit. It is a corporation set up by the federal government, but it is required not to run at a loss, meaning that it is NOT subsidized.

Please feel free to correct if I am wrong about this.

JakeIL7
JakeIL7
9 years ago
Reply to  Betsy

No, Amtrak has, according to what I can find, NEVER made a profit since it was founded in 1971. I hate referring to Wikipedia pages, but this isn’t bad and it is cited:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak#Public_funding

I was able to find another source, but the data was old. This source showed that the only line that made profit was the Washington to New York line. Anyone who has tried to fly between the two knows why 🙂

Cortney
Cortney
9 years ago
Reply to  JakeIL7

Jake, as a taxpayer I also pay for roads, highways, bridges, police officers to police those roads, highways, bridges, etc. Car based transportation is not free, either. When people bring up Amtrak “never making a profit/living off of tax dollars” it always seems to imply that somehow this isn’t the case with all the ways in which we subsidize car travel. Not to mention that as of now, the true cost per mile of car travel- including things like pollution and public health issues- are not currently factored into how much we actually pay. On top of the fact that… Read more »

kms98kms
kms98kms
9 years ago
Reply to  JakeIL7

It’s cheaper to fly Boston to Philly than to take Amtrak (between $80 and $200 round trip for airline and $200 to $300 on Amtrak).

Tom
Tom
9 years ago

Thanks for the article, I live in the Philly area and will be going to the Boston area sometime in the near future for a wedding. If its feasible, I’m going to look into this.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Mazel tov to the happy couple. Hope the bus works out for you.

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

I just love bus travel. The variety of people on a bus provide great stories and hours of eavesdropping pleasure.

The key to cheap travel (and all of life)is that everything is about the attitude, isn’t it?

I’ll definitely check out Megabus. It sounds very interesting.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

I agree that the people-watching is primo. 🙂 Attitude IS key. Not everyone is cut out for bus travel, but part of that is perception: The people are low-rent, you have to sit for hours, etc. Well, I’ve sat next to some pretty annoying folks — and sat still for hours — on airlines, too. Granted you can’t go as far as fast by bus, but I’d be OK with sitting for four hours to get to D.C. for a dollar vs. paying for lots more for an airline ticket that required me to allow extra time to get myself… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Ain’t that the truth — rich people on public transportation are EASILY as vulgar and annoying as poor and middle-class people; if anything, more so.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Betsy

I’d rather have to deal with a couple of loudly chattering preteens (they were sitting in front of me) than with an airline seatmate who’s had too much to drink or is complaining loudly because the Internet is down.

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

Another option from Philly to NYC is the commuter rail. It’s a longer trip but a lot cheaper than Amtrak. My husband would take Septa from Philadelphia to Trenton then switch to a NJT train to NYC. It was under $25. Unfortunately you can go south to Delaware by septa then there is a gap to the MARC train. There is a long term plan to connect the MARC in Newark which would mean the commuter system could get you from DC to NY and further north which would be fantastic.

Luke
Luke
9 years ago

Here in the UK (home of Megabus (not sure where ‘the’ came from 😉 ), you need to check very carefully when booking with them. In Scotland specifically, they are run in conjunction with a firm called Scottish Citylink (who actually undercut them on a lot of the routes they offer). So while it’s definitely cheaper than the bus or train most of the time, it’s not necessarily cheaper than the non-mega bus (if you see what I mean). I commute by bus every day and will happily take a bus if the journey is less than 3 hours or… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Luke

While in London earlier this year I met a Scottish actor who’d come down on the overnight bus (10 hours) to audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He planned to head back on the bus after auditioning — and he’d brought along a bag of sandwiches. Not to carry the starving-artist or frugal-Scotsman stereotypes too far…

Luke
Luke
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I once made the same trip in the same time period. A nightmare!

Then again, I’m from the school of travel that prefers less trips where I can spend a little bit more, as opposed to lots of affordable trips. No doubt because I’m a homebody 🙂

graduate.living
graduate.living
9 years ago

My BF and I use Megabus to go home for the holidays. It’s usually a little more expensive then, and for Christmas we have to pack light to make room for gifts on the way back, but other than that it’s never been a problem. Megabus also offers WIFI on most of their busses. We did have one trip where the AC went out on the bus (in June!) but the company sent another bus to pick up passengers and we were followed to our destination by the bus with our luggage. I’ve only ever been on one bus trip… Read more »

Hank Osborne
Hank Osborne
9 years ago

Donna,

Thank you so much! I have seen the Megabus pickups on the streets of DC while there on business. I have often wondered how they worked and how much they cost. There have been a few times when I have considered a day trip to NY during an over-the-weekend stay in DC. I figured there must be some kind of a catch to Megabus and you have just cleared the air. Now I will try Megabus thanks to you!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Hank Osborne

I hope it works as well for you as it did for me.

Tom
Tom
9 years ago

@Donna – Thanks for the article. Another option from NY to DC/VA is Tripper Bus. I like it better than Megabus since it picks up by Penn Station and drops off in Bethesda rather than Megabus which picks up near B&H 3 avenues away from Penn Station and drops off a few blocks away from Union Station.

I agree that from a price perspective, buses definitely win, plus free Wi-Fi is a great bonus. From a reliability, convenience, and “gotta-be-there-on-time” perspective, I prefer the train.

Thanks for the article.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago

We did a full comparison of all the methods for my husband to commute into NYC from CT, a trip he makes regularly through the year. We took into account mileage driven, parking costs, gas costs, and transit fare. On short-term travel (ie single-day trips), Megabus was the cheapest option, though not necessarily the most convenient. For longer stays, the costs of parking in the urban areas where they operate out of compared to parking for free near some of the more convenient local train stations quickly wiped out the savings of the $1 ticket.

Quest
Quest
9 years ago

Thanks for another thought provoking article Donna! Having been a full blown, car drivin’ Angeleno for quite a long time now, I will admit that I have been a ‘bus snob’ practically my entire life, as in I would never ever consider riding the bus. Until now, that is. In the UK, my mother has a bus stop right outside of her house but she has hardly ever used it, preferring to drive everywhere instead. I WISH I had that kind of public transit service here where I live in the high desert but, alas, nothing of the sort. We… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Quest

When my daughter and son-in-law were planning to move from Seattle to Phoenix two years ago, I realized I was keeping my car only so that they would have reliable transportation. (My daughter has a chronic illness.) So I gave them my car when they left, asking only that they remember it when they were picking out my nursing home. 😉 I’ve been car-free ever since and it’s a huge load off my mind. No more car to park, insure, gas up, get repaired and worry over. It helps that everything I need (library, bank, post office, supermarkets) are within… Read more »

AmyP
AmyP
9 years ago

My husband and I did our Pittsburgh-DC move on Greyhound and it was reasonable and relatively inexpensive. More recently, our family of four took Greyhound from Vancouver, BC to Kamloops, BC in order to meet family for skiing (we didn’t feel equal to the icy mountain driving). The Vancouver Greyhound/train terminal is quite lovely and comfortable, although the smaller BC bus terminals we saw were more what you think of when you hear the word “bus station.” It was very affordable, compared to the train prices for the same route, which are insane. The kids (age 4 and 7) did… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  AmyP

I agree about the toilets. Wound up having to use it on the way to Cardiff. And I thought airline toilets were claustrophobic…!
The motion of the bus didn’t help, either.
I learned my lesson: Before getting on the bus in Philly I limited my fluid intake.

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

Members of my family have been extensive users of Megabus for years – mostly travelling between Minneapolis and Chicago. When it works, it’s cheap and wonderful. But then, there are the other times such as: 1)My son was enroute from Minneapolis to Milwaukee when the Megabus broke down 2 hours into the trip. Eventually a driver brought a new bus. The riders transferred to the new bus and then the bus turned around and took the driver BACK to Minneapolis before restarting to Milwaukee!! This added 6 hours to a 5 hour trip. 2) I brought my daughter to the… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Laura

In the case of your daughter not getting her reservation e-mailed: She should have contacted them and said, “What’s up?” before the trip. Live and learn, alas.
But the other stuff you described? I hope you complained not just to the company but also to the NTSB and anyone else who would listen. I miss the old days of newspaper “Action Line” columnists who could get these things straightened out by embarrassing the companies in print.

RP
RP
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Oh, the Action Line columnists haven’t gone away, at least in Chicago. The Sun-Times has The Fixer, which would be perfect for this sort of problem. The Tribune may also have a similar columnist as well.

Sushi
Sushi
9 years ago
Reply to  RP

The Tribune has The Problem Solver. Very illuminating!

Chris
Chris
9 years ago

I’m not a fan of Megabus. 4/5 times I’ve taken the Megabus it’s been over 30 minutes late. Once, the power steering went out on the bus. Another time, the bus was overbooked and a quarter of the people in line to get on the bus had to wait 4 hours for the next scheduled bus to arrive. A friend of mine had the bus driver fall asleep and start veering onto the shoulder of the road before someone yelled at them to wake up. Did the bus driver pull over so that they could be relieved? No. Someone had… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Chris

I’m sorry you had such an awful experience. I hope that you complained long and loud to the company and/or the NTSB.

cca
cca
9 years ago

i am such a fan. I have taken the megabus from DC to CLT for less than $50 roundtrip. It is clean, the passengers are nice and clean as well. Okay the free wifi doesnt work well. I also like the bolt bus.

Jane
Jane
9 years ago

How is $1 a trip a sustainable fare for Megabus? I wondered that when I first saw that it ran from St. Louis where I live to Chicago. That was a few years ago. I just assumed the $1 fares were teaser rates to get people on. I guess not. I just don’t understand how a company can survive with such low fees. Even $20 for a regular fare is pretty low. I thought the same thing the times I traveled Ryanair or other discount airlines in Europe. But in that case they got you on baggage fees and other… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Low overhead: No terminal to purchase, pay taxes on, heat, cool, clean or maintain, and fewer employees since you book your own ticket online.
On one trip there was advertising before the videotaped safety lecture, so that’s another income stream.

helen
helen
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Donna, I live about 100 miles North of St. Louis. I have often wondered if I could pick up the Megabus bound for Chicago (about 200 miles North from where we live) at an interstate exit. Do you know if that is possible?

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  helen

The bus picks up and drops off only at very specific places. I’d check Megabus.com to find out where those places are in your neck of the woods.

Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho
Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho
9 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I know nothing about Megabus, but based on the post above, there is one possibility. A bus line usually is obligated to have a bus on the route regardless of whether there are any passengers on board, and the cost of a bus running a line is mostly independent of how many passengers they have. Thus, the cost of running the line is a sunk cost and should not be considered (except when deciding on the schedule). The pricing is sustainable if the average fare multiplied by the average number of people on board is enough to cover costs, and… Read more »

Avistew
Avistew
9 years ago

I like traveling by bus. I made a Vegreville-Vancouver and back trip three times in two years, which took around 24 hours each way, each time. You need to be fine spending that long on the road, of course, and I was (I actually enjoy being on the road, it reminds me on road trips back when I was a kid), but it’s cheaper than driving there if you take into account the fact you save on a hotel overnight. If you have more than one driver and can take turns at the wheel, it’s probably cheaper by car, though,… Read more »

Jynet
Jynet
9 years ago
Reply to  Avistew

Nice to see another Albertan here 😉

Since I’m in Edmonton I pick ViaRail over Greyhound for my Vancouver trips, costs more, and takes longer, but the VIEWS – and the legroom make it up 🙂 But the train is so far south of Veg that probably wouldn’t make sense for you.

But the “express deals” can be very, very good. I’m travelling Edm to Vac in October, in sleeper class (upper berth) for $182 – taxes in. Cheaper than I could fly!

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

$10 says tomorrow’s post is on cheap train fare or how bicycles save money over driving.

Ru
Ru
9 years ago

So what if it is? Cars are expensive, and getting more and more expensive to buy and run. They’re fuelled by a finite resource, they’re made out of materials that are in demand in the manufacturing nations (India and China), and they have to be insured to the hilt in case you bump someone. Some people can’t drive. I can’t even afford lessons. Insurance for me here in the UK- well I just looked up a quote on my parent’s car and it was £1450 (~$2350), which would wipe out all the money I make over the summer. Then there’s… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I was not expressing disapproval but rather remarking on the similarilty of yesterday’s post and today’s.

Sushi
Sushi
9 years ago

J.D. seems to have paid attention to us :). Yesterday’s article was about air miles. Since not all of us use air miles, we have frugal bus travel today!!

Jenne
Jenne
9 years ago

FYI: if you’re in a hurry and driving yourself isn’t an option, taking the Amtrak ACELA may actually save you time over taking a flight, because you don’t have the LOOONNNNGGGG pre-check-in wait at the airport (not to mention *getting* to the airport). From Newark NJ to DC, I found that the travel time was about the same as driving (and that was on the cheapest trains, not the Acela). Like airline prices, the price depends on how far in advance you book (it seems to be 4, 2, and 1 week intervals). They also have a frequent traveler program… Read more »

Becky
Becky
9 years ago

When I lived on the East Coast, I used BoltBus or DC2NY all the time. It was really so much more convenient and often faster than taking the plane. Look at it this way: Flight from DC to NY: If you can fly from DCA, awesome. But if you can’t, it’s going to be an hour to the airport, where you have to give yourself another hour, get through security, find your terminal, etc etc. Then once you get there, you have to get through the airport again, and it’s probably going to be another hour to get to your… Read more »

Debbie
Debbie
9 years ago

There’s another bus company called Vamoose which is good too. 🙂

Tim
Tim
9 years ago

I have mixed feelings on MegaBus. On an Chicago to Milwaukee trip, we encountered a closed off-ramp and the driver soon became lost on the way to the Milwaukee stop. The driver started asking around for directions from anyone on the bus, which was not exactly confidence inspiring. This was a few years ago, are there GPS units on the buses these days along with the WiFi?

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

I love the Megabus! We don’t have a lot of options in the Midwest (basically, fly, or take Greyhound, until Megabus came along – Amtrak costs 100s of dollars and won’t let you book trips that include an overnight, which they all do.) I’ve taken Megabus Minneapolis-Milwaukee several times, and it’s always been quiet, clean, and fast. Cost is less than the tank of gas it costs us to drive, which makes it cheaper than a plane ticket and WAY cheaper than Amtrak. Plus it leaves from a more bike-and-transit accessible spot downtown than Amtrak does.

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

Sounds like a great alternative! It is probably most effective in an urban area like the Northeast.

bethh
bethh
9 years ago

I’ve used the Chinatown bus (Fung Wah, in my case) to get from Providence to NYC, and from NYC to Boston. The only bummer was standing outside FREEZING my butt off in Providence – be sure to time your arrival at the bus stop carefully if the weather isn’t great, as you’re standing on a corner until the bus arrives. It didn’t occur to me to check bus schedules when I was in the UK two years ago – I got swept up in the romance of the rails, but I bet I would have saved a bunch of money… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  bethh

When I took a second side trip, to Cornwall, I rode the train. The Megabus goes to a town near where my hostess lives, but it wouldn’t have arrived until midnight. Since she and her husband were kind enough to invite me to stay for a few days, I wasn’t about to impose on them to come and collect me at that hour.
The train was nice, both coming and going.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

Donna,

I don’t understand why you talked about the bus costing $1 and then later your dad paid $15. Was it a different trip?

Thanks.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

The $15 one was a same-day booking when I changed my plans due to the impending hurricane. The original plan had been for me to take a $1 trip to Washington, D.C.

marve
marve
9 years ago

just a piece of advise, as others have said Bus Trips are not indeed for everyone, if you want to test yourself, I strongly suggest take the Bus trip that goes to Niagara Falls, the bus that comes from Chinatown in NYC, seriously if you will not have any complaints/ regrets after then i can say that you can survive cross country buses. I took a greyhound from Dallas to NY and i’m fine but this nigara trip….Good Lord

brooklyn+money
brooklyn+money
9 years ago

I travel all the time between Boston and NY and all of the methods have been horrid — 8 hours in traffic on the bus, canceled flights, overbooked trains with no seating at a cost of $150 one way. I have never been able to get on Bolt because it books up quickly, but I will try it in the future. I have always had good luck with Fund Wah, but I don’t like feeling like I’m taking my life in my hands and its just a matter of time before a bus fire or something.

Financial Manager
Financial Manager
9 years ago

Discounted bus lines are AWESOME. I used a similar line to travel from NY to VA recently. It was under $30 each way and featured personal electric outlets, WiFi, and a personal TV screen. The seats were comfortable and there were no smelly travelers. 🙂

I, personally, like to drive and see the country, so this was a great option for me. Obviously, if you value your time more than I do – maybe a plane/train would still be better for you.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

Remember the old slogan? “Go Greyhound — and leave the driving to us.”
I like it when someone else drives, too. But I understand why some people prefer to fly or take the train. Do what works for you personally.

Michelle
Michelle
9 years ago

I rode Megabus from New York to Boston last year and I would have to say that if I have to ride a bus again, I would take Greyhound (which I have also taken from NY to Boston). Here are the reasons why: 1. Our bus left 2 hours after the scheduled time. (Greyhound left on time) 2. The Megabus wifi was not consistent and kept going out, and finally stayed out. We did get some wifi from a BoltBus ahead of us, since we were stuck in traffic. 3. Unless you get one of the four seats at the… Read more »

Stacie
Stacie
9 years ago

As a recent college student who went to school in Boston and lives outside of Baltimore, I’ve been using Megabus for years. It worked great at first…$6 round trip fares (of course I did have to go Baltimore to NY and NY to Boston at the time) but over time the service quality and overall comfort on the trips has gone down. Traveling at holiday times (which was pretty much all I was traveling) was usually packed. I’m glad I don’t have to use them regularly anymore, but I would use them again in a heartbeat. You just can’t beat… Read more »

jim
jim
9 years ago

These discount chains don’t operate much at all where I live. The one or two that do have some routes are more expensive than flying so that seems pretty pointless.

I took Greyhound a lot in college and won’t do it again by choice. If Megabus is significantly better quality/service then it might be OK for some shorter trips. But it seems several people here have had bad experiences… even worse than I ever had on Greyhound.

Linda`
Linda`
9 years ago

If I only had the time…..

Moneyperk
Moneyperk
9 years ago

Very interesting! I only wish that Megabus was through out the country. Maybe one day!

Amy+F
Amy+F
9 years ago

My husband took Megabus from Mpls to Chicago and back and hated every second of it. They played violent movies despite little kids on the bus and had loud music he hated. I think he was “only” an hour late to Chicago. Coming into Mpls, the driver didn’t know how to deal with construction (that had been there for weeks) and had to ask riders how to get to his destination, which he did poorly and took forever. We were not impressed and won’t be using Megabus again. My frugal self loved the idea, but the execution was just so… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amy+F

Yikes! There weren’t any movies on the shorter rides that I took. Just a safety info lecture. Re lateness: The driver not knowing about the construction is pretty inexcusable. Supervisors need to inform their employees about any possible challenges on the route. But as for it being an hour late, travel is always subject to late arrivals. In the past year and a half I’ve been on a fair number of flights that were late due to equipment problems, weather, etc. Car trips can also be longer than expected due to wild cards such as accidents that tie up traffic.… Read more »

bkwrm
bkwrm
9 years ago

This is great information! My four teenagers and I can go to Chicago for $21. We could take a trip to the museums that we otherwise couldn’t afford to visit. I had no idea such a thing existed.

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