Okay, let’s start out with full disclosure. I’ve been flying since I was a little kid (over 50 years) and worked for a major airline for a couple of decades, so traveling more than a hundred miles or so almost always means a plane ride. In Europe I’ve used some of the high-speed trains and understand how much sense they make, permitting hassle-free city-center to city-center travel. But a bus?
The Joys of Modern Travel!
When you add to the equation the indignities of modern air travel, the time required to arrive at crowded airports, check-in time requirements for TSA and such, paying baggage fees… well I was starting to get the picture. Land travel starts looking better and better. But a BUS!?!?!?
I think I’d only used a bus once or twice since the time in my life when the buses I took were bright yellow. Even within cities, I’d rather use a subway than a bus. Okay, I’m a transportation snob when it comes to a bus. I’d listened to all those stories about kazillion-stop trips making what should have been a couple of hours take days. And let’s face it, most bus stations really look like repositories for… well you know what I mean.
But I am here to confess I have been converted by the incredibly wonderful service of a new (well new to our Dallas/Ft. Worth market) service called MegaBus. I wouldn’t even mind if they changed the name to the more upscale sounding “Motorcoach” rather than bus (but I’m told the vehicles are only referred to as Motorcoaches when you are using them for a vacation type tour package).
Here’s What Led Me to Try the Bus.
My partner was taking us to San Antonio for a weekend celebration of my birthday (a mega-one), and a cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America in the Riverwalk City.
Of course we planned on flying, but it was a holiday weekend, and all the flights were full. We thought about driving, but gas prices are still pretty high. We didn’t need a car once we got to San Antonio, and parking fees can be outrageous. And the thought of five-plus hours behind the wheel (I do all the driving not because I’m a better driver, I’m just a really lousy passenger.) was putting a little tarnish on the shininess of a great weekend trip.
I’d seen a blurb about MegaBus having just started DFW service. I was quite concerned when I saw that prices were as low as $1 per person. I mean really; traveling by bus is bad enough, but a really cheap bus? A little more research advised that although they were offering low introductory rates. MegaBus low fares policy said that there would always be some seats sold on every bus for the $1 price.
We made our reservation less than two weeks in advance and found fares for $2 on a Friday afternoon to San Antonio and paid a “whopping” $6 each for a Sunday afternoon return (there were still $2 seats on some of the eight different departure times). As I write this article I’ve checked the MegaBus website and had to go forward almost 30 days to find a $1 seat… but I found lots and lots of $2 and $3 seats for departures within the next two weeks. Still, the most expensive seat I could find was only $17.
Since it was a holiday weekend, most of the passengers were students traveling to or from school. We did strike up a conversation with a young student from Bosnia. He claimed to have constructed (and took) a MegaBus trip from San Antonio to New York City for less than $25.
What Cities Does MegaBus Serve?
Across America, MegaBus currently serves over 80 destinations, but it does take some creative scheduling to use the service for points further than those cities within each hub. For example, from Dallas/ Ft. Worth there is direct service to: Austin, Del Rio, Houston, San Angelo and San Antonio in Texas, as well as Little Rock Arkansas, Memphis Tennessee, and both Norman and Oklahoma City Oklahoma, all with one stop or less. You could go to Houston and then connect on to New Orleans. From New Orleans you could continue to Atlanta, and on and on.
Since launching in 2006, (Dallas/Ft. Worth service started in June, 2012) MegaBus has served over 18 million customers – IN STYLE! Our bus was a brand new, luxury double decker, and offered free Wi-Fi, at-seat plugins, reclining seats with two across seating (some seating areas even have dining tables), panoramic windows, bathroom-on-board, and huge skylight roof areas. Baggage is free, although there are some limitations to size and weight. Buses have handicapped facilities, but no pets except for service animals are accepted.
So, how did I make this unbelievably economic bus trip seem like a first class plane ride?
I took some of the money I saved, and packed a wonderful picnic lunch. We had kir royales to drink (Shhhh!), warmed mixed nuts (I keep them in a thermos), turkey and brie sandwiches on focaccia, fresh cherries, grapes and strawberries and homemade cranberry –ginger cookies for dessert. No pesky worries about 3 oz. limits on drinks by the TSA.
We left exactly on time, and after a very brief stop in Austin, were about 10 minutes late arriving in San Antonio. But on the return we were about 30 minutes early into Dallas/ Ft. Worth (and we didn’t have to wait for an available gate to disembark). We packed e-reader nooks for our entertainment, and I noticed that other travelers had portable DVD players, i-Pods, laptops, etc.
Not having a kitchen available for planning the return trip’s repast (our cooking class was the day before), we found a deli and bought some gourmet sandwiches and desserts, packed a new bottle of wine and enjoyed a sunset dinner on the return.
Our Bus-trip Experience:
The entire trip was not much longer than what a ride to the airport, check-in times, waiting for baggage and trips to our destination’s downtown would have been. And it was a lot quicker than driving because I never had to stop for fuel or to use the facilities as I would have had to in my car.
Are there any downsides? The reservations system is a little bit “basic” so always remember to bring a copy of your reservation number as they are not linked to individual names. If you do not have your reservations confirmation, MegaBus will charge you the full rate for the trip.
It’s open seating onboard, so if you want the upstairs/upfront panoramic view, check in early. In some cities the MegaBus “terminal” is not much more than a parking lot with a garden-style canopy, but many stops have free parking for your car available (When’s the last time you saw that at an airport?). A pet-peeve is a 50 cent booking fee (I think mandatory fees should all be rolled into the price, but then again the airlines do it – with a lot more than 50 cents involved.).
Would I do it again? You bet! If MegaBus goes there and my destination is less than 5 hours from my origin, MegaBus will probably win… and if I had to personally pay for all of my plane tickets, there would be no contest.