Welcome to the ultimate guide to traveling on Megabus
The “$1 tickets!” advertisements captured my attention years ago. Now, I’m an experienced traveler on Megabus, the low-cost bus system that serves the entire eastern half the country, as well as parts of California and Nevada. You may have seen their giant double-decker buses and eye-catching logo featuring the portly driver wearing his yellow cap.
I’ve managed to score the elusive $1 tickets on several occasions. I’ve also learned the hard way what to bring with you on trips, how much luggage you can take, how to score the best seats, how reliable the onboard wifi is (not so much), and how often the bus shows up on time (usually.)
Now’s the time to share some of my secrets. Read on for some Megabus tips and suggestions, and if you have a tip that I haven’t mentioned, please share your comment at the end.
Where does Megabus travel?
Here’s the current route map:
This company began with routes in the northeast, and gradually expanded to the south and into California. Still no routes in the Pacific Northwest, but maybe someday.
Megabus regularly changes its routes based on supply and demand, so check their website for the latest info. Years ago, there was a direct Chicago to Pittsburgh route, for instance, but they did away with that one. Now, making that journey appears to be impossible, as Megabus eliminated all service between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, meaning that there is no way to connect from the Midwest routes to the Northeast.
Is Megabus reliable?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. More so than Greyhound, that’s for sure.
I’ve had to suffer through a couple of minor delays where the bus showed up 15-20 minutes late. There was one instance in Minneapolis where the bus was more than an hour late. But those have been rare cases.
Almost always, the bus shows up on time and, even more amazingly, arrives on time. I’m always surprised how an 8-hour ride from Chicago to Memphis can arrive at precisely the minute it’s scheduled to show up. You’d think it would be hard to nail down the exact time on a trip of that length, but usually Megabus pulls it off.
To sum up, Megabus riders will sometimes have to put up with delays, but I’ve had far worse delays on Greyhound (I will never get over the nightmarish 16-hour Greyhound ride from Pittsburgh to Chicago in which we arrived late in Indianapolis, missed our connection and had to wait all night until 5 am for the next one…)
Some trips are crowded, others aren’t. I’ve been on rides where every last seat was taken, and others where there were fewer than five of us on the entire bus.
Pro Tip: How to score $1 Megabus tickets!
Every couple of months, Megabus releases the next batch of tickets for the next few months. The best strategy is to plan ahead where you’d like to go, then follow the company’s social media accounts to see alerts when new tickets are released. If you buy on the first day they’re available, you’re likely to get $1 tickets.
How can you nab cheap Megabus tickets if you don’t buy them immediately after they go on sale? When you’re searching for tix, be sure to also search for the day before and the day after your ideal travel dates.
Ticket prices can vary dramatically from one day to the next. Fridays tend to be very popular travel days, for instance, while Saturdays are not, so prices are adjusted accordingly.
Prices also vary by time of day. Here’s a look at a recent search I did for tickets from Chicago to Indianapolis. You can see that the popular 3:40 pm trip costs $25, but the 6:20 pm trip is just $1, while an earlier trip runs $10. If you can be flexible with your travel times, you can save quite a bit of money.
Single-dollar tickets are rare because they get snatched up quickly, but you can nab them if you plan ahead. I’ve gotten $1 tickets on each of the following routes (sadly, some of these routes no longer exist): Chicago to Detroit, Chicago to Kansas City, Pittsburgh to Cleveland, Indianapolis to Chicago, Chicago to Louisville.
If plans change, you can change your existing reservation as long as it’s more than 24 hours before your schedule trip. The change fee is only $3 if your trip is more than 24 hours away. Don’t you wish airlines had a similar policy?
Boarding the bus: expect a bit of chaos
Unike Greyhound, Megabus does not have bus terminals. That’s why their prices are so low – they don’t have to spend any money on buildings. The downside is that you’ll be waiting outside and exposed to snow and wind and rain. (There are some lucky cities, such as Toronto and Cleveland, where Megabus riders can now utilize indoor waiting areas shared by other companies.)
Megabus also has no printed tickets. Your ticket is your confirmation number. You can either print out this number, or fire up your smart phone and show the driver the confirmation number you received via email. You will not be allowed to board without this number.
Be sure to show up early. A 1 pm departure time means just that; boarding often commences 15 minutes early, and, assuming it’s on time, the vehicle will start to pull away at 1 pm. Don’t be the guy running after the bus as it’s pulling away!
When it comes to boarding, lower your expectations. Megabus is not exactly a well-oiled machine. It’s more like unorganized chaos where the driver pulls up, gets out and starts barking instructions like, “IF YOU HAVE BAGS GO TO THE REAR! IF NOT GET IN LINE UP FRONT!” People are generally considerate, but this is not always an orderly process. Don’t be surprised if someone cuts the line or you end up at the back of the queue because you didn’t realize you were in the wrong place.
If you have luggage to check, you’ll have to wait in the luggage line first before moving to the main boarding line, so don’t expect to get a window seat – you’ll probably be boarding near the end.
Most Megabus travelers tend to be young or young-ish. A huge percentage are college students, 20- and 30-somethings. Not many people over 50 ride the Megabus, although this has been changing in recent years as more seniors discover Megabus.
What should I bring?
Pro Tip: for all Megabus rides, bring a jacket. The a/c can make the bus chilly, even in the middle of a 110 degree Texas summer. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Thank me later!
For overnight trips, bring a hoodie or knit hat so you can cover your eyes. You won’t get much sleep otherwise. Feel free to bring a pillow, light blanket, or whatever else will help you relax.
For trips longer than two hours, bring some snacks and a bottle of water. You can eat on Megabus, and in fact most longer trips include a rest stop where you can pick up fast food or snacks. I typically bring pretzels or fruit bars to munch on. Plus Chewy Spree, the greatest candy ever invented. You can never go wrong with Chewy Spree.
Wifi and outlets
Bring headphones to listen to music and drown out anybody chattering incessantly. Bring chargers for your phones and other electronic devices; you’ll want to take advantage of the outlets at every seat.
Usually, there are two outlets at every set of two seats, which conveniently leaves one for each person. On some bus models, though, there is only one power outlet to share between every two seats, another reason why you’ll want to board early and snag one.
As for the onboard wifi, it’s available in theory on every ride, but in my experience it tends to only work about 50% of the time. Do not count on having internet service on your journey. Think of it as a nice bonus when it works.
How much luggage can I bring on Megabus?
Here’s the current baggage policy. You can take one large bag, to be stored inside the baggage area, and one additional carry-on. I’ve seen people take several shopping bags worth of carry-ons on a single trip, but that really is up to the discretion of the driver since it violates the official policy.
The large bag can be no more than 50 pounds and 62 inches when adding length + width + height. I’ve taken one of those big 65L camping bags with a tent and sleeping bag packed inside, so the luggage allowance is pretty generous.
The best and worst places to sit on the bus
The most popular seats on the bus are the front seats on the upper deck, because of the awesome view they provide. But these seats have proven to be the most dangerous.
Megabus accidents are rare, but they do happen, just as Greyhound and Amtrak have their share of accidents. In the few major mishaps that have occurred, those sitting in the front upper-deck seats were the ones who took most of the impact.
A few years back, Megabus began charging extra for the most desirable seats. The front upper deck seats can add an extra $7 to your ticket price, while other top seats near the front have surcharges of $1-5.
For safety reasons, I usually try to sit on the bottom deck, but probably 80% of the seats are on the second deck, so often there’s no choice.
If you do end up on the top level, for crying out loud, wear your seat belt! Virtually no one buckles up on the bus, but if something unforeseen were to happen, the seat belt could save your life.
Pro Tip: Travel overnight to save on hotel
Penny pinchers unite! Taking the bus overnight is the best way to travel cheaply since you avoid paying for a night of lodging. A few years back, I took a three-week Megabus trip around the east coast (Pittsburgh > Philadelphia > Washington DC > Charlotte > Atlanta) and saved on four nights of lodging by scheduling overnight bus trips between cities.
The only drawback of the overnight trip? Well, for me there are two. First, it’s not the most restful night you’ll ever get. For some reason, sleeping while sitting upright in a moving vehicle doesn’t provide the same level of relaxation that an entire night in a comfortable bed does. Imagine that!
And second, because I’m insane, I always have this nagging feeling that the bus driver is going to fall asleep at the wheel. That’s probably just me projecting, because I can’t stay awake past 1 am anymore, so I have a hard time believing that a driver could stay wide alert and guide a bus until sunrise. Yet they always do, and I arrive at my destination safely without fail.
That’s it for my Ultimate Guide to Traveling by Megabus. What Megabus tips do you have?