The Ultimate Guide to Traveling on Megabus: Tips, Suggestions, and How to Score Cheap Seats

Note: This is an original post by Quirky Travel Guy. It is not in any way endorsed or approved by Megabus.

ultimate megabus guide

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:

megabus network route map 2018

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.

megabus one dollar tickets

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.

megabus interior

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.

megabus mascot

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.

front seat surcharges

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?


About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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  1. It’s so funny to see companies like this that were exported from the UK to the US with exactly the same branding. Not sure why, but I kinda expect them to vary it from country to country. Oh, and I hate it when buses have the air conditioning on too high – I remember a bus ride in Malaysia where the only logical explanation for the ridiculously low temperature was that the driver had mistaken the human passengers for perishable goods that required refrigeration!

  2. Very nice Megabus primer. I’ve been riding for almost four years and usually snag those dollar fares by booking all my trips on the day Megabus adds new dates. New York to Chicago and back for $2. Next month Harrisburg to San Antonio and return for $12..$2.50 reservation fee and a $1.50 fee for going through Union station in DC. Seven days out, two nights in hotels. I must be the exception. I’m 65 and working part time with a love of travel and not much disposable income,so Megabus is a godsend. I must have taken over a hundred trips. Only problem I ever encountered, and this is no biggie are late buses. People I know and people I meet riding are always amazed how I can get dollar seats. With extreme flexibility and careful planning,it can be done.

  3. Hi Scott,

    I wanted to thank you for writing about Megabus here on your blog – just got an unbelievable deal!
    I paid a total of $5.50 for bus rides from Austin to San Antonio, San Antonio to New Orleans, New Orleans to Orlando and Orlando to Miami. I still can’t belive it! So, I’ll have more money for accomodation and activities. Right now I love Megabus! 😉

  4. Thanks for the informative info. I am new to the MegaBus scene, and have my first trip coming up in a few weeks. Your article was most helpful. If only I could figure out how to scale down my luggage, I would be ecstatic.

    1. I’m traveling on the Megabus for the 2nd time this October. I totally appreciated this post. Snagged $1 deals from Houston to Dallas today (and paid $3 extra each way for the window seat facing the front at the table since I have short legs and loved the table last time). And not to be tacky, but I actually wrote a post about efficient packing for trips that might help once people grab their tickets too –

  5. I have total 3 luggage bags.
    1 small and 2 big ones.
    small one is the one that we normally take with us in flight which is called Cabin luggage.
    2 big ones are the ones that we normally check-in while travelling in flight.
    All these 3 bags allowed for a travel in Megabus?

  6. I am going to travel from New York to Philadelphia on June 21, which is 41 days in advance of my departure. Can I reserve the ticket?

    Thank you

  7. I am going to be taking first Megabus trip in a few weeks. I am going to just travel with a small backpack type bag. Can I take that on the bus with me, or will I need to check it? Was hoping just to take along with me on the trip so quick on and off.

  8. Quick question my daughter and I are traveling from mi to Chicago and then to mn using megabus with a 5 hour layover in Chicago at night midnight to 5:45 am to be exact. When I booked I did not know they did not have terminals. What would you recommend we do safely while we wait. Union station is closed between one and five am

  9. The problem we’re running into is that there is only one trip per day from Columbus to Chicago and no overnight trips. Do they add extra trips when a bus reaches capacity?

  10. Thanks for this, I am a bit confused about carry-on sizes. I saw a photo/pictograph that (I thought) said under 45″ for the carry-on. I have 2 bags that I may use (haven’t decided which). One of them is a backpack with a computer sleeve, High Sierra Access, which has external dimensions of 41.5″ (20″ x 15″ x 6.5″). The other is the High Sierra Pack-N-Carry 20″ Duffel, it’s external dimensions are 42″ (20″ x 11″ x 11″). I feel both would fit under a seat, or I could easily hold them. I’m curious on if they were too big? I keep hearing different things about size of carry-on bags for Megabus. I’ve also read that it’s up to the driver if something can go on board (I don’t know how true this is though). I would need to take my laptop, so that would be my “personal” item but would be putting it inside the bag, instead of having two items with me and needing to place something under the bus. Megabus has told me that the carry-on can only be briefcase size and no bigger, but the photo said fit under seat… can somebody help/tell their experience?

    1. You could contact Megabus to be sure, but I’ve never seen anyone take a large carry-on bag as their Megabus carry-on. Most people take a backpack or small shoulder bag as their Megabus carry-on, since the room under the seats is very limited. Perhaps if you’re on a trip that isn’t full, the driver may let you take it on, but I’m not certain.

  11. I will travel on the 3rd week of February and my first time ti ride in Megabus. I want to make sure the size of luggage i can bring. Is 62 inches is the third size of the luggage. Do i need to buy early my ticket? i plan to travel overnight. What is the time i need to come to the terminal supposed to be in Bay St. in Toronto? Because, its very far from my home and i only
    take a bus. i hope you can help me.

  12. Hi I’m taking my first road trip from NOLA to San Antonio this weekend and I am very nervous since I am only 17 and will be leaving bout midnight with a 2 hour delay in the early morning. If anyone had any advice or tips i would really appreciate it. I did reserve a seat though so that I would have a guaranteed seat.

  13. just a quick warning: if you are looking for a place to leave luggage (e.g. a locker) in Chicago, forget union station. they just removed their lockers. apparently greyhound bus terminal on Harrison does have lockers–I hope. Amtrak has a luggage room, but you have to be ticketed, and it costs 10 bucks in Chicago and a couple of other big cities

  14. Thanks so much for your posts. They have been helpful. I am a first time rider in July from Chatt to Indianapolis, and am so thrilled that I don’t have to pay for parking ($25/day) downtown. Scored roundtrip for $47. I purchased the seats near the table, paying $3 extra each way. Am I to understand that these seats are reserved and even if I am the last in line they are still mine? Thanks so much!

  15. Crystal –
    First of all, for a financially savvy lady, you are pretty funny!
    #1 – FinCon (did you make this up? it is muy funny – esp living in the town of DragonCon and Rainbow Parades)
    Do you get to dress up as your favored Financial Hero?
    #2 – Double Duh for bras – also hilarious!!
    Thanks for the info!

  16. Hey Scott,
    Also have been wanting to try the Megabus & thought that was coming up (Atlanta to Orlando) – but was trying to get to east coast beachside (for my 45th high school reunion!) and that extra leg just added time and
    cost to the trip, bringing it almost to plane fare. but am vowing to take a shot or 2 at it in the next 6 mo!!
    Thanks for the info!

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